Scientists, artists fight misinformation as COVID-19 myths spread

A team of volunteers have come together to convey evidence-based scientific information to the society in these challenging times

COVID-19, misinformation, fake news , coronavirus pandemic, Indian Scientists’ Response to COVID-19, scientists, volunteers
Every day brings a flood of new information about the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of which turns out to be false. Representational image: iStock

Worried about the bats that roost in the tree near your locality? Worried about the flies and mosquitoes that seem to always find their way into your house?

Tempted to eat the immunity booster your family WhatsApp group is suggesting works wonders? Staying away from non-vegetarian food because someone told you meat is a carrier of the dreaded coronavirus?

You are not alone. Every day brings a flood of new information, proclamations about miracle cures, and self-professed expert opinions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these are false and based on claims that have not been verified or tested. But how does the general citizen who is not an expert on the coronavirus or COVID-19, separate fact from fiction? How does one stay safe while at home or when outside on essential duties?

Help is here. A team of volunteers comprising scientists, students, science communicators, illustrators, and translators across India and outside the country have come together under the Indian Scientists’ Response to COVID-19 (ISRC) group, an online platform, to convey evidence-based scientific information to the society in these challenging times.

Scientists in the team read technical papers and assess experimental evidence before arriving at a conclusion about a theory or busting a hoax. They then share ideas with the illustrators, who make a drawing that conveys the idea in a simpler manner. The science communicator relays the idea in the easiest possible manner to help a layperson understand.

To help with a few myths that have been forwarded on social media, there is no evidence to suggest that mosquitoes transmit the novel coronavirus. The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.

Several astrologers and spiritual masters have claimed that the calendar followed by the spread of coronavirus follows a certain pattern that can be predicted through astrology. However, the movement of planets does not impact human bodies or tiny microorganisms.

Nor does cutting trees to displace bats help stop the coronavirus; it just destroys the environment.

The ‘HoaxBusting series‘ helps people point out false information using scientifically-verified information.

Related news | WhatsApp sets new restriction on forwarded messages to fight fake news

The group has also created a series called ‘Do what it takes, don’t believe in fakes‘ with dos and don’ts to keep yourself and your family safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. This series is inspired by activities in our daily lives juxtaposed with precisely worded text messages to spread social awareness and scientific knowledge.

One of the sketches in the above mentioned article and the message accompanying it highlights the danger of spitting in public areas; another depicts how to maintain physical distance when involved in permissible activities such as essential shopping. A third one provides information about physical distancing and personal hygiene for a person quarantined at home.

In another science awareness series called ‘Be COVID wise‘, the team combines minimalistic illustrations and precise texts to answer questions frequently asked about the virus. Some of the questions answered were: “Do children and young adults get infected with the coronavirus?”, “Why isn’t a vaccine available yet?”, and “Would the warm Indian temperatures help reduce the spread of the virus?”

The infographics of all three series are available in 14 Indian languages — including English and Portuguese — which can be found at the ISRC group website: https://indscicov.in/.

These images are available for free to download and share on any platform. For those who want to dig deeper into a specific topic, the website also hosts detailed yet simple responses to questions with additional references to scientific evidence.

(Dibyendu Nandi, professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, is a solar astrophysicist with active interest in science communication, both in English and Bengali)

(Sandhya Koushika, professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, is a biologist who is coordinating the hoax-busting group of ISRC)

(These are the personal views of Sandhya Koushika and not those of her employer)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal.)
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