Science communication is ripe for a paradigm change, and newer content formats might have a role to play. This probably hasn’t been more evident than now given the situation around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
As I type this sentence, there are a total of 119,134 confirmed coronavirus cases* worldwide. Mainland China has detected 80,958 cases, half of whom have already recovered. South Korea (7,755), Italy (10,149), and Iran (8,042) are the new epicentres with the maximum number of cases outside China. And how, you may ask, do I know about these exact figures at a glance? This is courtesy of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard hosted by Johns Hopkins CSSE.
This amazing interactive infographic gives a bird’s eye view of the global situation around the coronavirus epidemic (the World Health Organization just stopped short of terming it a pandemic). There are several other such dashboards, but this one caught my eye immediately because of its non-technical nature and the fact that a layman can immediately start relating to the situation.
The above PDF handout on coronavirus I’d found is a very good example of how research converted into plain and easy-to-understand formats can be very helpful to the common man on the ground.
Then, this simple graphic by Sara Chodosh posted on Popular Science shows how measles, smallpox, rubella, mumps, and SARS are much more contagious than coronavirus (COVID-19)! Now that’s the power of an infographic! (It should be noted that this doesn’t imply that measles is more fatal; it’s just that the world has dealt with diseases that are far more contagious, and the real challenge with the coronavirus is finding the right treatment and cure.)
Necessity of Reliable Data Flow
What needs to be noted here is that dashboards such as the one hosted by John Hopkins are possible only if reliable data flows in unhindered. Authorities across the world have been providing access to local data on the epidemic on a regular basis. In addition, the world’s top scholarly publishers such as Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE Publishing have all announced immediate open access publishing of data and findings on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Nature has gone ahead and launched Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview—an open-source platform for rapid review of preprints related to emerging outbreaks—with support from the London-based charity Wellcome. All these efforts will go a long way in the effective treatment of patients and in helping the entire world emerge out of this crisis.
On a related note, several leading preprint servers such as bioRxiv, medRxiv, and ChemRxiv too have seen a surge in the number of preprint submissions related to the novel coronavirus. But given that preprints are not peer-reviewed, some of the material lacks scientific rigour, and some has already been exposed as flawed, or plain wrong, and has been withdrawn, writes Kate Kelland from Reuters as she discusses the risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research.
However, Kristen Sadler, former research director at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, is of the opinion that if right quality controls are in place, preprints have the potential to speed up the dissemination of research.
Furthermore, several language editing companies have gone ahead to offer free editing services to all manuscripts related to the novel coronavirus.
The free availability of reliable research data has helped various authorities and doctors battling the situation to present the public with easy-to-understand handouts for dispelling notions and preventing the outbreak from further deteriorating.
The Real-life Impact of Science Communication
Hundreds of thousands of people have been able to make swift decisions around their travel plans and decision-makers at all levels have been able to respond with urgency AND clarity. Conferences have been cancelled at the last minute, and the entire conference circuit has taken a beating. Imagine the disaster if reliable data wasn’t presented in easily consumable formats, and these huge conferences had continued on schedule.
What can be the real-life impact if science communication available in the right format is actioned on in the appropriate manner? Check out this Op-ed on Why Vietnam has been the world’s number one country in dealing with coronavirus. Which is why I feel that science communication is ripe for a paradigm change, and newer content formats will have a role to play. More power to science communication!
Note: This post was first published on the Impact Science blog.