The Pandemic Issue

Ethiopia In Ethiopia, there are difficulties with governments, stakeholders, and the biomedical community regarding how media should further COVID-19 edu- cation and prevention. On March 27, 2020, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Technology Innovation announced that Ethiopia made signif- icant progress toward development of a cure for the virus: “In collaboration with Ethiopian traditional doctors and modern science research and clinical doctors, we are exploiting our indig- enous and traditional knowledge and shaping it into modern science proce- dures to prepare a cure for COVID-19. The medicine has potential to prevent the virus, is non-poisonous, and is promising.” Following this announce- ment, many maverick and dissident scientists opposed the statement and said it was premature to make an an- nouncement before a clinical trial was started and that it distracts people’s attitudes from vigilance and alertness against the pandemic and politicizes the situation. The majority of Ethiopian people agree: a poll conducted through the messaging platform Telegram found that 71% of people said it was incorrect to make such an announcement before a clinical trial. Tenaw Terefe Italy As fake news and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus piled up every single day during lockdown, I found myself, as many other science popular- izers here in Italy did, with an urge to share—with those following us on social media—analysis, critical thinking skills, and tools to overcome the craze and better understand what was happening. Day after day, I noticed a closer bond developing with more and more people. They were not only asking the “expert” for information or insights in clearing up some new absurd claim, but they were also looking for some kind and reassuring words from someone they now perceived as a calm and rational friend, someone who could take even the wildest fears back down to earth. Assistant Professor, Faculty of Journalism and Communication, Addis Ababa University Eventually, as things started to get a lit- tle easier and those who could returned to their jobs, crazier claims lost their grip, but the bond of trust between us, pop science talkers, and our audience, not only is still there, but has grown stronger. And it looks like a lot of good and promising things can come out of this. Massimo Polidoro Executive Director, Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul paranormale (Italian Com- mittee for the Investigation of Claims on the Paranormal)

Saudi Arabia The infodemic we’re currently seeing alerted me to a crucial point: the correct, reliable, and verified scientific information and evidence is widely available to all those who seek it. In our digital age, the root cause of ignorance cannot be limited to only knowledge scarcity. A century ago, illiteracy was prevalent in the majority of the global population, and knowl- edge was only available to a small group of society. All of that has changed, but ignorance still prevails. The root causes must be deeper and broader. I reckon that this particular ignorance is rooted in the wrong understanding of the scientific methodology process (making an observation, formalizing a hypothesis, exper- imenting, gathering data, analyzing it, and building a theory). The overwhelming majority of conspiracy theorists’ arguments are based on a misconception of one of these basic prin- ciples, whether by confusing hypothesis for a theory, or lack of familiarity with methods of constructing a solid experiment, or ways of examining data and evidence, or erroneous analysis of experiments’ results outside their scientific context. Assuming the validity of this observation, the answer to all the ongoing “scientific” con- troversies won’t be by discussing each issue separately, but by referring back to the basics of the scientific methodology, and determining the cognitive origins of this collective fault and reforming it. Unfortunately, schools do not pay as much attention to the methodology as it deserves, but consider it as another lesson that must be finished to complete the curriculum. This has contributed to the emergence of many strange beliefs in our society without the slightest evidence or collective scrutiny. It is our role as science communicators to bring back the central role of the scientific methodology and reeducate the public about its importance and applications in our daily lives. Faris Bukhamsin CEO, Scientific Saudi

U.S.A. / India Calling out scientific misinforma- tion explicitly is critical for effective science communication. This can be an arduous task since misinformation can be generated rapidly (and at low cost!) through internet platforms. A group of scientists from top research institutes in India (the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, Mumbai and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) have set up a website with “Hoax Bust- ers” that contains simple infographics explicitly calling out misinformation circulating in social media. This is a critical tool for science communication in a country like India where scientific literacy remains low but technology access has increased significantly (over 500 million smartphone users), leading to an explosion in the circulation of misinformation. Abhilash Mishra Director, Kevin Xu Initiative

on Science, Technology, and Global Development, University of Chicago

Kenya The Kenyan Government has been consistent in providing status updates with three key messages, while keeping communication short and simple: 1. Wash hands regularly with soap and sanitize often,

2. Social distancing, and

3. Wear face masks.

One other lesson is use of spokesper- sons trusted by communities such as faith-based leaders and local adminis- tration (not as widely, but at least this is a positive). Margaret Karembu Director,

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter

Chad This pandemic has shown us that we have an intimate relationship with nature and that there is an urgent need to enhance biodiversity protection. Biodiver- sity is a protection against the development of pandemics, and nature is our pharmacy and provides the molecules needed for both modern and traditional knowledge. Indigenous peoples have known this for centuries, living in harmony with nature, and advocating for a paradigm shift in our relationship to the envi- ronment. My hope is that this crisis will be a wake-up call for all of us. COVID-19 has demonstrated that politicians and business leaders are lost without science, and that listening to scientists can save lives. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim Coordinator,

Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT) (Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad)


55 Lessons Learned About Science Communication Around the World


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