Science Communication in Crisis – Could we do better?

Falling Walls Circle Tables are lending the spotlight to world-leading scientists, science strategists and policy-makers from academia, business and politics discuss how we can apply science, research and innovation to get the world moving again.

While the world has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic, science communication has been combating an ‘infodemic’. Driven by social media and political divides, false information has hindered progress at every stage. As Melissa Fleming explains, “we had at the beginning misinformation that was travelling faster than the virus.”

Overcoming misinformation needs clear and engaging science communication. This requires a new level of openness in reporting, clearly laying out sources, and explaining the scientific process itself. When the science remains unclear, journalism must accurately report this uncertainty.

Ultimately, informing audiences can only be the beginning. Communicators also need to harness social media, by creating accessible and shareable content. Social media companies need to do their part, by ensuring facts are more likely to reach users than fiction. These lessons will be relevant long after Covid, as we continue to battle misinformation on many fronts – not least climate change.

Angela Saini is an independent British science journalist and author. She presents radio and television programmes on the BBC and her writing has appeared in the Guardian, The Sunday Times, Prospect, New Scientist, New Humanist and Wired among others. She has won a number of national and international journalism awards. Her two-part documentary series for BBC Four about the history and science of eugenics aired in autumn 2019, and was a pick of the day in many national newspapers. Her latest book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, was published in summer 2019 by 4th Estate and Beacon Press to widespread critical acclaim, and has been named a book of the year by the Financial Times  Guardian, The Telegraph and Sunday Times among many others. Her previous book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, was published in 2017 and has been translated into eleven languages.

Melissa Fleming is Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the United Nations, having taken up the post in September 2019. Ms. Fleming previously served the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as its Head of Global Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner for 10 years, and before that worked in senior communications roles for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). She is author of the book,A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, and host of the award-winning podcast, Awake at Night.

Jan Zielonka is the Professor of European Politics and a Ralf Dahrendorf Fellow at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. He is a prolific – and at times, combative – political scientist who keeps producing deep insights into the pres-ent-day state of liberal democracies. His analysis does not hold back with criticism towards liberalism and elites, pointing out deeprooted flaws in the political processes and institutions of the last decades. Despite the gloomy diagnosis, Zielonka’s critique is highly constructive as he tries to reimagine what a liberal democracy can and should be in order to stand the tests of time in the 21st century.

Laura Helmuth is the Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American and a journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering all fields of health, science, technology, and the environment. Prior to joining Scientific American, she was the Science and Health Editor for The Washington Post and has held positions at National Geographic, Slate, Smithsonian, and Science. Helmuth was the President of the National Association of Science Writers from 2016 to 2018 and board member from 2012 to 2016. She has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from University of California at Berkeley.

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