Communicating About Science in the Time of COVID-19

May 14, 2020

Since the appearance of SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019, we’ve seen unprecedented, 24/7 coverage of a crisis that has potential solutions in the science happening at universities and laboratories around the world.

In his op-ed “Covering science at dangerous speeds,” the vice president of editorial at Medscape—a news resource for clinicians and medical professionals—gives advice to journalists covering SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 at a time when each development is deemed newsworthy. Those in PR can use it as a guide to help journalists in their coverage.

To help journalists navigate often complex research:

  • Make it easy to understand: Science is complicated. There are terms, procedures and processes out there that need explaining. E.g., what is a “robust pro-inflammatory cytokine response” and why does it matter? If a journalist doesn’t understand the terminology, then the odds are the public will not either.
  • Coach your interviewees to explain nuance and limitations: While we want to explain the milestones and successes, there is much we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Help your scientists effectively communicate what their research will/won’t show and any limitations in their study. Also, keep in mind that some research papers are being found by journalists before they've been peer reviewed.
  • Provide journalists with the full research paper: Whether in PDF form or through a link, this can help a journalist better understand the science and come to an interview armed with good questions.

If you have any questions or would like to comment, feel free to reach out to the University Public Relations team at unews@umn.edu.

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