Dr. Bill Gallo presents the Unbiased Science Institute
Maplewood and South Orange have long been home to talented authors, theater artists, musicians and journalists. If Dr. Bill Gallo has his way, the community will add public health research hub to its accolades.
A longtime health economist, gerontologist and social epidemiologist, Gallo played a key role in rethinking how public healthcare could provide clear and cohesive information about the pandemic to the general public. He is executive director of the Unbiased Science Institute (USI), a nonprofit organization that partners with experts worldwide to cut through the misinformation and disinformation that was so prevalent during the pandemic.
Since 2020, USI’s subject matter has expanded far beyond COVID. “If you’ve Googled it, or argued about it around a dinner table, Unbiased Science has the answers for you,” says an institute motto.
Before founding Unbiased Science, Gallo was a professor of public health and nursing at the City University of New York and served as a research assistant at the Yale School of Medicine. In 2016, he co-founded Vital Statistics Consulting, a company that provides policy analysis and program evaluation in the public health industry. “Our job is to look at health policies and to apply statistical models to figure out whether or not [organizations] are achieving their intended goals and objectives,” says Gallo.
In May 2020, Gallo and a group of experts organized a virtual summit called “COVID 19 – Translating the Science and Exploring the Path Ahead.” The goal was to provide COVID education that would translate clearly to organizations, families and communities alike. “It was soup to nuts. We had 15 speakers over three days. It was everything from the cellular level, the virology, right up to what do you do with your kids who have been out of school and how a family can manage their anxiety and depression,” he says.
Gallo originally thought the summit would be a one-off event. However, the programming was so well-received that he knew they had tapped into a vital need for communication. “We realized this was just the beginning – not an end. The response provoked us to establish a podcast,” he says.
The Unbiased Science Podcast is co-hosted by Dr. Jessica Steier (a mentee of Gallo at CUNY) and Dr. Andrea Love. They have created a portfolio of episodes addressing science and public health topics with the goal to affect the daily lives of listeners. Episodes range from vaccine hesitancy and the opioid epidemic to GMOs, fad diets and supplements.
“We launched the podcast pretty quickly. The feedback told us that we had a lot of great information, but listeners were only hearing from us once a week or once every two weeks,” says Gallo. “We saw that there was a need to translate science to evidence-based decision making for the layperson, beyond the pandemic.”
The institute created a robust social media presence focusing on education, applied training and community engagement. USI’s use of infographics “break[s] down complex health and science issues into digestible, visually appealing stories, which can easily be shared,” explains the institute. USI supplies the messaging which is disseminated into useful communications for STEM education, nonprofit organizations and public health events.
“The whole public health system was introduced during the acute stage of the pandemic, but they’d always been there humming along in the background. It includes a lot of emergency preparedness,” says Gallo. “The limiting factor has been how to communicate with the public at large. And that’s where we stepped in and filled a gap.”
Some of the Unbiased Science Institute collaborators include the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, the Virginia Department of Health, TED Health and Immunize Nevada.
“State public health officials became interested in what we were doing and asked us to help them along with that process.” says Gallo. “It really opened up a niche opportunity for us to use our communications capabilities to simplify and help people make better decisions to look at the emerging evidence.”
Gallo views his current work as a natural outgrowth of his 20 years in academics and research. “It was a combination of the things that I like to do best: to teach, write, and investigate. I always wanted to be a writer and a scientist,” he says. “Ten years at Yale for a kid from Hoboken is professional nirvana.”
The Hoboken native moved with his wife, Sandra Tomlinson, to Maplewood more than 15 years ago. “We have two incredibly wonderful daughters. Sandra and I moved here with them because we wanted a safe place with a little patch of green behind the house.” His daughters are Sofija, 25, and Laila, 22. His niece Ilze Abersone is a content creator for USI and lived with the Gallo family in Maplewood for 10 years.
In a 2016 interview with Matters Magazine, Gallo discussed his love and talent for portrait painting. He described Maplewood as an incubator for the arts. “Maplewood became a place where artists got together and inspired each other. We have this wonderful village that’s got cafes and restaurants where people can come together and talk about things and talk about their work,” he says.
His recent interview also puts the community front and center. “I want the people of Maplewood and South Orange to know that the best kept secret in town is not just the location of Artie’s. It’s the Unbiased Science Institute – right in your backyard, looking for support and to help us be sustainable,” he says.
The institute continues to search for philanthropists, but it avoids support from commercial interests. “We work with project-specific funding,” says Gallo. “When we get funds from a particular entity, such as the charitable arm of a pharmaceutical company, it’s very specific. We can’t support the commercial interests of those entities.”
Gallo has been immensely successful at creating a brain trust of professionals who can speak expertly on most public health subjects. But operational funding is a necessity for the nonprofit to move forward. “We know there are plenty of nonprofits that run on shoestring budgets, but ours is a real mission-driven nonprofit that will transcend times of crisis. We want to help people make better decisions about their health and well-being,” he says. “And without support, we can’t do that forever.”
Donny Levit lives in Maplewood and is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. Check out his radio shows on Instagram: @undertheinfluenceradio, @newishradio, and @kindofpoolradio.