Tapping into the power of new scicomm formats to control the spread of coronavirus

As the world struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, simple and appropriate science communication can be a very powerful in helping governments, local authorities, businesses, institutions, and the common public in controlling the spread and minimizing the damage caused by this pandemic.

I must admit that I just stopped short of writing the title as “Using science communication to flatten the curve.” But then, I figured that a lot of people might not relate to jargon like “flattening the curve.” Let me explain.

As the world struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, simple and appropriate science communication can be a very powerful in helping governments, local authorities, businesses, institutions, and the common public in controlling the spread and minimizing the damage caused by this pandemic. Check out this GIF below showcased on the SpinOff website. In one simple graph, the reader can get an overview of how flattening the curve is a very effective and important strategy to help the entire world manage the coronavirus pandemic. The graph has now been translated into several languages for wider dissemination across geographies.

Flatten the curve

In simple terms, the healthcare system in any country of the world has a certain capacity, and if the spread of the coronavirus is not controlled, it might lead to unmanageable stress on the healthcare infrastructure and result in much higher number of casualties. Patients affected by the virus need isolation and utmost care, with some acute cases even needing ventilators to survive. Now, imagine what happens if our hospitals get a sudden influx of patients 10X their handling capacity? Many lives are bound to be lost, and healthcare staff will have to take the difficult call of deciding who gets the ICU bed or the ventilator! Do we want to be in such a situation?

Now, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland, has gone a step ahead to explain what experts are now exhorting – we must aim to stop the spread rather than just aim to flatten the curve. This new GIF by Toby Morris on stopping the spread presents a brilliant illustration of the importance and benefits of moving quickly to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Stop the spread!

The full article by Dr Siouxsie Wiles on what can be done to stop the spread can be read here on the SpinOff website. Governments, businesses, and various authorities need to act quickly to stop the spread.

The impact of newer, easy to consume formats

Now, allow me to elaborate on the original point I wish to make about the importance of science communication, more so of new formats in science communication, in stemming the spread of this global pandemic.

We need to understand that the public at large will always relate to something that can be consumed and understood easily and quickly as compared to complex research papers suited for a scientific audience. Just think of what has more potential to go viral on WhatsApp, TikTok, or Facebook groups worldwide? It’s always something that’s not too technical and what most people can relate to quickly.

There are several rumors doing the rounds on social media, ranging from coronavirus being an act of biological welfare to China orchestrating the entire pandemic to regain control of high-value technology companies from American and European investors at throw-away prices (phew!). And what’s common with all such rumor mills? Easy-to-consume formats that even the common man can understand and add thus to the virality of the unauthenticated information.

An unprecedented crisis requires concerted global effort

Hence, if global authorities are looking to educate the public and encourage quick and effective action, verified scientific information needs to be disseminated in easily understandable formats such as infographics, GIFs, and videos. I’d like to refer to one of my earlier posts on how The coronavirus has sparked a mini revolution of sorts in the need for Science Communication. But this is probably not enough. We need more such powerful infographics, GIFs, and videos to ensure quick action and compliance to minimize the damage caused by this devastating virus. Such formats of science communication can be a very powerful tool in driving home the point very quickly and effectively and enable quick decision-making.

Now is the time when the scientific community should embrace newer formats of communication, especially for issues that relate to direct action by the common public. The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of unprecedented proportions and needs a concerted global effort to limit the unimaginable damage it can cause. It’s time that we take drastic steps to not just flatten the curve but also stop the spread globally. Act now!