Coronavirus (1474) Communicating health research (130)

21 November, 2022

This week's Lancet Offline column by Richard Horton looks at the launch of Confidence in Research, 'a report exploring attitudes of scientists to the practice and communication of science during the pandemic. Based on a survey of over 3000 researchers worldwide...'

CITATION: Offline: COVID-19—the lessons that science forgot

Richard Horton

The Lancet - Comment| volume 400, issue 10365, p1753, november 19, 2022

Published:November 19, 2022 DOI:

Extracts below:

'Economist Impact made several proposals. Campaigns to counter misinformation. Investments to build public trust in science. Commissioning more research on science communication. Enhanced research literacy among the media. More vigorous efforts to explain new research findings to a public audience. Promoting more cross-country partnerships and making room for non-English speakers to reduce inequities. And preparing scientists for more public-facing roles—reducing administrative burdens, providing mentorship for early career researchers, training in communication, hiring science communicators, and providing support to confront online abuse.'

'I would add five additional challenges. First, addressing the problem of speed. The demand for instant publication of new research was intense during the COVID-19 pandemic. So intense that peer review was routinely bypassed with an explosion of preprints... Second, solving the problem of volume. The tidal wave of research papers that COVID-19 triggered... revealed that science today has a curation challenge... Third, managing the problem of voice. Those scientists with ready access to channels of communication were quickly and forcefully heard in the cacophony of an evolving global health crisis. But it was not the voices of the most powerful that the world always needed to hear... Fourth, the question of meaning. Just because research was published quickly did not mean that science policy makers read and responded to that research appropriately or in a timely manner... And finally, dealing with error. Under severe pressure, miscalculations will be inevitable... What matters is that those errors are identified and corrected as quickly as possible... I am pessimistic. There is presently extraordinary complacency among many scientific bodies about the lessons of COVID-19. The attitude seems to be, “well, we developed effective vaccines in record time, didn’t we, so what is there to complain about?” It is an attitude that means we remain poorly prepared for coming health emergencies.

COMMENT (NPW): I think Richard Horton's five additional challenges are especially helpful and align with our discussions on HIFA over the past 3 years, and with our recent discussions on Communicating health research. You can read the full report here:

As a general point on stakeholder engagement, it's interesting that the report is based on a static online survey. I am confident that communities of practice such as HIFA can complement such surveys with shared learning and insights through dynamic structured discussion.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA project on COVID-19, supported by University of Edinburgh

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research

Let's build a future where every person has access to reliable healthcare information and is protected from misinformation - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health movement (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. HIFA brings stakeholders together to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK based non-profit in official relations with the World Health Organization.

Twitter: @hifa_org