Communication in times of the pandemic

Misunderstandings, fake news and conspiracy theories are just taking off in the covid pandemic. Recently rumors made the rounds that the Covid – 19 – vaccination leads to impotence in men . It was chief andrologist Michael Zitzmann from the Münster University Clinic who made it clear in the media that it is not the vaccination but rather the virus itself that is to be feared when it comes to a healthy sex life.

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That vaccinations make you sick or that an infection creates better protection than a vaccination are theories that spread in the pandemic. Or that politics has conspired to harm society either with the virus or with countermeasures.

Understand how science works

Conspiracy theories thrive on the fact that it could be so, which is usually difficult to refute. This is exactly where the role of science comes in to create a clear picture.

One point came up in a panel discussion of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina on Thursday: The public must first understand how science works, so that it never provides definitive answers, but is a process, a debate that only slowly approaches a conclusion.

It is not only important that the researchers discuss their data, but also communicate their doubts about it, explained the media impact researcher David Schieferdecker from the Free University of Berlin.

Physicist Viola Priesemann, who is repeatedly consulted as an expert in the pandemic, can only underline that. The polarization of black and white is wrong. As an example, Priesemann cites the question of how much people who have been vaccinated can still transmit the virus.

Viola Priesemann.

Viola Priesemann . Photo: picture alliance / Eventpress

This has been shortened to yes and no in the public debate, without asking to what extent transmissions are still taking place. Here the public debate has completely decoupled from the scientific discourse.

More detailed research and sources must be named

Journalists conduct deeper research into the sources, check the facts more closely. Otherwise it could happen that a percentage of occupied intensive care beds is misused to claim that there is no threat of overcrowding in the hospitals.

The figure of three percent is an average value for the whole year 2020 been what the situation in winter 2002 / 21 just not recorded. It is also important that the media refer to all sources so that the public can form its own picture. Priesemann would like more differentiated reporting that not only focuses on bad news.

Mia Malan, editor-in-chief and director of the Bhekisisa-Center for Health Journalism, holds against fake news like that of vaccination opponents South Africa, for an effective means of reaching out directly to the addressees of these hoaxes. To explain to them how precisely research checks the effectiveness of the vaccinations.

That is definitely better than engaging in discussions with so-called “lateral thinkers”, which is often a hopeless undertaking.

Central is the term trust

Central appeared in the discussion between scientists and media representatives Germany and South Africa also use the term trust. You are often worried about being misrepresented in the media, says Priesemann. It is important that this trust in science is not lost, otherwise nobody will believe the experts anymore.

Here it is urgently necessary to find the right balance between evidence and feelings. A good role model for such communication is the NDR podcast by Christian Drosten and Sandra Ciesek.

Mia Malan stressed that the media Not only do they have to work precisely, but an easily understandable approach is also important. “Less is more, it is better to write a meaningful story than many interchangeable ones.”

The format also plays a role, for example animated videos can explain complicated facts more easily, which Priesemann also emphasized .

Marina Joubert from the Research Center for Science Communication for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, Stellenbosch University / South Africa sees science in the pandemic also moved closer to politics and the public.

The researchers would no longer work in the ivory tower. “And that will also be very important for communication in other global crises such as climate change.”

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