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June President's Update: Communication during COVID-19

03 Jun 2020 1:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

SWCC's Annual Conference in Guelph during the speed dating session.

Conspiracy theories about the origin of new coronavirus, exaggerated claims about “cures” and vaccinations, conflicting advice on wearing masks, pundits accusing each other of being armchair epidemiologists … all of a sudden, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, science communication is in the spotlight.

Here in British Columbia, I’ve been struck by the difference in communication style between U.S. President Donald Trump and our own provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Trump, of course, has been making all sorts of wild and sometimes dangerous statements, very few of them based on evidence. Dr. Henry, on the other hand, has been speaking calmly, clearly, and without exaggeration or conscious bias. She doesn’t speculate, she admits what she does not know, and she speaks plainly and without condescension or judgement. She comes across as trustworthy. It’s no wonder that many attribute B.C.’s success in containing COVID-19 in part to her daily public statements.

But it’s not just Bonnie Henry who’s providing a good example of how to communicate. Science communicators in Canada and globally have been doing an outstanding job in sorting through the deluge of news, opinions, claims, rumours, media releases and social media feeds. (See this story in Nature for a great analysis of how science communicators and researchers are fighting COVID-19 rumours.)

Science communication often goes unacknowledged, but its importance cannot be underestimated, especially now. Whether we work for the media, freelance, host a podcast, write a blog, or do corporate, non-profit or university communications, we are needed, we are important. It will be interesting to see whether the public perception of science communication changes once the current crisis is over. I hope not.

And organizations such as the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) also play their part; in providing opportunities for education, networking and more. As it says on our website, we “foster quality science communication that links science and technology communicators from coast-to-coast.”

The SWCC is run by a volunteer Board of Directors. As you know, we’ve had to postpone our AGM and Board elections until November. If you’re interested in running for the Board, we’d love to have you! You can find out more information, and download the nomination form, at https://sciencewriters.ca/election-2020

Stay safe and healthy.

Terry Lavender, SWCC President


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