Scientists fought coronavirus, now they face a battle against disinformation | Jim Al-Khalili

The public’s appetite for science has never been stronger, but only openness can confound the deluge of fake narratives

Way back, in those halcyon and innocent times pre-Covid, scientists’ roles in society seemed much simpler. We knew where we stood when it came to explaining our work to the public. It was either exciting, like reporting on the discovery of a new particle or exoplanet, or it was completely ignored by an uninterested world struggling to understand subjects too remote from everyday experience. It almost seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when epidemiologists, immunologists and virologists – today’s near-superheroes and villains – could only dream of being given airtime or column inches to talk about their areas of expertise.

How the world has changed. The public’s appetite for science in 2020 has been insatiable as we have all looked to it for certainty in uncertain times; in fact, we have witnessed a major shift in the way the public views the role in society. The media and the wider public have wanted to know how scientific research is carried out and how its claims are tested, and there has been a scrutiny of how scientists conduct themselves and communicate their work like never before. So, if there are any positives to take forward from this most difficult of years, one may be that the race to understand the Sars-CoV-2 virus and to find ways of defeating it have also highlighted the worth of the wider enterprise of scientific research.

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