Author: Carla Almeida, Museu da Vida – Fiocruz, Brazil

Format: Individual paper

During the COVID-19 pandemic, science, scientists, their knowledge and discoveries became not only an everyday subject, but also an object of public scrutiny. Traditional media, by providing wide coverage of the topic, opened a privileged space for this scrutiny to take place. Interested in examining the modes of (dis)authorisation of scientific discourse in COVID-related debates held in traditional media, we collected 123 comments from readers of 14 science news on the subject published in the online version of two Brazilian newspapers – Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo – between April 12 and May 9 of 2020. We then conducted a discourse analysis, mobilizing concepts from Charaudeau’s Semiolinguistic Theory, through which we sought to identify discursive markers of acceptance/reaffirmation, weighting/negotiation and rejection of the authority of science/scientists and the argumentative device supporting the different positions of the readers. The comments analysed suggest readers generally supportive of science, who use expert/pedagogical language in their interventions to comment and explain the science behind reported studies. Although we did not identify a position of total rejection of science, stories about controversial topics, such as (hydroxy)chloroquine, generated comments questioning scientific methods and researchers’ motivations. Among these critical comments, we verified a dispute of authority among the readers – who can talk about science? We also identified among the comments on (hydroxy)chloroquine news stories a strong polarization between supporters and critics of the drug’s use, reflecting the political polarization in Brazil, governed by a right-wing denialist president who then defended the drug’s use as a Covid treatment against the Brazilian scientific authorities, represented mostly by the left. In this sense, our study contributes to current discussions on the legitimacy of science in a context of increasing denialism and intense circulation of misinformation and on the complex relationships between science and politics.

Author: Carla Almeida – Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Brazil

As the field of science communication matures and undergoes important transformations, practitioners and scholars increasingly recognize the importance of discussing issues related to diversity and power, and understanding how forces such as gender, race, and class affect the area. Aware of this, and in honour of Marielle Franco, a black sociologist, politician, feminist and human rights supporter in Brazil murdered in March 2018, the Museum of Life set up the play “Cidadela”, about a fictional city where women literally have no voice; they can only speak when men are away. With four black protagonists, one being trans, the play goes beyond the debate about women in science to stimulate reflections on gender and racial bias.

At the PCST conference, we will share different aspects of the play, showing what it looks like and how the audience engages with it. Based on an audience study conducted with the spectators of the play at the museum, we observed a strong identification in girls and women with some of the characters, especially with those who have a more determined attitude against customs and traditions. For much of the audience, the main message is that women should be free, above all, to think, speak and be whatever they want. In this sense, “Cidadela” works as a reinforcement of female empowerment and as a critique of chauvinistic society. The Museum of Life is a science centre of a major health research institution in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which mainly serves elementary and high school students from vulnerable contexts, with low cultural and science capital.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Insight talk
Theme: Transformation