COSMOS and Arkansas Partner to Counter Plague of COVID-19 Misinformation

ARA Fellow Dr. Nitin Agarwal Puts Science on the Frontlines

Anyone monitoring the nation’s daily COVID-19 updates know just how deadly the virus is and how rapidly it spreads. However, another dangerous contagion is infecting communities worldwide right alongside COVID-19, and it’s even more difficult to contain.

“We call it an ‘infodemic’ which is in many ways more dangerous than COVID-19,” explains Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Information Science at UA Little Rock. “The cases of misinformation about the virus are rising exponentially from the dark corners of the web.”

Dr. Agarwal is Director of The Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies, or COSMOS. He and his team of cosmographers study social media and online behavior to combat threats to social good, ranging from safeguarding elections to countering terrorism. The work of COSMOS is now being used to put down this current threat of harmful misinformation regarding the pandemic.

The range of misinformation is expansive. “Fake cures. Medical equipment scams. Anti-foreign sentiment. Basically, anything designed to sow division and unravel the fabric of our society,” says Dr. Agarwal. “This environment of high-anxiety makes it easy for us to fall prey to fake news.”

COSMOS is partnering with the Arkansas Office of the Attorney General to develop a website that can help people identify, understand, and even report fake news regarding COVID-19. The technology is supported by the work COSMOS has completed for agencies like the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, and the National Science Foundation among many others. Still, the new website requires new methodology to combat the problem at hand.

“We’re working night and day because we really wanted to do something to help Arkansas,” says Dr. Agarwal. “The Arkansas Research Alliance helped put us in touch with the Attorney General, and now we believe this can be a resource used nationally, or even globally.”

Dr. Agarwal also credits the ARA Fellows grant with helping him fund projects dealing with unexpected events like COVID-19.

“We’re working with the Arkansas Attorney General on a volunteer basis,” says Dr. Agarwal. “The ARA funds made that possible.”

The website,, is an essential tool to countering the spread of misinformation, which too often takes fraudulent advantage the anxiety associated with the virus. “This pandemic has created an unprecedented  level of uncertainty and I will not tolerate bad actors seeking to leverage this crisis to fill their pocketbooks,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The goal with this partnership is to make sure we are quickly identifying fake websites that are spreading misinformation with the purpose of stealing from Arkansans.”

Dr. Agarwal wants to remind people that news spreads fast online – the weirder the faster. “The only way to expose these dark characters on the web is to shine a light on them. Our mission is to shine that light.”



Artificial Intelligence Campus Demonstration Held In Little Rock

On Friday, February 15, professors and students from seven Arkansas research universities met at the Arkansas State University System Office in Little Rock to demonstrate projects related to solving problems through artificial intelligence.

Representatives from the University of Arkansas, UAMS, UALR, Arkansas State, UAPB,  Arkansas Tech University and Philander Smith College participated in intra-campus collaborations on a host of AI projects, including self-driving automobiles, medical imaging, genomics, and more.


Kaimen Zeng, Arkansas Tech, demonstrates new breakouts in self-driving technology.


“The AI Campus has brought students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty together in teams with coaches across the state, with each of the projects starting at the frontier of the artificial intelligence discipline,” according to Dr. Xiuzhen Huang, director of AI Campus, professor of computer science at Arkansas State, and Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow.

In addition to groundbreaking research, the event featured introductory statements from Dr. Kelly Damphousse (Arkansas State University Chancellor), Dr. Lynita Cooksey (A-State Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Research), Dr. Larry Cornett (Vice Chancellor for Research, UAMS) and Dr. Fred Prior (Professor & Chair, Department of Bioinformatics, UAMS).

“150 years ago, Arkansas was on the geographic frontier,” said Bryan Barnhouse, COO of ARA. “Today, Arkansas is on the scientific frontier of artificial intelligence.”




AR-BIC 2018 Recap

The 4th annual meeting of the Arkansas Bioinformatics Consortium (AR-BIC) was successfully held March 23-24 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Attended by over 200 participants, AR-BIC 2018 was made possible through the generous support from a conference grant awarded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), sponsorships by the major Arkansas research universities in this field – University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), University of Arkansas (UA), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA-Little Rock), University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), and Arkansas State University (A-State) – along with the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) and TriNetX. The Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) acted as the lead organizer in addition to providing core sponsorship resources. This year’s overarching theme was “Data Analytics for Genomics and Beyond.”

AR-BIC was founded to foster a collaborative, Arkansas-based community in bioinformatics research and education among federal and academic institutions. Over the past few years, AR-BIC has gained tremendous momentum and popularity among the Arkansas scientific research community, which is evident by the increased number of participants each year.

The AR-BIC annual meeting has become the largest Arkansas bioinformatics gathering, which not only provides an opportunity for networking, collaborating and sharing ideas, but also a platform to highlight the excellent research conducted statewide. This year’s meeting was especially extraordinary as it announced the formation of the AR-BIC Governing Board and was heralded by a video greeting from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who highlighted the contribution and impact AR-BIC has made on the improvement of the state’s economy and research environment.

The two-day event opened with a pre-conference workshop by TriNetX, which, in addition to being a network of academic medical centers and pharma companies who collaborate on clinical trials, provide a technology application to access clinical trial cohort data. Plenary talks centered on generalized data analytics of genomics data, textual data, business data, and chemical data by eleven internationally renowned scientists located in Arkansas, and by two visiting scientists from Argonne National Lab, Illinois, and East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.

Arkansas-based plenary speakers were graciously provided by NCTR, UA-Little Rock, UA, and UAMS. AR-BIC also hosted two speakers from the corporate sector – J.B. Hunt (logistics technology) and MISO (energy grid management). Each speaker shared data-analytics trends in their areas of expertise, along with strategies and methodologies they employ using a different range of data – from genomics and textual to chemical and business. Striking similarities were discovered in the underlying data analytics methodologies across all types of sectors, a promising segue for future collaboration among data scientists from state universities and business.

In addition, more than 30 posters were presented, predominantly by students from the partner universities, providing them an important training opportunity, and sparking continued conversations throughout the consortium. AR-BIC members hailed from all corners of the state, arriving from NCTR, UA-Little Rock, UAMS, A-State, UA, UAPB, and USDA. The full conference program can be accessed at

With this success, we are now planning AR-BIC 2019, to be hosted February 25-26, 2019, at UAMS.


Dr. Alex Biris’ research inspires (and confounds) Arkansas columnist

You don’t have to be an ARA Fellow to appreciate Dr. Alex Biris’ work with nanomaterial-based bone regeneration. The fascinating research conducted at UA Little Rock is impressive dinner-table discussion. After all, whose eyes wouldn’t widen at the thought of healing broken bones with nanoscaled materials bearing bone-mimicking characteristics?

However, in a recent Democrat-Gazette article, noted columnist Rex Nelson admits his grasp of the tech is somewhat beyond his reach:

I don’t pretend to be smart enough to understand what it is that Biris is doing.

Indeed! Dr. Biris, Chief Scientist of the UA Little Rock Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences (CINS), explores the science of nanostructures that can be used to alter the properties of other substances at the atomic level. Such microscopic pursuits can have big commercial value, as Mr. Nelson soon discovers:

I do know enough to realize that this is exactly the kind of research that could move the central Arkansas economy forward once it’s monetized. As one UALR administrator told me: “Though the goal of the research is treatment for human injuries, the long Food & Drug Administration road to commercialization is shorter for animals than for human subjects. There’s potentially a big market for animals such as thoroughbred horses, prize breeding stock and beloved pets. The scaffold has enabled better healing of broken bones in some experiments than in any previous therapies. It’s exciting stuff. And it’s happening right here in Little Rock.”

And it’s happening right here in Little Rock. Research is a catalyst for economic growth in Arkansas, one that Mr. Nelson understands is undervalued in the Natural State. You can read more about Mr. Nelson’s discovery of research’s role in the future of Arkansas’ economy here, The Ol’ College Try.


ARA Scholar Carolina Cruz-Neira wows at CES 2018

Each January, tech companies from around the world gather in Las Vegas to show off their latest efforts at CES, the biggest gadget show of the year. This year, UA Little Rock professor and ARA Scholar Carolina Cruz-Neira and other industry leaders were invited to speak about virtual reality.

“I talked about the fact that VR is much more than just helmets, and that we need to look at the technology based on the role or tasks users need to accomplish,” she said.

Dr. Cruz-Neira  has created and deployed a variety of technologies that have become standard tools in industry, government and academia, the most well known being the CAVE virtual reality system. An ACM Computer Pioneer and IEEE Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award recipient, her work with advanced technologies provides value to a wide-range of disciplines and business.