In 2019, after years, of working in e-commerce, last-mile shipments and venture management, I turned into community organizer for a summit on climate and science misinformation hosted at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The event was held on February 21-22, 2020.
At a time when the scare and the real impact of Covid-19 on different countries around the world, trust in institutions, and relationship with the media and politicians, the event was novel. The biggest scares at the time were the diminishing MMR children vaccination rates and the novel COVID-19 virus then sealed off in China.
Why am I chairing and leading an event on science misinformation?
One year prior, as I was studying for my master’s in Operational Research in the UK, I have taken a huge interest in public health policy and health services management as the Republican trifecta struggled to undo the ACA amidst an unprecedented wave of protests and political awareness to secure the survival of a crucial piece of a legislation and federal funding for millions of American’s healthcare.
Trust, empathy, effective messaging
If the Covid years have taught us anything, it is people’s disdain for dulling down the science reporting behind the virus and its ramification on people’s health, the economy, its origins, etc. Self-censorship to protect what was supposed to be racist dog-whispers backfired only less than 3 years. Science does not exist in a vacuum and often requires even more context and more sophisticated telling, and it must be effectively communicated to non-expert audiences and connected to people’s lived experiences.
To answer these questions, I invited Adam Cole, producer on the Vox Explained series on Netflix, Laura Helmuth, now editor-in-chief of the American Scientist, subject matter experts coordinators from NASEM, David May and Kara Laney and Kristy Roschke, Managing Director of News Co/Lab at the Cronkite School of Journalism (Arizona State University). For trust and empathy, I invited real doctors working daily with parents, representatives from GSK vaccines, program directors from the NIH, renowned misinformation and social sciences research from Georgetown, Letitia Bode, and several other civil society organizations working in this ecosystem
Relatable stories can speak to shared human experiences and more transparency about the then uncertainty of the virus and the development and choice behind an mRNA vaccine may have stoped Covid from spilling into an increasingly fractured political system and the “culture wars.” In the end, effective communication makes people feel heard, understood and included in the human stories they are part of. Admitting shortcomings of the information-finding process due to the sheer novelty of the virus may have stopped many internet sleuths in their tracks and the rise of conspiracy theories. One may argue, though, an overall participation in the information environment may as well be a net positive over the longer run.
You can watch all the 18 presentations from the Science MisinfoCon at NASEM in the below playlist:
I am a Systems Engineer turned community organizer. I offer 5 years of strategic leadership and teamwork. My 8+ years in internet service ventures and project management include chairing global conferences.