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COVID-19 showed that science has work to do in its fight against misinformation

Fast Company – “With information traveling digitally at the speed of light, here’s how to make sure the experts keep pace….The first task facing the scientific community was how to communicate about the virus itself—what it was, what it wasn’t, how it could be transmitted, and the true risks involved. Comparisons to other viral pathogens immediately emerged, particularly the common cold and seasonal influenza. Though these comparisons were somewhat useful to help the public understand the nature of the virus itself, they were often incorrectly extrapolated to make inaccurate, “broad stroke” assessments. Phrases like “this is just a bad flu” or “this only affects the elderly” led individuals to minimize the potential impact this novel coronavirus could wreak on the population. The truth is that scientists were learning in real time what the nature of the virus was; there was no pre-established “playbook” of recommendations. In a 24/7 news cycle, with a population accustomed to searching “Dr. Google” for health information, patience wore thin, and the growing desire for answers led even nonexpert views to be taken as fact vs. opinion

To move forward, it is critical that communications professionals, including the media, elevate legitimate scientific voices for meaningful discussion, not simply those who align with specific political beliefs or unsubstantiated claims. Science and political conjecture should be separate, particularly when public health is so acutely in the balance, as during a global pandemic…”

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