Science

Restore Confidence

This text is taken from Sciences et Avenir – Research Number 889, dated March 2021.

It was quickly labeled an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization. An information disease in times of pandemic. Blistered, “infobesity”, an overload of information on Covid-19, is impossible to digest healthily. Meanwhile, fake news or rumors that were once called “ducks” gallop. Renamed #fakenews, they travel in TGV mode on social networks, swallowed much faster than any serious and sourced information. Network modeling mathematicians know how to measure the phenomenon and psycho-sociologists explain it. So what to believe? And who can you trust to disentangle the true from the false?

Science – the scientific method, reliance on scientifically proven facts aloneés – remains an invaluable asset for most of us. It is this which makes it possible to really fight against the pandemic. As of January 10, 2020, laboratory sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome was carried out. A fundamental knowledge immediately shared around the world. This made it possible to immediately launch the design of vaccines, obtained less than a year later, including the very innovative “ARNmessager”. A historic victory.

But the problem is different. It is the one experienced by scientists themselves, whose words have become blurred. In France, and also in the United States, endless controversies broke out in broad daylight on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, the use of masks and other nonsense on serious subjects … debated with its own infobesity: 75,000 specialized articles written since the beginnings of the pandemic, some of which, published too quickly, had to be retracted. The suspicion has grown on the disinterestedness of scientists, the process carried out for the good of humanity, the usual prerogative of fundamental research. Finished, the priesthood? Apart from the controversies on television sets or in radio studios, multiple forums in the newspapers, “reassurance” between friends on Facebook, conspiracy theories on Twitter, direct speech has been attempted, a good half of French people believing, for example, that they are not sufficiently informed about vaccines. Exceptional sessions at the Academy of Sciences, in-depth round tables, self-examination of communication problems… all available online. Will the public be affected? The credibility of specialists restored? Reinforced?

A few lessons as an antidote seem to emerge. Better know how to speak in public. Avoid insulting each other. Handle doubt with caution. Distinguish between doctors and scientists, when the former do not have the rigor expected of the latter. Make sure of the differences between the latter: an epidemiologist is not a virologist, who is not an anthropologist who is not an oncologist … Let him or her know how to say “I don’t know”. Finally, the most important: the scientist is not the decision maker. In France, that everyone remains in their role remains an express condition of trust.

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