This text is part of the special Acfas Congress booklet
The COVID-19 epidemic, among other effects, has brought the scientific community to the limelight, especially virologists and immunologists, who have called on the media to comment. This new media coverage of science will be discussed in a discussion at Acfas organized by the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS).
Luc-Alain Giraldeau, ethologist and director general of INRS, is the catalyst for this symposium. “The epidemic has caused a great deal of controversy among the general public, but also among journalists,” he said. “We have even seen conflicting views.”
If science is already present in the media, both written and electronic, it is usually confined to a special niche. The epidemic has blown this border.
“Researchers felt an acceleration in the media coverage of science during the epidemic,” Mr Geraldeu continued. Moreover, as a general rule, when science is invited in the media, it is mainly on familiar topics. For example, a new drug for the treatment of high blood pressure, a subject familiar to the general public. But with Kovid, we were in unfamiliar territory. The researchers had to comment on a virus they did not know because they had learned about it. For all these reasons, it seemed to me that the question deserved further study, hence the idea of this symposium. A
Symposium on the title The effects of the epidemic on media coverage of science Includes three sessions. The first will address the role of research in public debate, the second will focus on the voices of scientists and the fight against misinformation, and the third will focus on urgency, science and public policy.
Luke-Alain Giraldo will take part in the first session. What will be his contribution? “I have no idea what research should or shouldn’t do in public debate, because I’m not an expert in the sociology of science,” he admits. My participation is above all an opportunity for me to start a debate. A
Science and misinformation
Alain Lamar, a researcher and professor of immunology and virology at INRS, will attend the second session of the symposium. “I was asked to testify about my experience as a researcher invited to comment on the epidemic in the media,” he explained. Since the beginning of the epidemic, I have had to give about a thousand interviews, both in newspapers but also on radio and television. A
Has this presence in the media influenced his method of communicating scientific information? “Inevitably, an adaptation was made, he continued. Less adaptation for the written media, because you have more time with the journalist, but limited time on the radio and television. The message must be more concise, it doesn’t have to go too deep The amount should not be avoided, so it is necessary to popularize his comments without trivializing.
Talking to experts at the urgent request of the media, according to the researcher, is a necessary task, far from being done. “It simply came to our notice then. Research conducted by scientists is universally funded and so it is our duty to share our knowledge with the general public. A
For the growing space for misinformation in public discourse, Mr. Lamar is reassuring. “Of course, we had to speak out against this misinformation,” he said. Fortunately, Quebec did quite well, as the epidemic here was not a political issue. Politicians mostly chose science over ideology, so there was no real division between political discourse and scientific discourse. A
Despite this intelligence, to the credit of the Quebecers, the province still felt part of its misinformation about the epidemic. The best tool to deal with this, the professor believes, is through short responses. Nothing all black or all white.
“What I do understand is that if we want to fight against misinformation, we must balance it with scientific evidence. But you have to use nuance. The difference between confusion and information lies in this subtlety. There is no misinformation. For example, to counteract this false claim, it must be acknowledged that vaccines can cause unwanted side effects, but they do not outweigh the benefits of vaccines. We need to change our discourse according to new knowledge.
Science and public policy
The third session will highlight the differences between science policymaking and public policymaking, especially in emergencies such as epidemics.
“When there is a public health emergency,” says Luke-Alain Giraldo, “the government wants to make a public policy as soon as possible to protect citizens. But science is moving at a slower pace. At the beginning of the epidemic, nothing was known about the virus Before creating, you first need to study it and understand how it works. On the one hand, you need the patience of the government to do your job, on the other hand, you need patience for any scientific method, if it pays off.