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Sep 30, 2020 Practice Insight
Complexity, transparency and time pressure: practical insights into science communication in times of crisis

by Jana Lasser, Verena Ahne, Georg Heiler, Peter Klimek, Hannah Metzler, Tobias Reisch, Martin Sprenger, Stefan Thurner and Johannes Sorger

A global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic that started in early 2020 poses significant challenges for how research is conducted and communicated. We present four case studies from the perspective of an interdisciplinary research institution that switched to “corona-mode” during the first two months of the crisis, focussing all its capacities on COVID-19-related issues, communicating to the public directly and via media, as well as actively advising the national government. The case studies highlight the challenges posed by the increased time pressure, high demand for transparency, and communication of complexity and uncertainty. The article gives insights into how these challenges were addressed in our research institution and how science communication in general can be managed during a crisis.

Volume 19 • Issue 05 • 2020 • Special Issue: COVID-19 and science communication, Part I, 2020

Sep 30, 2020 Article
How public perceptions of social distancing evolved over a critical time period: communication lessons learnt from the American state of Wisconsin

by Kaiping Chen, Luye Bao, Anqi Shao, Pauline Ho, Shiyu Yang, Christopher D. Wirz, Dominique Brossard, Markus Brauer and Lori DiPrete Brown

Understanding how individuals perceive the barriers and benefits of precautionary actions is key for effective communication about public health crises, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. This study used innovative computational methods to analyze 30,000 open-ended responses from a large-scale survey to track how Wisconsin (U.S.A.) residents' perceptions of the benefits of and barriers to performing social distancing evolved over a critical time period (March 19th to April 1st, 2020). Initially, the main barrier was practical related, however, individuals later perceived more multifaceted barriers to social distancing. Communication about COVID-19 should be dynamic and evolve to address people's experiences and needs overtime.

Volume 19 • Issue 05 • 2020 • Special Issue: COVID-19 and science communication, Part I, 2020

Sep 30, 2020 Article
The landscape of disinformation on health crisis communication during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine: hybrid warfare tactics, fake media news and review of evidence

by Sonny Patel, Omar Moncayo, Kristina Conroy, Doug Jordan and Timothy Erickson

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in ways not seen since the 1918–1920 Spanish Flu. Disinformation campaigns targeting health crisis communication during this pandemic seek to cripple the medical response to the novel coronavirus and instrumentalize the pandemic for political purposes. Propaganda from Russia and other factions is increasingly infiltrating public and social media in Ukraine. Still, scientific literature has only a limited amount of evidence of hybrid attacks and disinformation campaigns focusing on COVID-19 in Ukraine. We conducted a review to retrospectively examine reports of disinformation surrounding health crisis communication in Ukraine during the COVID-19 response. Based on the themes that emerged in the literature, our recommendations are twofold: 1) increase transparency with verified health crisis messaging and, 2) address the leadership gap in reliable regional information about COVID-19 resources and support in Ukraine.

Volume 19 • Issue 05 • 2020 • Special Issue: COVID-19 and science communication, Part I, 2020

Jul 08, 2020 Article
Expertise and communicating about infectious disease: a case study of uncertainty and rejection of local knowledge in discourse of experts and decision makers

by Jennifer Manyweathers, Mel Taylor and Nancy Longnecker

Despite Australian horse owners being encouraged to vaccinate their horses against Hendra virus to reduce the risk of this potentially fatal virus to horses and humans, vaccine uptake has been slow. Discourse around the vaccine has been characterised by polarisation and dissenting voices. In this study we interviewed horse owners (N=15) and veterinarians (N=10), revealing how expert knowledge, disqualification of lay knowledge and inadequate handling of uncertainty impacted divisive discourse around Hendra virus. We assert that more inclusive, reflective and ultimately more effective risk communication practices will result if the legitimacy of diverse knowledge sources and the inevitability of uncertainty are acknowledged.

Volume 19 • Issue 04 • 2020

May 18, 2020 Article
Organizationally based citizen science: considerations for implementation

by Ashley A. Anderson, Elizabeth Williams, Marilee Long, Ellison Carter and John Volckens

This theoretical paper proposes a framework for how citizen science can be adapted to organizational contexts. Using an “input, process, output” approach, this model proposes organizational factors (e.g., communication channels and styles, and organizational structure) that should be considered when choosing among citizen science approaches (e.g., contributory, collaborative, co-created). The essay identifies possible outcomes for the individual, organization, and larger sector from employing a citizen science approach within an organizational setting.

Volume 19 • Issue 03 • 2020

Apr 06, 2020 Article
Variability in the interpretation of probability phrases used in Dutch news articles — a risk for miscommunication

by Sanne Willems, Casper Albers and Ionica Smeets

Verbal probability phrases are often used in science communication to express estimated risks in words instead of numbers. In this study we look at how laypeople and statisticians interpret Dutch probability phrases that are regularly used in news articles. We found that there is a large variability in interpretations, even if the phrases are given in a neutral context. Also, statisticians do not agree on the interpretation of the phrases. We conclude that science communicators should be careful in using verbal probability expressions.

Volume 19 • Issue 02 • 2020

Mar 02, 2020 Article
Are science festivals a good place to discuss heated topics?

by Sacha Altay and Camille Lakhlifi

Public acceptance of vaccination and Genetically Modified (GM) food is low and opposition is stiff. During two science festivals in France, we discussed in small groups the scientific evidence and current consensus on the benefits of vaccination and GM food safety. Our interventions reinforced people's positive opinions on vaccination and produced a drastic positive shift of GM food opinions. Despite the controversial nature of the topics discussed, there were very few cases of backfire effects among the 175 participants who volunteered. These results should encourage scientists to engage more often with the public during science festivals, even on heated topics.

Volume 19 • Issue 01 • 2020

Jan 27, 2020 Article
Datafictions: or how measurements and predictive analytics rule imagined future worlds

by Gernot Rieder and Thomas Voelker

As the digital revolution continues and our lives become increasingly governed by smart technologies, there is a rising need for reflection and critical debate about where we are, where we are headed, and where we want to be. Against this background, the paper suggests that one way to foster such discussion is by engaging with the world of fiction, with imaginative stories that explore the spaces, places, and politics of alternative realities. Hence, after a concise discussion of the concept of speculative fiction, we introduce the notion of datafictions as an umbrella term for speculative stories that deal with the datafication of society in both imaginative and imaginable ways. We then outline and briefly discuss fifteen datafictions subdivided into five main categories: surveillance; social sorting; prediction; advertising and corporate power; hubris, breakdown, and the end of Big Data. In a concluding section, we argue for the increased use of speculative fiction in education, but also as a tool to examine how specific technologies are culturally imagined and what kind of futures are considered plausible given current implementations and trajectories.

Volume 19 • Issue 01 • 2020

Dec 02, 2019 Article
Voices in health communication — experts and expert-roles in the German news coverage of multi resistant pathogens

by Matthias Wagner, Gwendolin Gurr and Miriam Siemon

When it comes to complex topics in the field of health and risk communication, experts are of high importance for the credibility of a news media report. This paper examines the use of experts and their roles in the news media coverage of multi-resistant pathogens by means of a quantitative content analysis of German print and online news. A cluster analysis of the expert statements identifies three different statement frames describing different expert roles. The results show manifest patterns of selected expert sources, which points to professionalized mechanisms of selecting expert sources for news media reports.

Volume 18 • Issue 06 • 2019

Oct 01, 2018 Article
Revisiting public debate on Genetic Modification and Genetically Modified Organisms. Explanations for contemporary Dutch public attitudes

by Lucien Hanssen, Anne Dijkstra, Susanne Sleenhoff, Lynn Frewer and Jan M. Gutteling

Genetic Modification (GM) has been a topic of public debates during the 1990s and 2000s. In this paper we explore the relative importance of two hypothesized explanations for these controversies: (i) people's general attitude toward science and technology and (ii) their trust in governance, in GM actors, and in GM regulations, in explaining the Dutch public's Attitude toward GM applications, and in addition to that, the public's GM Information seeking behaviour. This will be conducted through the application of representative survey methodology. The results indicate that Attitudes toward GM applications are best predicted by both the attitude toward science and technology and three trust measures. GM information seeking is predicted by gender and educational level, as well as attitude toward science and technology, trust in organisations and trust in regulations (negative). Overall, psychological variables seem better predictors than demographics. Implications for future research on information seeking behaviour are discussed.

Volume 17 • Issue 04 • 2018