Associate professor, University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in January that Americans didn’t need to wear masks to prevent them from the novel coronavirus that was ravaging China, Zeynep Tufekci was skeptical. But it wasn’t until a March 1 tweetstorm that Tufekci — a computer programmer, sociologist, writer for The Atlantic and non-epidemiologist who can credibly pass as one on social media — aired her concerns.
She was right, just as she was months later when she decried “beach-shaming” and stressed the need to keep parks, beaches and other outdoor destinations open. Later, Tufekci used her expanding influence to call attention to underreported issues around ventilation and pathogen dispersion.
For someone who’s been right far more often than public health experts of greater renown, however, Tufekci remains both humble and outwardly decent. “I have a thing that fame and charisma screws with your head,” she told The New York Times in August. “I’ve made an enormous effort throughout my life to preserve my thinking.”