The Pandemic Issue

Senegal Is the messenger as important as the message? Pandemics such as COVID-19 and the flood of online misinformation underlie the critical need to elevate the voices of African science leaders. African communities have talented ex- perts they can rely on to access reliable information based on facts, if only the right platforms are provided to them. Not only do we need to share the right information and understand our target audiences, we must pay close attention to those who deliver our messages, when planning any communication strategies. Fara Ndiaye Deputy Executive Director, Speak Up Africa Brazil The first lesson from the current pandemic for science communica- tion in Brazil is that there is no such thing as redundancy. It doesn’t matter how many times one says or explains something—about the importance of social distancing, or the uselessness of chloroquine—there is always someone you didn’t reach the first time, and someone you reached but wasn’t pay- ing attention then. You have to repeat it, over and over again. Another lesson is that it actually works. Sometimes the onslaught of misinformation can make one think that the effort is futile. It isn’t: if you listen carefully, you can find the results—even if only after a lot of repetition. Natália Pasternak Taschner President,

Ukraine Ukraine started quarantine on March 25, 2020 when there were only 10 cases of COVID-19. And already on May 22 the quarantine was weakened and economic recovery began. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s address “Don’t wander the streets” worked well in the capital, the most populated city. We also managed to develop our own PCR tests within two weeks. I managed to provide comments on the origins of the new strain of coronavirus to the leaders of public opinion and it helped to prevent conspiracy theories and to stop the panic. Aspen Institute Kyiv organized a series of online events and activities to inform society about the pandemic, to help with medical supplies, and to assist the needy. In general, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed all the shortcomings and bottlenecks of the country’s medical sphere. The positive outcome is that everybody learned about PCR and realized how important good science is for society. Nataliya Shulga CEO, Ukrainian Science Club New Zealand This pandemic has highlighted how a scientific issue connects every discipline and when those from seemingly different camps work collaboratively and innovatively, a powerful alchemy can result. I think New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 has shown what is pos- sible when good science and good communi- cation come together. We have had extraor- dinary leadership in this country that not only invests in science, but invests equally in the public’s understanding of it. NZ citizens were brought into the process of it every single day through effective storytelling across multiple platforms. Walls between science and society melted away, and no one had to question the reasons behind what we were being asked to do to protect ourselves and each other be- cause the science was embedded in a crystal clear story. And at the heart of that story is the message to trust in science like your life depends on it—because it does. Gianna Savoie Director of Filmmaking, Center for Science Communication, University of Otago

Australia Australia has … so far … come through the coronavirus pandemic without suffering the appalling figures seen elsewhere: Australia’s death rate per million currently stands at 4, compared with 300 deaths per million in the U.S.A.; 542 in the UK; and a horrifying 800+ in Belgium. Australia is not alone in achieving such relatively low figures, but in Australia it does seem to be thanks to a fairly (but not perfect) early intervention to stop infections through border controls and lockdowns, sup- ported by a largely cooperative public. While early communication efforts by governments were marked by contra- dictions and confusion, one success has been the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in spreading factual information through a range of media platforms. In particular are the activities of Norman Swan, pre- senter of ABC Radio National’s Health Report, who has become a key voice of coronavirus information. His daily CoronaCast podcast quickly became one of the most downloaded science podcasts around the world, and though presentations were not without dire predictions, his softly-spoken manner generally gave science communication a voice that seemed sincere and proved reliable. Tim Mendham

Executive Officer, Australian Skeptics

Israel There are two salient features of the corona-related fake news in Israel: they give the reader meaning and hope. I think that if we talk more about the interface between science and moral values, we might be able to fill in the needs currently filled with prophetic, pseudo-medical, and conspiracy mes- sages. When communicating science, a curve is not just a curve; it is also a story about solidarity.

Instituto Questão de Ciência (Question of Science Institute) Carlos Orsi Editor-in-Chief, Questão de Ciência ( Question of Science ) Magazine

Ayelet Baram-Tsabari Associate Professor,

Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

Colombia The pandemic has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of journalism, but it is also teaching, in real time, how to do good scientific journal- ism. In Colombia we have good results with the strengthening of our collaborative networks and working with colleagues from other countries and other media. We listen to science and give it a voice in the media. We are also looking at infor- mation from different angles. But we are left with challenges: journalists must be trained in scientific journalism, scientific journalism needs to be across all journalistic areas, and we need to learn to rigor- ously fact-check. Ximena Serrano Gil President, Asociación Colombiana de Periodismo Científico (Colombian Association of Science Journalists)

Portugal COMCEPT tries to engage with the public in person and via digital social net- works. In the week before the lockdown we organized a public meeting, some style of “Skeptics in the Pub,” about the new coronavirus. The speaker was the president of a medical association and presented to the public the best data available at the moment regarding SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. During the lock- down, we used social media to promote reliable information about the disease, shared official data from the Government, asked the public to participate in online academic studies, and debunked conspiracy theories. João Lourenço Monteiro Vice President, COMCEPT: Comunidade Céptica Portuguesa (Portuguese Skeptical Community)


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