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      Critical topics and good practices for trust in science communication before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

      Research for All
      UCL Press
      science communication, scicomm, trust in science communication, Delphi method, COVID-19

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          For a qualitative analysis of factors affecting trust in science communication (scicomm) we used the Delphi method to reach a pool of experts based in Italy and Belgium (researchers/academics, journalists and scicomm practitioners) before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results revealed a ‘strong’ consensus (confirmed before and during the pandemic) about good practices promoting trust in scicomm (mainly based on direct interactions with targeted audiences), and about critical topics where trust plays a key role. Such topics include vaccines and the role of pharmaceutical companies, climate change and environmental issues, medical sciences, communication of health risks and public health issues. According to our results, issues related to health and environment were perceived as critical and controversial subjects for trust in scicomm even before the pandemic. The same pool of experts also expressed very diverse views regarding risks and threats to trust in scicomm, and the social, cultural, political and environmental factors that can increase and promote trust in scientific communication among lay audiences. Such diversity reveals the need for further research to explore differences due to the context, based on the individual views of experts or generated from a conceptualisation of trust in scicomm which may be still fuzzy and unclear.

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          How to fight an infodemic

          WHO's newly launched platform aims to combat misinformation around COVID-19. John Zarocostas reports from Geneva. WHO is leading the effort to slow the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. But a global epidemic of misinformation—spreading rapidly through social media platforms and other outlets—poses a serious problem for public health. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Munich Security Conference on Feb 15. Immediately after COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, WHO's risk communication team launched a new information platform called WHO Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN), with the aim of using a series of amplifiers to share tailored information with specific target groups. Sylvie Briand, director of Infectious Hazards Management at WHO's Health Emergencies Programme and architect of WHO's strategy to counter the infodemic risk, told The Lancet, “We know that every outbreak will be accompanied by a kind of tsunami of information, but also within this information you always have misinformation, rumours, etc. We know that even in the Middle Ages there was this phenomenon”. “But the difference now with social media is that this phenomenon is amplified, it goes faster and further, like the viruses that travel with people and go faster and further. So it is a new challenge, and the challenge is the [timing] because you need to be faster if you want to fill the void…What is at stake during an outbreak is making sure people will do the right thing to control the disease or to mitigate its impact. So it is not only information to make sure people are informed; it is also making sure people are informed to act appropriately.” About 20 staff and some consultants are involved in WHO's communications teams globally, at any given time. This includes social media personnel at each of WHO's six regional offices, risk communications consultants, and WHO communications officers. Aleksandra Kuzmanovic, social media manager with WHO's department of communications, told The Lancet that “fighting infodemics and misinformation is a joint effort between our technical risk communications [team] and colleagues who are working on the EPI-WIN platform, where they communicate with different…professionals providing them with advice and guidelines and also receiving information”. Kuzmanovic said, “In my role, I am in touch with Facebook, Twitter, Tencent, Pinterest, TikTok, and also my colleagues in the China office who are working closely with Chinese social media platforms…So when we see some questions or rumours spreading, we write it down, we go back to our risk communications colleagues and then they help us find evidence-based answers”. “Another thing we are doing with social media platforms, and that is something we are putting our strongest efforts in, is to ensure no matter where people live….when they’re on Facebook, Twitter, or Google, when they search for ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ or [a] related term, they have a box that…directs them to a reliable source: either to [the] WHO website to their ministry of health or public health institute or centre for disease control”, she said. Google, Kuzmanovic noted, has created an SOS Alert on COVID-19 for the six official UN languages, and is also expanding in some other languages. The idea is to make the first information that the public receive be from the WHO website and the social media accounts of WHO and Dr Tedros. WHO also uses social media for real-time updates. WHO is also working closely with UNICEF and other international agencies that have extensive experience in risk communications, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Carlos Navarro, head of Public Health Emergencies at UNICEF, the children's agency, told The Lancet that while a lot of incorrect information is spreading through social media, a lot is also coming from traditional mass media. “Often, they pick the most extreme pictures they can find…There is overkill on the use of [personal protective equipment] and that tends to be the photos that are published everywhere, in all major newspapers and TV…that is, in fact, sending the wrong message”, Navarro said. David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told The Lancet that the traditional media has a key role in providing evidence-based information to the general public, which will then hopefully be picked up on social media. He also observed that for both social and conventional media, it is important that the public health community help the media to “better understand what they should be looking for, because the media sometimes gets ahead of the evidence”.
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            The Delphi method as a research tool: an example, design considerations and applications

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              Measuring trust in vaccination: A systematic review

              ABSTRACT Vaccine acceptance depends on public trust and confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines and immunization, the health system, healthcare professionals and the wider vaccine research community. This systematic review analyses the current breadth and depth of vaccine research literature that explicitly refers to the concept of trust within their stated aims or research questions. After duplicates were removed, 19,643 articles were screened by title and abstract. Of these 2,779 were screened by full text, 35 of which were included in the final analysis. These studies examined a range of trust relationships as they pertain to vaccination, including trust in healthcare professionals, the health system, the government, and friends and family members. Three studies examined generalized trust. Findings indicated that trust is often referred to implicitly (19/35), rather than explicitly examined in the context of a formal definition or discussion of the existing literature on trust in a health context. Within the quantitative research analysed, trust was commonly measured with a single-item measure (9/25). Only two studies used validated multi-item measures of trust. Three studies examined changes in trust, either following an intervention or over the course of a pandemic. The findings of this review indicate a disconnect between the current vaccine hesitancy research and the wider health-related trust literature, a dearth in research on trust in low and middle-income settings, a need for studies on how trust levels change over time and investigations on how resilience to trust-eroding information can be built into a trustworthy health system.

                Author and article information

                Research for All
                UCL Press (UK )
                05 April 2022
                : 6
                : 1
                : e06109
                [1]Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
                Author notes
                Author information
                Copyright 2022, Carlo Gubitosa and David Domingo

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                : 15 June 2021
                : 26 January 2022
                Page count
                Figures: 1, Tables: 5, References: 77, Pages: 17

                Assessment, Evaluation & Research methods,Education & Public policy,Educational research & Statistics
                scicomm,COVID-19,Delphi method,trust in science communication,science communication


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