Your Weapon Against the Infodemic: The Importance of Science Communication in Relation to COVID-19

Written by Jammy Mapa
Edited by Nikki Meneses
Graphics by Brielle Romero

Have you ever experienced reading an article filled with so much scientific jargon that you could no longer understand it? That is just one of the many examples of ineffective science communication.


BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT!

  • Science communication (SciComm) is defined as the effective presentation of scientific information.
  • An infodemic is defined as the overabundance of information that may be misleading or fabricated.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the fight on the infodemic by providing crucial and accurate information through social media platforms.
  • Effective SciComm is needed to ensure that governments, health experts, and citizens work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Basics of Science Communication

Science communication, or SciComm for short, is defined as the use of appropriate language and media in an effort to produce the following responses: Awareness, Enjoyment, Interest, Opinion-forming, and Understanding. As stated by Dr. Emily Dawson, an Associate Professor at the University College London specializing in science engagement, SciComm is vital in helping the public understand science-related issues. It aims to provide them with enough information to form an opinion on how these issues affect their daily lives. Now more than ever, SciComm plays its biggest role yet: effectively spreading information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fighting an Infodemic

We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) used these words to refer to the current “infodemic” — an overabundance of information that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.” Taking up the form of misleading or fabricated media, the infodemic complicates COVID-19 response efforts by creating an atmosphere of confusion or distrust. Despite being seemingly harmless, the infodemic can lead to major consequences. Examples of which include rumors on a possible food scarcity, which prompted people to hoard supplies and cause actual shortages. Other drastic examples are reports on hydroxychloroquine and methanol alcohol as treatments for COVID-19, which led to deaths in the United States and Iran, respectively.

In response to the infodemic, WHO partnered with social media platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, in launching messaging services dedicated to disseminating crucial and accurate information on COVID-19. With services found in several languages, including Arabic, English, French, Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, WHO is able to reach up to 2B people. To reach the estimated 3.6B people who remain offline in low-income countries, WHO, along with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are calling on all telecommunication companies worldwide to join the cause of using communication technology as a means to provide the masses with the latest information on COVID-19.

Effective SciComm in National Governments

While organizations such as WHO are fighting the infodemic at a global stage, different national governments are responsible for keeping their citizens informed during this pandemic.

Without our science communicators to publicly inform, explain, teach, decode, counter misinformation, and debate science matters, many would remain in a space where they don’t have [the] information they need, leading to poor choices being made at really crucial times.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden spearheaded New Zealand’s pandemic response—one of the most successful globally—by creating a strong collaboration with their health experts. With Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield communicating the many health issues around COVID-19, New Zealand was able to make government decisions that helped them in containing the virus and help the public understand every step of their plan. Additionally, Arden was able to provide the public with the information they needed to keep safe during the pandemic by holding daily press briefings and live broadcasts. With special conferences such as a briefing with Dr. Michelle Dickinson, a science communicator specializing in SciComm for children, Arden was able to ensure every citizen in New Zealand was aware of current events and the protocols to keep them safe.

The responsibility of being informed does not end with our government officials and health experts. As readers, we must always be critical of the news we read and check for its credibility. By simply talking to family members about false posts shared on Facebook, we are already helping end the infodemic and aid in the fight against COVID-19.

REFERENCES

[1] Zika and Beyond: Communicating about Crises. (2018, March 12). Retrieved September 16, 2020, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) website: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/science-health-public-trust/perspectives/zika-beyond-communicating-about-crises

[2] Communicating About COVID-19. (2020, March 24). Retrieved September 16, 2020, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) website: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/science-health-public-trust/perspectives/science-health-public-trustcommunicating-about-covid-19

[3] Gross, M. (2020). Communicating science in a crisis. Current Biology, 30(13), R737–R739. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.052

[4] United Nations. (2020). 5 ways the UN is fighting ‘infodemic’ of misinformation  | United Nations. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from United Nations website: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/five-ways-united-nations-fighting-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation

[5] Coronavirus: How New Zealand relied on science and empathy. (2020, April 20). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52344299

[6] LeBard, R. (2020, July 3). Jacinda Arden and science communication in COVID19 | SCICOMM. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from Medium website: https://medium.com/scicomm/what-jacinda-arden-can-teach-us-about-science-communication-6f8fc42712b4

[7] Burns, T. W., O’Connor, D. J., & Stocklmayer, S. M. (2003). Science communication: a contemporary definition. Public understanding of science, 12(2), 183-202.

[8] Dawson, E. (2013). Why is Science Communication important? Retrieved from https://www.stem.org.uk/system/files/elibrary-resources/legacy_files_migrated/29743-Catalyst%2024%201%20556.pdf

[9] United Nations. (2020). UN tackles ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and cybercrime in COVID-19 crisis | United Nations. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from United Nations website: https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/un-tackling-%E2%80%98infodemic%E2%80%99-misinformation-and-cybercrime-covid-19

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