Physician-scientist, Melvin Sanicas (MSc in Infectious Diseases, 2015), Medical Director at Takeda, talks about the importance of science communication and facts-based information within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we have all witnessed, every aspect of modern life has been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19, including health, finance, education, tourism, transportation, and virtually all other industries/sectors. The COVID-19 situation is dynamic and has also affected clinical and scientific research. While research into potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments is speeding along, the pandemic has slowed or brought to a halt clinical trials for other diseases; we’re seeing an impact on the continuity of clinical trials in all regions where we conduct clinical studies.
“Even before COVID-19, I have been active in science communication and writing scientific news articles and Op-Eds since 2016. With more and more anti-science misinformation on the Internet and social media, as well as encouragement from other scientists who are already actively speaking up for science, I got myself a Twitter account three years ago and started to simplify scientific news, debunk falsehoods, and engage scientists and science communication organisations.
“New pathogens, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are accompanied by high levels of uncertainty. The public understandably wants answers and we see people turning to social media for those. One problem is that social networks are rife with inaccurate information and misinformation. Besides COVID-19, we are clearly fighting another viral threat — fake news and misinformation, ranging from conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus to unproven treatments. Apart from my regular posts on COVID-19 developments and updates, I work with TED-Ed to create educational videos related to COVID-19: When is a pandemic over; How do ventilators work; How fast can a vaccine be made – these videos now have millions of views.
“The world needs more scientists who want to translate their expertise into effective communication on global health issues. It’s our responsibility as public health experts, scientists, and allies of scientists to speak up (in any way we can) with interviews, op-eds, podcasts, blogs, or just our own immediate social circles through our personal social media posts. I also hope more and more alumni will take the time to share their expert views with journalists and engage with the mainstream media and social media; there is an important role for physicians, scientists, and public health specialists as advocates for society as a whole because when there’s a void of accurate scientific-based information, what fills the vacuum? Bots, trolls, and conspiracy theorists spreading seeds of doubt and misinformation that may have dangerous consequences.
“The Master’s programme is the right blend of public health, immunology, epidemiology, and biology, all of which are very important in gauging and understanding new and emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
“As we continue to confront COVID-19 and future challenges, whether they be another pandemic or some other global issue, good-quality effective scientific communication is essential to help us navigate through the noise of fear and assumptions based on the unknown.”