KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 — While the entire world — ordinary citizens and national governments — does its best to combat the outbreak of Covid-19, it faces another dangerous viral infection — misinformation, and what is being termed an “infodemic”.
While the global medical and scientific community race against the clock to better understand the virus and work towards a viable solution or cure, members of the media too are working to verify information and subsequently inform the public with accurate reports on the outbreak.
Possibly fueled by anxiety and fear, the public sphere now is rife with pseudoscience, conspiracy theories or downright fabrication of information surrounding the outbreak.
Seeing a critical need for clear communication between the scientific community and mass media, the Science Media Centre (SMC) Malaysia was launched on the basis to help bridge the gap between these communities and ultimately provide evidence-based information to the public.
Co-founded by Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre Executive Director, Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan and former Astro Awani broadcast journalist, Tan Su Lin, SMC Malaysia is currently working towards presenting accurate information on Covid-19.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Mahaletchumy said evidence-based information is key to ensuring people comply with restrictions imposed by the government as well as other recommendations by health institutions to help combat the outbreak.
However, compared to science, which is evidence-based, Mahaletchumy laments the fact that certain segments of the community tend to lean towards pseudoscience as they give a sense of assurance, albeit one that is false.
“Science is very factual, evidence-based, black and white, if we are unsure, we say there is more that needs to be explain and more work needs to be done,” she told Malay Mail.
“Sensationalisation is something people often look for but there is also fear and the fear factor is very high as people are now worried, anxious and even curious. So during these times, some people would come up with all sorts of theories, concepts that is not science-based and also to give false assurance as well.”
Among such news to flood the public spheres are home-cooked remedies or products that claimed to be an effective tool or cure against the outbreak, most of these, however, have little to no scientific data to back their claim.
The Ministry of Health has since debunked several irresponsible media reports claiming drinking warm water, eating kangkung or the ikan singgang dish, or even wearing a so-called “anti-viral health tag” can cure the coronavirus infection.
“There are local companies who are doing testing for [Covid-19] diagnostics kits, there are scientists who are doing research on the outbreak and of course the Ministry of Health and its director-general as well as our frontliners who are working so hard but without clear communications, all of these would fail.
“Even in the early days of the MCO (movement control order), people thought ‘I could still balik kampung’. They do not understand how the virus travels, how it can be taken from Kuala Lumpur to a small remote kampung in Perlis. So you need science information, when people understand, then they would be more compliant.
“We need people to understand. For example, everyone is wearing a mask today but are they using a mask in a proper way, do they know they should not touch the mask? So these are the things where science literacy is very important,’’ she said.
To better help the media in their duties to inform public, Mahaletchumy said SMC Malaysia will be a platform for journalists to connect with various credible and articulate scientists from across various research fields.
Other services provided by SMC Malaysia include media training workshops; a network of scientists and journalists who could continuously interact and exchange information; and excerpts from scientists on latest scientific development.
Mahaletchumy hopes that scientists, universities, research institutes and government agencies will support this effort to improve science communication and science literacy in the country.