The Pandemic Issue

U.S.A. / Colombia Seven years ago, I wrote a book in Spanish called Un enemigo invisible / An Invisible Enemy . This science and adventure novel for young adults is read in several schools throughout Colombia. The plot deals with a deadly virus that gets into Miami via a howler monkey brought from Guyana in a ship- ment of wild monkeys for lab research. The monkey is a reservoir (whose origi- nal host is a bat) of the (fictitious) virus Canzanboria, which infects one of the young main characters. The book thus becomes a race to find out what this virus is, where it comes from, how to get a vaccine, and how to stop it—like what is happening now. The exciting part is that, because of the pandemic, several schools are hosting videoconferences where I can talk to kids about the book and my behind-the-scenes work with real-life virus hunters—research I did in order to write the novel. These kids are hugely interested and love my explanations about the evolution of viruses, the roles they play in our life, and the fact that were it not for a virus, none of us mammals would exist. This pandemic has opened a window for me to take the scientific process to young minds in often inaccessible places in Colombia, as well as in China (the book was translated into Manda- rin). I think reaching young people is the way to achieve a well-educated and interested society that will eventually grow up to support science in a meaningful way.

Nepal In order to control the rate of proliferation of COVID-19, social distancing has been a globally accepted effective method. In order to maintain such distanc- ing and yet continue our business as usual, information and communication technology available today is very much useful. Also, mobile technology has been easily accessible even to people living in poverty in Nepal. Therefore, we can take the widespread use of internet platforms such as Skype, Facebook, Zoom, MS Teams, Voov, WhatsApp, Kakao, Viber, WeChat, etc. for any kind of communication including for science teaching, seminars, conferences, meetings, and discussions. Sunil Babu Shrestha Vice-Chancellor, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST)

Guatemala / U.S.A. At the Cornell Alliance for Science, we are currently highlighting how science is being used to fight COVID-19 and dispelling myths through our online platform. In Guatemala, there have been different spaces created for “science innova- tion” to address the challenges this pandemic brings with communication strategies that include hashtags such as #nuestrascienciarespone (our science has answers) and #cienciaGTe- naccion [GT (Guatemala) science in action]. However, there is also a lot of misinformation spread through the many social media platforms used in the country. We believe we can amplify projects that bring attention to how science is pivotal in a crisis and, at the same time, dispel misin- formation by circulating fact-checked pieces in Spanish for our Central American audiences. Pablo Ivan Orozco Policy Affairs Associate, Cornell Alliance for Science most confusing of all has been the unexpected ideological struggle on the fundamentals of medicine. While evidence-based medicine was demonstrating its power, a discourse combining postmodernism and medie- val thinking was developing “against the method,” celebrating “common sense” medicine as opposed to medicine pre- sented as big data and big pharma. France found itself, with its “Marseille Protocol” at the center of this tornado whose effects were felt as far as the U.S.A.–Brazil axis. At the heart of the turmoil, the French Association for Scientific Information has endeavoured to communicate daily on its public website and its internal forum the France During this pandemic, perhaps reliable sources of information enabling everyone to untangle scientific facts from unfounded rumours, to under- stand where the established knowledge is and where the uncertainties lie, and to remind people that medicine is not a game of poker.

Sudan When it comes to disseminating scientific information, social media can do more harm than good in a time of crisis, due to the spread of inaccurate scientific information. In Sudan, a country that is fighting the spread of COVID-19 with little to almost no resources, WhatsApp, as usual, became the main source of news about the virus for the majority of internet users. Sudanese people’s phones are flooded with misinformation, including unverified home remedies (the most viral one was drinking red tea before sunrise), fake research findings that the virus cannot survive the country’s climate, and conspiracy theories claiming that the virus is a lie made up by the government to close down mosques and stop people from practicing their religion freely. All this misinformation has led to people not following recommended policies, such as non-essential travel and social distancing. In fact, it has made some people go as far as protesting in huge numbers against the government’s decision to close down the borders. In areas where access to smart- phones is limited, the few people who do have smartphones end up being the main source of information for the rest. The low level of tech literacy in many de- veloping countries, especially among elderly communities, makes people less likely to ver- ify sources. With the continuous increase of COVID-19 cases, misinformation will pose an even more dangerous threat for many coun- tries. Some, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have criminalized its spread, but implementing such strict policies isn’t always possible. This is why I believe youth- and community-led initiatives in countries like Sudan can take a leading role in raising awareness about the dangers of misinformation. People here have little trust in government but are welcoming of youth work. Lina Yassin Programme Manager, Climate Tracker, MENA (Middle East and North Africa)

Ángela Posada-Swafford Science, environment, and exploration journalist, lecturer, moderator, and book author; Board Member, Colombian Association of Science Journalists

Ghana Shortly after the first case was re- ported, various professional science societies and associations came together to form a COVID response team. The purpose was simple: to coordinate availability of scientists for media engagements. It worked well and continues to do so, making sure that people remain informed based on accurate science. It has been a lesson on coming together and communicating science collaboratively. Thomas Tagoe Lecturer,

Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Ghana;

Co-Founder, GhScientific

Michel Naud Director and Former President,

Association Française pour l’Information Scientifique (French Association for Scientific Information)


55 Lessons Learned About Science Communication Around the World


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