COVID-19 was the first pandemic that unfolded alongside the interconnectivity of the Internet. Consequently, the spread of ideas and information about the disease has been unprecedented, but not always accurate. One of the most widely circulated headlines was that of the relationship between climate change and the spread of disease from wildlife to humans. By writing in BioScienceAndre D. Mader of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and his colleagues studied primary and secondary literature, as well as web page content on the topic of climate change and zoonotic disease risk. Drawing on trends in this literature and in media coverage, Mader and colleagues describe what amounts to a case study of inappropriate science communication and its possible consequences.
According to the authors, media messages consistently describe a direct causality between the spread of zoonotic diseases and land use change, while only 53% of the peer-reviewed literature makes this association. The authors look at theoretical scenarios that would demonstrate the difficulty of tracing the real risk of the spread of zoonoses, noting that “the complexity of pathogen responses to land-use change cannot be reduced to uniform proclamations.”
The authors found that as the literature moves from primary research to review articles and commentaries, and finally to web pages, “evidence overstatement” increases, with 78% of secondary articles involving the association between land use and zoonotic spillover and all but one of the sampled web pages making this association. The authors also noted that secondary sources and web pages often failed to mention the uncertainty associated with their conclusions.
According to Mader and colleagues, the potential consequences of simplistic messaging and a lack of adequate communication regarding the spread of zoonoses can erode credibility, overlook the specific needs of local communities when developing policies, and divert beware of other factors that can lead to the spread of zoonoses. The authors recommend a more precise, nuanced and explanatory dissemination of studies on the risk of spreading zoonoses, arguing that such an approach would also benefit science more generally. As the authors conclude, “If the goal of science communication is to improve understanding, it must strike a balance: enough simplicity to be understood by as wide an audience as possible, but enough nuance to capture the complexity of a question and contribute meaningfully to the discussion around it, especially when it goes viral. »
American Institute of Biological Sciences
Mader, AD, et al. (2022) Messages should reflect the nuanced relationship between territory change and zoonosis risk. BioScience. doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biac075.