The quest for reliability in the face of an 'infodemic': handling scientific uncertainty in unfolding debates

September 3, 2020 12:00 - 1:30

Location: EuroScience Virtual Room


Research and science communication have seldom been more in focus than at present. The Covid19 pandemic and the climate emergency have placed science and research at the centre of public debate and policy making. Many commentators have identified an "infodemic" overwhelming people with facts and claims, the nature of the crises we face and consequences. Researchers are contributing to the public debate and appear frequently in the media sharing their knowledge, advice and opinions.
The proliferation of media outlets and news putting science at the center - to be criticized, negotiated and politicized - has raised important questions about the reliability of what we know and how. It has provided room for discussion about the importance of understanding sources and their strengths and weaknesses, when to be suspicious and how to question. Many of the questions that people seek help on are about establishing the reliability or ‘meaning’ of research claims: what do scientists actually know about this? Can I find out what tests have been done? How do we know? ‘How do we discuss this more widely?’
Undoubtedly these crises have created a greater appetite to understand science, and with that a renewed attention to the important role of science engagement. During this pandemic, as well as in many other instances where the evidence base to policy making is scrutinized and hotly contested, we see international differences in approaches to similar problems. This is often because governments rely on different sources or because countries give them different weight in the policy mix. Simultaneously, there evidence is constantly evolving, as are the policies that ostensibly draw on that evidence. Amid these changes other ideas flourish, from grounded critiques to ideological theories, rumors and charlatanry, which can create uncertainty and distrust in the scientific evidence that could be useful to decision makers and the public in general. But calculating uncertainty is a means to bring the unknown under control, estimate and study it. In an operational and policy context such thinking forms a vital part of helping people to engage with those policy decisions and how they may change.
You are welcome to join and engage in a dialogue session which will discuss how researchers, engagement practitioners, journalists and institutions can get involved in public debates about science and evidence and equip people to make assessments about reliability, particularly when those debates are controversial; with a focus on communicating what we know and how. How can uncertainty and tradeoffs be communicated well?

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