Controlling the coronavirus narrative

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  14 Aug 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6505, pp. 780
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd3662

The corruption of scientific results has serious consequences for human health. Climate change deniers (1, 2) and people who amplify anti-vaccine messages (3) have created dangerous, enduring myths, giving rise to new problems for which scientists must now find solutions. Now, politicians are undermining the response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by disregarding scientific facts and the guidance of epidemiologists (4). Simultaneously, nonscientists have asserted that Black Lives Matter protests caused increases in COVID-19 cases, when preliminary evidence suggests they were not a substantial factor (5). To combat this new misinformation, scientists must communicate clearly and dispute inaccurate, politically motivated narratives.

Embedded Image

Preliminary evidence indicates that protests demanding justice for Black Americans, such as this one, have not caused a spike in COVID-19 infections.


Black, Native, and Latinx Americans have shouldered the greatest burden of the unscientific COVID-19 mismanagement in the United States (6). Protests against police brutality have been dismissed as nonurgent or unnecessary, despite evidence that systemic racial injustice disproportionately kills Black Americans (7). Scientific evidence, which should be at the forefront of public discussions and policy on health and civil rights, has been drowned out by political arguments.

Scientists cautiously explain uncertainties while politicians and politically motivated media outlets emphatically cast blame and misappropriate scientific evidence. Scientists cannot allow propagandists to spread lies that dismantle a reasoned response to COVID-19 or urgently needed progress toward health equity and social justice for Black Americans. Informed scientists must take a strong public stance on complex issues, emphasizing evidence to clearly communicate and contextualize scientific results to the public, not just to other scientists. Institutions must recognize that the current system of promotion and tenure devalues such communication, at a huge societal cost.

Irresponsible, unscientific voices have killed too many because of their reach and efficacy. Academic incentives must be updated to meaningfully reward outreach efforts, and scientific training should prepare scientists to discuss their findings with the public. In the meantime, scientists who have the capacity, seniority, and job security should help value and amplify the messages and motivations of those who are willing to participate in public engagement, often at the expense of career advancement. It is essential for scientists to work across disciplines and integrate multiple communication strategies to make scientific evidence understandable, engaging, and approachable.

References and Notes

Stay Connected to Science

Navigate This Article