Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars awarded to social media influencers for misinformation workshops for academics

Social media influencers like Science Sam were paid tens of thousands of Canadian taxpayer dollars to deliver 'workshops' on how to combat scientific misinformation online.

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Rebel News features an exclusive Access to Information Request (ATIP) document that was received in response to a previous report that dug into publicly-funded institutions featuring “workshops” on dismantling scientific misinformation online.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has been funding and offering training opportunities in science communication, many of which are dedicated to combatting health misinformation on social media.

One in particular was called “Combating Misinformation on Social Media” and was hosted on March 28 by Samatha Yammine, who goes by the alias of Science Sam.

In the previous report on Science Sam, it was discovered that her then fiancé, now husband, was a pandemic profiteer.

He is the co-founder and CEO of PocketHealth, a digital medical records company that saw a 300% spike in demand in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the company's own news release in August of 2020 that highlights a Toronto Star feature article on the booming business.

Science Sam was also coined as a COVID Queen and ranked number 34 on Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential Torontonians list in 2021 for being the “COVID news source for the TikTok Gen.”

But just how much was this young neuroscientist – with a very minuscule amount of primary authorship of scientific research that receives very little sourcing or recognition – paid to provide a group of mature, seasoned scientists with information on combatting misinformation?

It turns out that Science Sam was contracted $32,500 dollars for this crucial work.

She was assigned four different workshops, some of which ran more than once, for a total of seven workshops.

The first, #SciComm (i.e. science communications) on Social Media for Research, included three, 2-hour sessions.

The next, Instagram and TikTok for #SciComm, was two, 90 minute sessions.

The one that was reported on previously – Combatting Misinformation on Social Media, entailed one 1-hour session.

The last, #SciComm on Social Media for Research Funders, appears to have never been formally scheduled and it doesn’t look like it ever came to fruition.

Yammine had to provide pedagogical, science communication and technological expertise to design and deliver the complete workshops. Contractors were also tasked with creating a “resource sheet for all participants” attending certain workshops.

In Yammine’s proposal for the contract she is self-described as a neuroscientist, science communicator and digital producer.

Her biography lists her social media pages and notes that she has 180 000+ followers, stating that she earned her PhD studying how stem cells build and maintain the brain and her formal training in academia plus expertise in digital media means she is uniquely poised to distill complex, jargon-filled science in fun and interactive ways that resonate with any audience.

Yammine has been featured on the CBC, TVO, and produced content and consulted for government agencies like the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the anti-misinformation organization called Science Up First.

There seems to be a discrepancy in her pitch where she denotes four sessions dedicated to the #SciComm on Social Media for Researchers. As per the CIHR website, only three were delivered.

It appears that one that was supposed to be specific to research funders is not published publicly.

The ATIP did not contain the content of the presentation nor the information sheets shared with attendees.

Apparently, this publicly-funded institution does not have access to workshop slides and the presentation(s) that they paid for.

We reached out to the CIHR for comment on average honorarium awarded amounts, why the sessions were not publicly available and if Yammine completed her seven workshop contract.

CIHR responded that they “establish service contracts, not honoraria, with workshop vendors and the average cost across all vendors is approximately $5,000 per workshop.”

They said that the "workshops were not recorded and will therefore not be posted or distributed… They were designed for health researchers, defined as an individual actively perusing or performing health research at the graduate level or above.”

They confirm that “Samantha Yammine completed her full contract which included an invitation-only workshop for staff working in organizations that fund research. The details regarding this workshop were not posted on CIHR’s website because, unlike the other sessions, it was designed for staff and not for researchers. It was not recorded.”

Finally, no they “will not post the resource sheets from the workshops. Eligible registrants were instructed to attend the live sessions to receive such materials.”

Was this a useful allocation of taxpayer dollars?

Four to five thousand dollars a pop for a speaking engagement on how to push pharma-funded marketing on social media, to someone who does not appear to prove science or use facts but rather regurgitates a presupposed consensus?

Read the document:

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