Coronavirus, science and the media By Clio Heslop, Partnerships and Impact Manager It’s hard to think of another time when science has not just been front page news but has completely dominated the attention of the world’s media and public. There have been endless articles, rolling reports, infographics, animations, home footage, memes, and press statements as COVID-19 has spread across the world and changed the way we live our lives. More than ever, scientists and journalists need to collaborate, to understand how to communicate a complex and global issue in a way that is engaging and relevant to everyone, regardless of their background or prior knowledge. But what makes “good” science reporting? Well, there isn’t one answer or one solution, but the current situation has highlighted the importance of strong links between scientists and journalists. This has been a longstanding area of work for British Science Association (BSA). Since 1987, BSA Media Fellowships have provided a unique opportunity for practising scientists, clinicians and engineers to work at the heart of a UK media outlet. The scheme aims to build trust, enable mutual understanding between scientists and journalists, and to raise awareness of the diversity of people and expertise who can contribute to science in the media. After participating in the scheme, Media Fellows go on to become spokespeople and advocates for media engagement within their organisations and communities. We asked some of our former Fellows to recommend the COVID-19 coverage they’ve been impressed with so far. Our first recommendation is a video chosen by Dr Philip Porter. Phil is a Reader in Geoscience at the University of Hertfordshire. His research focuses on the response of glaciers to environmental change and, as a result, he has led and participated in numerous scientific expeditions to locations ranging from the Arctic to the high peaks of the Himalayas. Phil says: “I was really impressed by this short video clip on the BBC website that gives details of the Coronavirus symptoms. We are all well-informed that the main symptoms of Coronavirus are a continuous dry cough and a fever, but this video provides clarification that I haven’t seen elsewhere as to what a ‘continuous dry cough’ actually is and how a Coronavirus ‘fever’ is being defined. I suspect that many who are worried that they might have symptoms will be reassured by the clear message delivered here; its calm, it’s clear and it’s easy to understand and represents in my opinion, an excellent example of high quality public information dissemination during a worrying time for all.” Next, is a comment piece chosen by Dr Giulia Barbareschi. Giulia is a post-doctoral Disability & Assistive Technology researcher at the UCL Interaction Centre and the Global Disability Innovation Hub. Her research focuses on how to develop better assistive technologies by involving users more in their creation, and how to increase access to assistive technologies for people with disabilities living in low to middle income countries. Coronavirus hits ill and disabled people hardest, so why is society writing us off? Frances Ryan (Guardian) Giulia says: “This piece explains how and why people with disabilities and their families are likely to be amongst the most badly hit by the current COVID-19 crisis. It is partially due to the fact that they could be more vulnerable to the virus itself because of underlying health conditions, but also due to inability to access social care as a result of social distancing practices, or reduced access to food and other basic essentials as a result of generalised “panic buying”. This is being largely ignored by government policies, new outlets and public opinion. Understanding the societal impact of the current health crisis is crucial to develop policies and solutions that can support the whole population ensuring that we emerge from the situation as a stronger and more inclusive society.” And finally, we have an article chosen by Dr Michelle Fernandes. As a scientist and a paediatrician at University of Southampton and University of Oxford, Michelle’s research focuses on early child development. She has developed new tools to measure child development, which have been used in 13 countries to monitor skills in healthy children, as well as those affected by malnutrition and illnesses such as Zika and Chikungunya 6 ways coronavirus is changing the environment (Politico) Michelle says: “This interesting piece throws light on a new perspective to the coronavirus pandemic. While many societies, especially across the Western world, appear to be in the grip of an as-yet-evolving health, economic and social crisis, a silent beneficiary emerges – the planet. With decreased air travel and more people opting to work from home, global carbon emissions and coal consumption have plummeted, in just three months, to the lowest since the financial crisis in 2008. Nevertheless, the association between COVID-19 and altered climate trends is complicated, with spikes in online shopping and home power consumption having negative effects on environmental indices. More interestingly perhaps, could the Coronavirus and its associated social isolation measures be the start of an inadvertent mass behavioral change that could positively benefit environmental goals and climate change? Or could it, as some suggest spur a period of “revenge pollution” as countries step up on economic growth after the pandemic in efforts to make up losses?” We hope you enjoyed reading these pieces, and we would like to thank Phil, Giulia and Michelle for their continual commitment to good science reporting, and for donating their time to the BSA for this blog post. Please contact us at [email protected] if you or your organisation would like to know more about BSA Media Fellowships.