The Pandemic Issue

Russia Just a year ago, we launched a specialty in communication in medicine and biotechnology in our SciComm M.Sc. program. It’s been a long time coming! Like never before, we are facing the fact that science communication matters, and thelack of information only increases fears and frustrations. Daria Denisova Director,

Pakistan Pakistan is actively combating the COVID-19 pandemic by effective lock- downs. People are well aware of mask and sanitizer usage and are maintaining social distancing. Treatment of those affected is being provided by government hospitals. Qaiser Majeed Malik Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation Turkey Despite strong faith in fatalism in Turkish society, trust and confidence in sciences have unexpectedly increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussion programs on TV give their prime times to scientists more than governmental authorities. The Ministry of Health got more credit than any other political actors because of its daily updates on prevention arrangements. However, social media is more useful to share information about people’s corona experiences in their living environments. Personal impressions and experiences are widely circulated during the outbreak, including health conditions and daily life routines under the “stay at home” conditions. Scientific content about COVID-19 is also heavily distributed, and governmental practices are called into question by social media users frequently. Individuals become more “science citizens” both by demanding scientific information from diverse and trustworthy sources and also by producing their own content. Çiler Dursun Professor, Faculty of Communication, Ankara University, Scientific Coordinator, Genovate

Netherlands In the early phase of the pandemic in the Netherlands, the government opted for a moderately strict lockdown and suggest- ed that in this way the virus that was still present would lead to herd immunity. There was massive outrage because the public understood that civilians were being sacrificed for the creation of this herd immunity. When the government subsequently explained that the creation of herd immunity was not the goal of its policy but a welcome side effect, the unrest subsided. Cees Renckens Chair, Germany The brief guide on Proper Criticism by psychology professor Ray Hyman has been crucial for effective science com- munication, where he explains essential points, such as not going beyond your level of competence and using the prin- ciple of charity. Beyond presenting the facts and the science, which are often later forgotten by the audience, people remember the messenger. We have learned that coming across as compas- sionate, credible and trustworthy gives the message a far more significant and lasting impact. Amardeo Sarma Chair, Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences) Malaysia A lesson I learned during the pandemic as a science communicator: it takes a crisis for the public to heed science and see it as a solution provider. Fol- lowers on my Facebook page increased by more than 2,000; subscription to my newspaper, The Petri Dish, increased among the public; and more media interviews. How can we sustain this appetite for science? Highlight the WHY more than the HOW and WHAT. Mahaletchumy Arujanan Executive Director, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC)

Science Communication and Outreach Office, ITMO University

South Africa Novel ways of sharing the science of COVID-19 with children: In South Africa (and many other countries) scientists have partnered with authors and illus- trators to create a range of storybooks, comics, and infographics (in many indigenous languages) to help children understand the pandemic. The pandemic is also an infodemic: As much as there is a need (and demand) for scientific expertise, misinforma- tion may also flourish when people are scared and uncertain. Combating misinformation is a complex task. It is important to understand the reasons why rumours and false claims spread, and to be thoughtful and respectful when trying to correct them. Here is some advice. Marina Joubert Senior Researcher,

Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), Stellenbosch University

U.K. As a researcher of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), I should have expect- ed it—but when it did arrive, it came as a surprise nonetheless. I am talking about the number of snake-oil salesmen putting their ugly heads above the parapet. After the pandemic had been declared, it took just days for the pro- motion of corona quackery to start: acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal tinctures, homeopathic remedies, colloidal silver, essential oils, dietary supplements, and many more. The entire panopticum of SCAM was on display. This was when I decided to relentlessly name and shame the villains on my blog (edzardernst. com). Today, I must have posted over 40 articles about the “corona snake- oil brigade.” The second surprise was positive, I am glad to say. The amount of support I received was unprecedented. Hundreds of comments were posted by people who agreed that now it was more important than ever to disclose this quackery, point out what harm it does, and prevent the public from falling for it (at one stage, my humble blog was even quoted by U.S.A. Today). Many friends and colleagues joined in and wrote about SCAM merchants attempting to make a fast buck by misleading the public. But the public was far less gullible than the charlatans had hoped. My impression is that the snake-oil craze even provided a significant boost for critical thinking. The pandemic is doing untold, tragic damage, but it has also helps to explain to consumers how crucially important real science is and how devastatingly dangerous pseudoscience can be. Edzard Ernst

Vereniging tegen de Kwaksalverij (Dutch Society Against Quackery)

Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter


55 Lessons Learned Around the World from Combating the Pandemic


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