Communicating Science in the Making Science and Society in the Time of Pandemics
César Carrillo Trueba – Revista Ciencias, Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM,. Mexico
Much has been said about the problem in science communication caused by the habit of publicizing results the way they are presented by investigators – “translated,” as it were – abstracting the process through which they were determined (what Bruno Latour calls “black boxes”). Processes for producing knowledge tend to be complex, sometimes intricate, as we have seen in recent months since COVID-19 pandemic started. The competition between research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and the politicians and governments of each country, the will to demonstrate the truth when everything is uncertain, have led us into a swamp of information, one in which we’ve almost drowned.
One very concrete case was when some laboratories announced the virus’s expected lifespan on different surfaces – from three hours to several days – without verifying if it was still capable of infecting someone, a simple, but variable factor. It provoked great alarm. These were articles published in scientific journals, and were therefore hard to characterize as fake news, but there was a lack of context and insensitivity as to how this news would be taken. How should we then handle situations in which science generates information that is confusing or that could be disproven within weeks?
For years, I have been arguing for the role of the science critic – similar to the art critic – who contextualizes scientific results, makes research processes clear and explains the stakes and the political, economic, ideological, etc. interests at play, even serving as a stepping-stone between research on science communication and its communicators. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown that, without this level of analysis, our role as communicators is weak, null or even negative. We need to contextualize and integrate, an urgent task in these times. This paper is about it.
The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.