May 22, 2020, by Brigitte Nerlich
We have all heard about the epidemic of misinformation, even the epidemiology of misinformation, that is emerging and spreading alongside the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Staring this tsunami in the face, I began to wonder: is there anything good out there as well, something we can be proud of in terms of information and communication?
I think there is and I have a few favourites which I’ll list here. But there must be much more out there. So, if you want to add to the list, just let me know in the comments. The few items I list are things that, I believe, people interested in, say, history or science or language might enjoy reading, listening to or watching. These are examples of what I want to call #covidcomm, that is, of pandemic ‘science communication’, generally known on twitter as #scicomm.
Science and politics
There is lots of science communication about the pandemic out there. But I have to say that some of the best science writing comes from the pen/keyboard of Ed Yong writing for The Atlantic. He has written a series of articles which delve deeply into all aspects of the pandemic and are a priceless resource for people who want to know more about the science, but also the politics of the pandemic, especially in the US. However, there is also an article on the herd immunity debacle in the UK.
I should also mention Carl Zimmer who has written a series of very interesting articles for The New York Times, which is not surprising, as he has been passionate about viruses for a long time and is the author of A Planet of Viruses.
If you are into podcasts, Nature has started one called Coronapod, where you can listen to experts discussing latest trends.
Regarding science, UK readers might be interested in a recent BBC Horizon programme on Covid-19 (this is billed as the second part, but, in my view, the first part was not really watchable).
Science and Policy
Closer to home, the Centre for Science and Policy, Cambridge, has produced a great series of podcasts entitled “Science, Policy and Pandemics”. This is an invaluable resource for those who want to learn more about science, policy and expertise and how they are deployed and contested during these pandemic times. Topics cover everything from disease modelling to economics to digital technology and so on.
Language and culture
The Public Interest Research Centre has assembled some really interesting and accessible materials on Covid-19 and metaphors, Covid-19 and framing and its implication for policy, as well as resources for communication and action. These are all well worth exploring.
This work by PIRC overlaps with that by the Framework Institute which has a mission not only to tell us about how Covid-19 is or can be talked about but to ‘amplify the values of justice, inclusion, interdependence’!
If you are interested in the emerging language around the novel coronavirus, you can look at this great project by Tony Thorne, Kings College London called Coronaspeak and you can even contribute to it! Another linguistic crowdsourcing project focuses on metaphor, in particular alternatives to war metaphors, and you can contribute to that too. If you want to, have a look here.
At first I didn’t want to list my own Covid communications, but then, why not. I have written a few things for the Making Science Public blog on metaphors, images, songs, poems, the R number etc. and you can find this collection of posts here on Wakelet.
There is also work, of course, on how best to communicate during the pandemic and on the science of covid communication – this is rather academic stuff, but perhaps worth looking at. I’ll only flag up one great YouTube video entitled “Coronavirus Conversations: Science Communication in the time of Coronavirus”, hosted by Duke University in April, with speakers Dominique Brossard, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Maryn McKenna and Dietram Scheufele. This is well worth watching!
There is lots and lots of stuff going on pandemics in history and I can’t even start to list everything. There is one series of podcast though that I found particularly fascinating. It’s “The History of Now” series from the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. These podcasts discuss the Covid-19 pandemic from a historical perspective. Topics include animal-human encounters, the plague in the Ottoman Empire, the meaning of pestilence and much more.
If you want something visual, you can, for example, look at a century of photos of epidemics here. And here on BBC Future of all things you get a great overview of the history of pandemics.
Again, there is probably a lot out there. Just now my eye landed on “Being Human in Conversation: On Politics and Plagues“, where experts discuss, of course, Albert Camus’ La Peste and Hannah Arendt and the issue of totalitarianism….This event took place in London, but there is also stuff closer to home! For example, here in Nottingham, Unesco City of Literature. In three blog posts James Walker turns to literature to find out how we can build a better world with words during these testing times. He looks at what we can learn from Orwell, Montaigne and, of course, D.H. Lawrence.
And there are some wonderful resources, including on wellbeing, for students writing a PhD under lockdown. To look at these go to the website Virtual not Viral!
Public understanding of science
Now, all of this might still seem to be a bit academic and lofty. If you want something that really grabs you by the hand and leads you to public understanding you should look at all the animations and illustrations created by Toby Morris in collaboration with Siouxsie Wiles, from the famous ‘flattening the curve’ one onwards – they cover every aspect of the pandemic, from symptoms, to bubbles, to transmission chains and much more. This is all packaged together in this bumper edition here.
Real hands-on public engagement and outreach activities are of course impossible at the moment, but there are some online resources about online things one can do, such as this webpage by the British Society for Immunology! It’s called Connect on Coronavirus and worth a look!!
In this blog post by Elyse L. Aurbach and James DeVaney you can find lots of examples of things people have done in terms of public engagement. Be inspired!
There are numerous examples of people doing great things on Twitter in tweets and threads and other social media platforms as well… but it’s getting too much to list. When I started this post I thought I would not find anything, but look at it now. So much good stuff!
The reality on the ground
Just after I had posted this post Kat Arney, a science communicator and communication consultant, wrote a post summarising her “thoughts on an intense two months supporting @firstcreateme‘s clients, how I’ve stayed sane, and how I’m trying to think about the road ahead”. This provides a great insight into the behind the scenes actions and emotions that make good #covidcomm happen!
And now, 25 May, in the midst of the Cummings affair @matthewcobb retweeted this video made by an ER doctor, Craig Spencer, working in New York City. Watch it! It’s one of the best accounts of what Covid means to those dealing with it at the sharp end. And, again, there are more of these out there, one can’t list them all.
Let me know about your favourite resources! And tell me off for all the things I have forgotten or overlooked!
PS Ed Yong just posted his top of the Covidcomm pops (9 August).
Gaia Vince has now written a great article for The Guardian on Covidcomm (5 December). And the article is followed by a list of the best books on Covid by Mark Honigsbaum. And here is a longer version of the Vince article!
Image: Pixabay: Literature
Thank you so much for this Brigitte! It will be a great resource for my Science and Society course this fall and winter. Hope you are staying healthy.