Comment on: Pseudoscience and COVID-19 — we’ve had enough already (From Nature April 2020)
Updated: May 24
First, read the original article: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01266-z
This fantastic piece by Timothy Caulfield draws attention to the explosion of misinformation that's occurring in response to COVID-19, but has been occurring for decades. This isn't the first time people have promoted supplements to boost your immune system or bleach to cure your ails, but at a time when our individual actions are more important than ever and a substantial number of people are out of work, we cannot afford to be selling people crap.
The most important take away was a call to correct misinformation as a professional responsibility within the science field; a call to swamp the internet with accurate information. But there's a quieter call to advocate for trust between the scientific community and the public that's just as important.
What I've learned within the last year as a science communicator is that information alone cannot change minds. People are hardwired to believe what other member's of their groups think, and we wrap our beliefs in pride. So putting out more information to the public can only help to sway those who haven't made up their minds yet. Developing trust and relationships will be just as important as presenting information.
Not to mention that presenting information itself is a skill, especially to different populations of people. Scientists are trained to communicate via manuscripts and conference presentations to others in our field, and we maybe to teach undergrads who are interested in the topic and may have taken a few related courses, but communicating science to and appealing to diverse audiences will take more practice and training than we currently have.
So as we move forward in our fight against misinformation, I don't think that all scientists will or should make substantial effort to fight misinformation. But I do think that universities should take on more responsibility to train students and trainees in science communication and I think that we all need to recognize the importance of this work. Science communication shouldn't be done solely for fun or in our spare time or as unrecognized volunteer work that we do because we're passionate about it. Science communication work deserves adequate spots on a CV and it should be considered an important activity that can contribute to tenure and promotion files. Because what good is our novel therapeutic or our new vaccine or our pandemic response proposal if the public and our elected officials don't believe in the science?