Webinar: Science communication and the COVID-19 crisis

Webinar date: 26 May 2020

COVID-19 presents one of the largest science communication challenges ever, with rapidly evolving science, enormous social and economic impacts and a rising global death toll. Hear international perspectives from Matt Nisbet, Marina Joubert, Dominique Brossard, Massimiano Bucchi, and Anwesha Chakraborty.

The webinar was chaired by PCST President, Brian Trench.


Professor Matt Nisbet Professor of Communication at Northeastern University, Boston, MA discussed how decades-long differences in the framing of pandemic responses are playing out in the U.S. and international debate over how to “flatten the curve”on COVID-19 cases. These duelling interpretations pit prominent voices like Bill Gates who focus almost exclusively on techno-science solutions such as vaccine or drug development against others like U.S. journalist Laurie Garett who emphasise the need for greater investments in local, national, and international public health systems. Nisbet is past editor-in-chief of the journal Environmental Communication, and a monthly columnist at Issues in Science and Technology.

Dr Marina Joubert from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University discussed how it is not uncommon during a health crisis for individual scientists to acquire scientific celebrity status. During COVID-19, Anthony Fauci is the media star in the USA. In Italy, it is Roberto Burioni. In the UK, Neil Ferguson and Chris Whitty became prominent voices, while Australians turn to medical-doctor-turned-broadcaster Norman Swan. Marina will reflect on the remarkable surge in public prominence of AIDS researcher Salim Abdool Karim, and explore how and why he became the most popular and trusted ‘face of science’ in South Africa

Four other members of our PCST community will briefly discuss their own country’s perspectives about COVID-19 and science communication:

Professor Dominique Brossard Chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed collaboration between academics and practitioners in communicating about COVID-19.

Professor Massimiano Bucchi from the University of Trento discussed surveys of the two waves of public perception and attitudes to COVID-19 in Italy, with some notes on international comparison and the network they are building with other colleagues.

Dr Anwesha Chakraborty is based at the University of Bologna in Italy but also following progress in India. She discussed the overwhelming volume of data available (TV channels, online newspapers, social media) and the abundance of scientific, unscientific and pseudo-scientific information.

Barbara Gormley is currently completing her PhD at Dublin City University on risk communication models during pandemics. She talked about how scientists are significantly changing their communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Webinar was hosted by Chair of the PCST2020 Program Committee, Jenni Metcalfe.