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Coronavirus Conversations: Restoring Faith in Public Science Agencies

Jun 10, 2021
good afternoon from duke university and thank you for joining us for the special fireside chat as part of our

coronavirus

conversation series. My name is Nita Farahani and I am the Director of the Duke Initiative for Science and Society in the midst of the tragic loss of life and disruption and turmoil caused by this global pandemic, there is a ray of light and hope in these final weeks with vaccines. recently approved and administered in the United States and abroad, but we still have a dark winter ahead that we must navigate. together over the last nine months, as this virus has spread throughout society, there has been a crisis of trust in

science

and a growing distrust in our

public

scientific institutions for successful vaccine adoption for

public

acceptance and adhere to public guidance on the measures we can take as individuals to reduce and prevent the spread of sars kobe 2 and for us to emerge united in the days following this global crisis we must find ways to rebuild and restore public

faith

in our scientific institutions to do so and discuss how we can move forward together, we are honored to welcome our distinguished guests today, dr. anthony fauci, mr. allen alda, and our moderator, stanford law professor hank greeley, who will address many of the questions you raised for our conversation today without further ado.
coronavirus conversations restoring faith in public science agencies
Speaking with Professor Greeley, thank you Anita and good morning from Stanford. It's good to see the thousands of you who are on this show, none of whom came to hear me, so I won't say much. It helps that there are literally two people. who need no introduction, so you will receive very brief introductions from me in alphabetical order, beginning with Alan Alda, who you may know as a surgeon with a cutting wit, or a senator from California, who I am pleased to say went to the Stanford Law School and graduated. He did very well at Stanford Allen Law School, but you may not know that for the last few decades he has focused on

science

communication, improving science communication for both scientists and the public, and it is in that important role that we have it. here today and it is in that role also that he has two entries in the central journal of the national library of medicine, the repository of all biomedical research conducted around the world.
coronavirus conversations restoring faith in public science agencies

More Interesting Facts About,

coronavirus conversations restoring faith in public science agencies...

Anthony Fauci, on the other hand, is more important as the husband of my dear bioethics colleague. christine grady of nih, but he has also been director since 1984 of the national institute of allergies and infectious diseases and has lived that role, from AIDS to now sars cov2 c, it turns out that dr. Fauci is also in the repository of all knowledge about screen appearances, he has 78 credits on the Internet movie database imdb, but unlike Mr. Alda, he does not seem to have a great range because in each of those appearances he plays himself, now all I want to do is let these two guys tell you. what they think about trust in science, where it is now and what we need to do to get it to where it should be.
coronavirus conversations restoring faith in public science agencies
I'm going to let you speak with very little additional introduction on my part because I don't know 15 20 minutes or So, then I'll throw in some questions that we received beforehand from the audience and I said, gentlemen, the floor is yours, in any order, well, first place, Dr. Fauci, I'm surprised he has more entries in the movie database than I'm sorry, Alan, this is the end of our love story right now, you know, I realized he was only like 67 e I was going to mention that, but I thought no, that's too good, it's a pleasure to be with Again let me put you on the screen so I can see you better, what do you think?
coronavirus conversations restoring faith in public science agencies
What seems to be this terrible loss of trust in scientific

agencies

and now at the worst possible time for that, when we are suffering from this terrible pandemic, how do you think we can regain that trust? I don't think it's going to be easy Alan. I think what we've seen particularly over the last year was kind of an evolution of a manifestation of a lack of trust. What kind of culminates in things that have been happening over the last few years is that we have a public health crisis right now and in many ways it has evolved amidst divisions in our society like we have.
I haven't seen it before and you know science in the sense that people assume that science has authority. People don't like to be told what to do. They think that science is authoritative in its approach. And you have what is almost an instinct to reject things that are obviously scientifically correct and the idea of ​​using data and evidence from studies or observations or other approaches to collecting data and evidence seems to be pushed aside and what we have are statements, policies and attitudes that have evolved and actually almost reached You know, now that we're in this extraordinary public health crisis situation, it's become very, very frustrating when there's so much division that people are essentially developing their own set of facts to looking at them instead of the facts as they exist and interpreting the facts has been very frustrating, I don't know why or how it evolved, it's been a gradual process, you know, you have anti-science that has merged with the anti-vaccine attitude that we have now, and I think it's going to be very difficult if that prevails as we try to get vaccines for disease 19.
I think it's a very difficult situation and the only way to get around it is to try to be open and transparent while we possibly can when we talk about scientific facts how we got the facts what is the evaluation of the facts and the interpretation of the facts and I think what you said about people not wanting to be put down or told what to think, I think that's very important and if we don't have to present science that way, at the Center for Science Communication at Stony Brook University that I helped start 11 years ago, we have trained 15,000 scientists and one of the main goals is Do exactly what you said and what you you are able to do yourself, which is communicating with the audience with respect, personal contact where trust is built more quickly and directing the message based on that contact, what you know about them as an audience.
What are you ready to hear? What terms can you use to convey to them? Those things can be learned, and I think by training our spokespersons who communicate with both broad audiences and smaller audiences in church basements, etc., they can be trained to communicate a lot. Better and I think it is urgent that we do that now because you have it, you have it naturally, you studied it or this simply arises from your Italian origin. Oh, it must have been my Italian origin. Helen, we are all naturals. actors, I was Italian, yes, something like that. You know, Alan just said something that triggered me.
I remember it and I totally agree with you. It's that when you try to communicate science you have to do two main things that I tell my colleagues and the people who are involved with me here at the nih is that first of all you have to know your audience, know who you are talking to, and second of all Place, knowing what your message is, you have to have a defined message and you have You have to know who the audience is because you want to craft the message for the audience and make sure that, like you said, you don't talk down to them, but you understand who they are.
The other thing I've found very useful to tell people. is that when you talk about science to a group of any kind, the main goal is not to impress them with how smart you are, the goal is to get them to understand what you're talking about, and I think one of the problems when you have scientists communicating with people is who feel like they have to be very granular and very arcane about what they say because they want to seem very erudite, which I think is almost the antithesis of what you want to do, what you want to be able to do.
Explain the facts in a way that's easy to understand without necessarily putting anyone down, and I think it's easy to remember that your audience, for the most part, a broad audience, won't have spent their lives studying your topic in the detail you need. . You've been through your life, so you're not stupid for not knowing these things, you just haven't turned your attention to them. You have to go back to where they are in their general education on this and it is a sign of respect. think and connect no message is the message for everyone it's not a matter of finding the right words to describe what you know, it's a matter of finding the words that reach the person you're talking to and then you said great, like also spoke to you, you were speculating about how this division that we have in the country about science itself began, facts that are presented now, facts that are not factual, not based on evidence, but people believed them and In my podcast I interviewed people who helped create the social networks Twitter Facebook, all of them and described a process that is a little creepy.
The algorithms that were designed to make these social media platforms work were not designed with any evil in mind. intention, but there was an unexpected result that they did not expect, that is dangerous, the algorithms only want to keep you on the screen so they can sell your eyes to advertisers, it is a business model, it is not disastrous, but the unexpected result is that they give you to keep you on the screen they keep showing you what you want to see and that includes your biased opinions and they don't just confirm you in your bias after a while you get addicted to your bias it feels good to know that you are right about something over and over again Maybe then you want to get more and more of it you get a shot of happy hormones what happens is as soon as you hear a word that tells you that this person is in a camp that is not yours In the camp all the nuances disappear and suddenly You realize you're talking to an idiot or you think you are one because this person isn't going to confirm your bias and that's when we start calling each other liberals and Nazis and we don't listen to each other. each other because we have convinced ourselves time and time again that only our vision is correct.
I don't know how to solve it. That sounds like a really big issue, if not one of the biggest. What can we do with those algorithms? Yes very. Well said Alan, I don't know the answer to that, but it's really very disturbing. I think many of us have done the experiment that I tried several times over the last few months when you hear something announced like a coincidence something happened or something happened and you switch to one channel and listen for five minutes and here with its interpretation you switch to the other channel and listen and it's beyond polar opposites, it's just that they couldn't be further from each other with the same announcement or the same set of facts and I'm telling you, that's the kind of thing that's very frustrating because you shrug your shoulders. and you say how are we going to get out of this predicament we are in, but you said it very eloquently you are only listening to people who confirm your own ideas and anyone who is against that is unpleasant to you so it is difficult to find the point half because it's like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, like I think Heisenberg was, maybe it's the other one. boy, that the cat is in the box and that the cat is alive and dead at the same time, you can't, it's hard to find a middle ground between those two, so I have a question, I think mainly for Tony, but also for Alan Is it easier or harder to be a convincing spokesperson for science coming from the government?
This has nothing to do with who may be above you in government, but rather people's reactions to information from government sources versus non-government sources. That makes a difference, you know, in some ways it does because I think overlaid on top of the broader anti-science situation that we've discussed is a distrust of government. Clearly because if the authority of all authorities ever existed, it is the government and not the people. They don't seem to like it when they back down, so when the government knows the old saying, yeah, hello, I'm from the government, I'm here to help you, the first thing you have to do is put your guard up because people just don't trust it, they which is really unfortunate because you know that government at its best is very important for the betterment of society and helping people who need help, so the idea that you don't trust the government is really unfortunate, but in a direct sense .
The answer to his question is that the information that comes from the government, I think sometimes creates suspicion from the beginning. I think a trust is so valuable, so important in this effort that we are doing now to encourage everyone to take Vaccines, as you mentioned before, the anti-vaccine movement has merged with the issue of

coronavirus

vaccines for many people, when I think we have to get trusted people, heroes in the community, heroes in the social world, like athletes, musicians, uh, whoever is trusted by people. receive your vaccines on camera and it occurred to me a couple of days ago, what do you think of this?
What do you think Dr. Fauci is? It seems to me that the most trustworthy people, theBetter ambassadors might be people who get vaccinated. because they have made the decision to do it and they have a good reason to do it and there is a 15 minute period, I understand where they are being observed after the injection, if during that period someone could suggest that they tell their friends. your friends why you did it tell them how you're doing and why any discomfort might be worth it for you to just spread the word, just asking them to spread the word to people who trust them and then it occurred to me what if this is an idea if it is possible to take a selfie while receiving the shot and post it on the web, post it on social media, people you know trust you and you can spread the word that way so instead of taking a selfie take a vaccine, good idea, Alan, good idea, no, you make a very good point, I mean, that's it.
One of the things when you talk about trust and the relationship between the trust of the government and the trust of the people that you feel like you can identify with because they are your heroes and you're right, they could be athletes, they could be artists. people who relate to people in a way that they admire them and when someone you admire does something you feel like it's a lot easier to convince yourself that you should do that, that's what we're really trying to do well. now because we think it's very important to vaccinate the overwhelming majority of people in this country with the coveted 19 vaccine because, frankly, that's the only way to end this outbreak without infecting so many people.
You know, we talk about herd immunity, you can damage immunity by infecting so many people that now everyone is immune, but a lot of people are going to die before that happens, so the way you really want to do it is to get the overwhelming majority of the population is vaccinated and the only way to do that is to convince people of the reality that it is a safe and effective vaccine and there are reasons why people are skeptical about it instead of rejecting or criticizing their skepticism. I think it is necessary to explain it. that you empathize with that skepticism but you explain why it's not fundamentally based on reality and facts and that requires a lot of disclosure and that gets to your original question about trust, who can you go out and tell people about it like The vaccine was made very, very quickly, it's true, it's the fastest we've gone from the moment a particular new virus is recognized, in this case, which is causing a historic pandemic, to the moment when it actually the vaccine is put in someone's arm, it is the fastest thing ever done.
Ever been done in history, the normal reaction is to wait a minute, if you did it so quickly you must have been careless and reckless, but that is not the case, the reason it was done so quickly is because you were using the exquisite scientific advances. In vaccine platform technology, we need to explain that to people in a way that they can understand and accept it, so my feeling is to find out why there is skepticism, find out why there is reluctance and try to address it in a way that is respectful of the people you're trying to convince yourself that that's where we need to go in the next few months.
You know you almost answered a question that my granddaughter, one of my granddaughters, asked me this morning. She is very concerned about this and very informed. but she wonders how long it will be before we know or we know now how long the vaccine will protect us is it's three months is it forever is it two years what do we think one of the things could be? about communication, Allen, what do you know and you have taught people that you have to be humble, honest and transparent and when you don't know the answer you have to say I don't know and the fact is that we don't know for how long.
The protection would last, I doubt it would be lifelong like the measles vaccine would be. I imagine it will be enough to get you through a couple of cycles, but I think we just have to wait and see and that's why you follow people on vaccines. post-vaccine trials and follow-ups, things we call phase four where you just continue to follow people and we'll know the answer to your question alan in due time, but right now, since we're literally only a few months into the vaccines, We won't know how long that immunity lasts until we follow it.
I hope it's long enough that we don't need an annual booster. We may need intermittent reinforcement. The hard one, you know, the length of which we're not sure about right now, but. We have to be honest with people and say that it is important to get vaccinated. I think we will be able to end this pandemic by vaccinating the overwhelming majority of people in the country and ultimately the world, but we need to just follow it carefully enough to know when that great immunity stops lasting, I want to push something that that Tony was on the verge of that, I mean, I think the three of us are all in agreement on the importance of trust in science. and in fact, particularly of the coveted vaccination, but they were three white guys with, let's say, mature ears, one of the saddest ironies of this whole pandemic is that the people who are being most affected by this tend to be people from ethnic minorities and racial, Hispanic, Native American.
African Americans and those are also groups that, for a variety of understandable historical reasons, tend to have less trust in science and authority than whites of a certain degree of maturity. How can we two? How can we get closer? those groups, this is a question that came up from quite a few people who are watching, so tips, yes, I think you need to make the messenger look like and understand the people you are delivering the message to and that is why the one we talked about. about the importance of getting brown and black people who are respected in the community to go out and try to convince people of a similar racial and ethnic background why it's important to get vaccinated, we can do it, we have a lot of people who can I would like In fact, to do that, literally, this morning I was at the White House when Surgeon General Jerome Adams was publicly vaccinated and he stood up and spoke to his brothers and sisters who were full of black people saying it's very important that they continue and see. which I have done because I have great

faith

that this vaccine is safe and effective and, frankly, I think standing up and saying that that way was infinitely more effective than, as you say, the three of us saying that, there's no doubt about that. . we have to get the right messengers to get the right message out and that's what we're going to do over the next few months, trying to get respected people in the community who look like and come from the same background as them.
I think that's very important for people. that we are trying to reach and one of the elements that you mentioned is not only to look like the population that you are talking to, but also to understand their cultural habits, they are the customs and we can only achieve that. From the people themselves we can't guess what that is and I heard someone talk the other day saying that in her experience she was black. In her experience, the culture part is that you don't go to the doctor unless you're really really sick and that means you're not going to go to the doctor to get vaccinated because you're not sick yet and that doesn't even refer to not trusting government because of the unethical experimentation that is going on, it is simply a cultural habit, a norm, if that is true, we have to somehow avoid it, but when I think the general message that can be derived from that is Since we can't guess about the people we're trying to talk to, we have to get something. evidence from them, I mean, we train, we train people who speak to an audience to read the faces of the audience, that's one way to do it to know what they're thinking while you're talking to them, but the other thing is if there's a bias. against the vaccine that is particular to a group of people, you have to know exactly what it is to be able to respond, so that's what you were talking about before Tony about knowing your audience very well and that information you will get from the people themselves, yes, in fact.
Thank goodness, so we change the subject just a little bit, um, success stories, is there anything in your experiences that you would point to like, hey, here's a time when we did it right, when it worked and everyone benefited, it worked with it and, of course, you know it? good science communication tony, you did a great job on AIDS, yeah, yeah, I was thinking about that as soon as the word came out of Hank's mouth, yeah, we, one of the things that really turned out to be a success story was what began as a lack of communication between scientists, the academic community, federal officials, the regulatory community, and people literally in the trenches during the early years of HIV/AIDS predominantly men who have sex with men predominantly young men who have sex with men who appropriately and understandably felt that the federal government did not understand or respond to the special needs they had to be included in the deliberations about clinical trials that would greatly affect them and their lives and what ultimately evolved and this is one of the things that I feel like I've done well, I think at the time of the decisions that I made to absolutely get close to people, even people who seem to be adversaries to you, because maybe they really aren't, They are really trying to get your attention on something. which maybe you should have been paying attention to to begin with and that's how the success story of the relationship between my scientific colleagues and the regulatory

agencies

that govern drugs, vaccines and interventions was able to embrace the activist community to the point in what types of decisions about the design of clinical trials the type of decisions about what the community input should be to the research that would ultimately impact them, after all that is very important because they are the ones doing the research by the idea of ​​putting aside what appear to be differences and sitting down and just listening to each other we discover ourselves and that's why I consider it an extraordinary success story that when you put aside all the perceived differences, the confrontation, the theatrics, the iconoclastic behavior and you say, wait a minute, where are they? come on, what is our goal, what do we all want and how do we get there in a way that is synergistic rather than opposing, well you know, you actually look decades later and the same activists who seemed to have been confronting us back then are now confronting us. integral and important that contribute to everything we do.
For me, it's an extraordinary success story: turning what seemed like a negative interaction into something very positive simply by ultimately listening to what the other person has to say, something interesting to think about. how that might play out in the context of greed, yeah, sure, that's true, I mean, it's a little different, but there's something there that has some similarity to just listening to what the other person has to say and trying to understand. because. They come from the position they come from, so we are left with 10 minutes, a little less. A question that has arisen from many people is: what can I do?
What can people do who don't necessarily do it? I have the bully pulpit that you two have what you can do to make things better. I thought Alan suggested about vaccines and posting them on social media. Other brilliant ideas about what our listeners can do because a lot of us are going to be talking. I expect that in many cases it will be via Zoom or electronically, but with the holidays approaching, people will be talking to friends and family, some of whom will have very different ideas about science and, in particular, about science than their own. covid vaccine.
What would you recommend? tell ordinary people, well, no one is an ordinary person, what would you say to them? What would you tell our listeners to do? What would you tell the extraordinary people listening to us to do in their own lives about this Alan? Any thoughts, well my thoughts and thanks for mentioning it's vaxxy the little selfie right now if they let you do it do you think Tony? There is a problem taking a photo or video in an institution where your photo is being taken. There are some? security or not, I'm not saying, if it's you personally I'm referring to, but what you wouldn't want is someone to take a photo of you without telling you and then spread it, but if you do it yourself, there is absolutely nothing wrong on that and even if it's not the shot itself, it could just be a shot of you looking at your band-aid after exactly the right look, of course I can't do that until February, March or April, when it's finally up my number is older than you i'll be after that yeah you know hank you could be before that yeah you're good at that yeah you know that in answer to your question i think people shouldn't underestimate them even though they don't If you are someone well known or a celebrity to date and everyone will recognize you, you should not underestimate the impact you can have on your immediate environment simply by talking about things you considerimportant. and receive a message and broadcast it through your own social networks among your family and your friends, this is how you start messaging effectively.
People shouldn't say well I'm just an individual person who you know isn't well known. So what impact can I have? You shouldn't underestimate the fact that you, your friends, your family and your own social connections can spread the word, that would go a long way towards the overall goal we are all trying to achieve. Now, regarding things like ending this outbreak, I always have great respect and faith in what the individual can do, even one who is not particularly well known. We only have five minutes left, uh, although in some ways what what you just said could be this, but I thought I'd give you both a chance to give some fun advice on your latest thoughts on trusting science in general and in context. of this terrible pandemic Alan, I would like, I can't wait to hear what Tony has to say.
All I can say is that science will save us. Science has given us extra years to live. Average life expectancy has increased greatly in the last century. Now it will save us from this terrible pandemic and pandemics to come because every time, as Tony has said, every time we go through this, we learn more about how to deal with it, we learn more about how nature works so that we can counteract it. We attack the attacks that we receive from our mother nature and if we do not recognize science as our savior, we are looking, we are barking up the wrong tree, Tony, I will leave it to you, you know this very well, Alan. he said and I think I just want to emphasize that in addressing this topic of vaccines in general just for people to appreciate and look at the facts, there are so many areas of human health where science has benefited us, but science goes further. . biology and beyond the biomedical sciences and address so many things that science does for us, but as a doctor and a biomedical scientist, I would just ask people to take a moment to think about the science that has gone into developing of vaccines. against diseases that a century or more ago would have made the life expectancy of the people of this country significantly shorter than it is now vaccines against common childhood diseases that often kill children worldwide vaccines against smallpox , which was one of the great scourges of the world against measles against polio and now we are dealing, as Alan said, with the current situation that research and biomedical science has given us something that just a decade ago would have seemed unimaginable to be able to have a new viruses we had never experienced. before it is imposed on us and throws us into one of the most extraordinary destructive pandemics in over a hundred years and in the last few days science has allowed us to have a vaccine that when we distribute it to people across the country and hopefully , Worldwide. world, we will crush this outbreak that has really terrified us for the last 11 months, not just here in the United States but around the world, has severely damaged the economy and has led to people suffering from things not necessarily directly related to being sick , but with all the secondary consequences that We go with the effects of a global pandemic like this, so when this is over, we will look back and say that it was science that took us out of this pure science, the typical way in which people discover and build on it. previous discoveries until you get to a point where you have an intervention that is extraordinarily effective, so that's what I would like to leave the audience who has some skepticism about science with that thought.
It's a great optimistic note to end on. Now we only have 13 days left. in 2020 I don't think any of us regret seeing 2020 in the rearview mirror usually on New Year's Eve I'm celebrating the old year this year I'm definitely celebrating the arrival of the new year but I think One thing we can learn from this is that we should learn from this experience and we have learned how to make vaccines faster. We have learned a lot about public health. We have learned a lot about this. I hope you have helped us. learning about scientific communication we need to take those lessons to move forward.
I'm sure the 5,000 or so people you can't hear applauding would join me in applauding both of them. Thank you so much. I would like to do it on behalf of. The Duke Initiative for Science and Society Stanford Law and Biosciences Center and all the other co-sponsors of this thank you both very deeply and sincerely for taking the time out of your busy schedules to be on this program so that everyone stays up to date. safe and well. happy holidays and 2021 is approaching thank you very much bye thank you hank thank you alan great to see you again great to see you again tony thank you hank goodbye

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