The scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been extraordinary. However, the work of the scientific community has often been overshadowed by poor communication, misreporting, and misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the public and governmental reaction to it, has illustrated the critical importance of a number of related themes:
‚- Clear communication of science, healthcare, and lifestyle issues
‚- The appropriate use of statistics at a level that both engages and informs
‚- The need to vigorously refute misinformation
‚- The need for effective debate re science and policy, but a parallel need that this be constructive, co-ordinated and non-political
‚- The need for openness and public trust in elected and appointed officials
Concentrating on the last of the above, recent years have seen a progressive loss of trust in the political establishment. In large part, this has been driven by an erosion of public standards: what politician would now resign and dedicate his life to service in the manner of John Profumo? Another factor has been the gradual erosion of honesty; the Washington Post recently reported that Donald Trump has lied more than 20,000 times since taking office.
The challenge is how the lessons of the last 12 months may be used to improve the understanding of, and confidence in political and scientific issues. Independent fact checking services should be developed to challenge lies and misrepresentation in public life, and these should incorporate easily understood methods of risk assessment. Through access to such services, the public could develop a greater understanding of the complex issues under discussion and more confidence in the political elite. As a result, recent concerns such as vaccination avoidance could be more appropriately addressed.
‚’The only thing required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing‚’.