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Public Trust in Science During COVID-19 Pandemic


Image courtesy of The United Nations


Why is trust in science important right now?

It is a well known statement that people are more likely to follow prevention guidelines that are backed by scientific evidence. People inherently trust doctors, nurses, scientists, to know their stuff and have the community's best interest at heart when giving orders and advice.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has had a great effect on citizens of many countries - including how governments handle outbreak. Particularly, how governments enlist aid of scientists to make informed decisions on controlling pandemic. An example in the United States is how the Coronavirus became “politicized”. Politicians took this as an opportunity to assert themselves in their positions and jeopardize human lives via of media coverage and public image. Wearing masks, following public safety guidelines, self-isolating, physical distancing all became associated with "the far left", and "defying the odds", going out, socializing, and refusing to wear a mask became alt-right" movements. How one reacts to a pandemic should not become a political statement, but this is what it became after increased media speculation on reliability of scientific evidence about COVID-19. People began doubting the effectiveness of masks and questioning whether or not the vaccines will be "safe". Many healthcare professionals took to social media to spread awareness about the realities of working in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Jewish doctor, Joseph Nichols, tweeted a harrowing story detailing his experience treating a patient with Nazi tattoos:

All of us being a team that included a Jewish physician, a Black nurse, and an Asian respiratory therapist. We all saw. The symbols of hate on his body outwardly and proudly announced his views. We all knew what he thought of us. How he valued our lives. Yet here we were, working seamlessly as a team to make sure we gave him the best chance to survive that we could. All while wearing masks, gowns, face shields, gloves. The moment perfectly captured what we are going though as healthcare workers as this pandemic accelerates.

At the end of the day, all we have is trust. Trust in the people who took a vow to "do no harm". These heroes risk their lives every single day when they get up to go to work. They do it for us. The least we can do is trust in them.


Image courtesy of Wix


Scientists themselves recognize that models and projections cannot be perfect, that is an impossibility. The modern world has never experienced such an ordeal before, so there are no clear instructions and blueprints that show us how to deal with this ordeal. That being said, as advancements in Covid-19 related research are made, changes or complete reversals in recommendations due to new discoveries may be made, which thenceforth invites debate. When information that is so integral to the wellbeing of society as a whole is constantly changing and updating, people tend to be skeptical of what is true and what is no longer accepted. In addition, an increased pace of research and study leads to more mistakes. Scientists and researchers trying to pump out as much information as fast as they can could potentially be hazardous. Research requires study, which takes time, meaning rushing this process could lead to misinformation or incomplete data sets.


If you have been keeping up with Coronavirus advancements, you have probably noticed that a plethora of the articles and data sets that are released by healthcare professionals, scientists, and organizations are very academic in nature. This is great for academics, but what about the general population? Reducing the very complex situation of the pandemic to a simpler model that is more comprehensive and accessible to all would balance between making reliable information accessible and oversimplification of important concepts.


It is very easy to create doubt in science and somewhat difficult to cement trust during times like these, therefore if information is more user-friendly, the reaction of the public will be more positive. That being said, we do not want to oversimplify the pandemic. Information should be accessible to all, but still detailed enough that the severity of the situation is conveyed.


Examples of countries with different pandemic situations

Looking at country where COVID-19 response has been more successful - New Zealand has had a completely different public response to new Covid protocols.

Dr. Chris Sibley at University of Auckland, “We found that people in the pandemic lockdown group reported higher trust in science… compared to pre-lockdown group”, which places heavy emphasis on strong positive response to lockdown measures backed by research and generally informed planning.

The results of governmentally enforced actions - effective or ineffective - may influence trust in scientists, as the reaction that government officials have apropos of an emergency situation demonstrate their ability or inability to keep their country safe. New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, responded very well to the pandemic, keeping New Zealand's total cases at just over 2,000 with only 25 deaths. In comparison, the province of Ontario has had 140,000 Covid cases so far, with a death toll of 3,931.

Due to the fact that New Zealand combatted Covid by allowing the doctors and healthcare professionals to "call the shots", citizens went into the pandemic with more seriousness and caution, resulting in a more contained and maneagable situation in New Zealand.


New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (Time Magazine)


What about Canada?

As for us over here in Canada, the best thing we can do is to take everything that the healthcare professionals say seriously and do our best to reduce the spread. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, urges us to stay at home with our social bubbles (whoever you live with), wear a mask when you go out, practise proper hand-washing and sanitation, and encourage others to make these same choices. Science is the most trustworthy source we have right now, so it is imperial that we listen to everything it instructs us to do.


Canadian Doctor Theresa Tam (Oak Bay News)


References


Kreps, S. E., & Kriner, D. L. (2020, October 01). Model uncertainty, political contestation, and

public trust in science: Evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/43/eabd4563.full

New Zealanders' attitudes changed after pandemic lockdown. (2020, June 04). Retrieved from

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200604095624.htm

The Lancet. (2020, September 19). COVID-19: A stress test for trust in science. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7498229/

Authors, A., & Musil, N. P. (n.d.). Modeling compliance with COVID-19 prevention guidelines:

The critical role of trust in science. Retrieved from

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13548506.2020.1772988\


Featured image courtesy of Wix



Article Author: Mina Chong

Article Editors: Maria Giroux, Sherilyn Wen