Fifteen senior and award-winning British science, health and data journalists will gather with ten leading statisticians, media scholars and health scientists to examine challenges and approaches to news communication of Covid-19 data and statistics at a free BU-hosted online symposium on 4 December 2020.
The one-day event – a joint initiative of BU, the Royal Statistical Society and the Association of British Science Writers – aims to provide a “waypoint” for the participating journalists and academics to reflect on their experience, share their expertise and exchange ideas around issues in dealing with the science and politics behind Covid-19 facts and figures.
At the centre of the day will be what journalists have done and how they have performed in navigating, handling and communicating the constantly changing flow of Covid-19 data and statistics, which have become a daily occupation of public and private thought during the pandemic.
“Statistics have been a staple of daily life and daily news since at least the latter half of the 20th century, but have never taken such a central place as they do during the pandemic,” said BU’s Associate Professor An Nguyen, who convenes the symposium. “We are in a public health crisis where everything we do at individual, organisational and societal levels literally depends on what the numbers tell us.”
But as they become so crucial, he explains, Covid-19 facts and figures have been subject to a rather fierce battle between different frames and narratives, in which science has to compete – not always successfully – with religion, popular culture and, most importantly, politics.
“Amidst much public confusion, anxiety and fear, we seem to see numerical mis- and disinformation everywhere on both mainstream and social media,” Dr Nguyen said. “At the same time, the pandemic has seen many excellent, cutting-edge and breath-taking data journalism and communication projects around the world.”
The symposium is geared to stimulate rigorous discussion and interaction between speakers and audiences in order to draw some preliminary lessons for the near and far future. The day will cover the following questions:
- What are the major challenges to news reporting of the influx of Covid-19 data and statistics?
- To what extent does news reporting of Covid-19 data and statistics change hearts, alter minds and/or mobilise people into proper pandemic actions?
- What methods, techniques and platforms do journalists use to obtain, unpack, portray and deliver Covid-19 data and statistics to help people make sense of the pandemic?
- How well have journalists performed in questioning and scrutinising Covid-19 data and statistics to debunk statistical “lies and damn lies” spread by vested interests?
- How effectively have scientists, science institutions and other sources of Covid-19 statistics collaborated with journalists – and vice versa – in conveying them to the public?
The event will take place on Zoom. Interested parties can find the detailed programme, full list of speakers, and register for free on Eventbrite.
For further information, please contact Dr An Nguyen at [email protected].