► “The crisis, a period of accelerated scientific learning”
Michel Dubois, sociologist and research director at CNRS, co-responsible for the survey “The French and Science 2021”
“The health crisis linked to Covid-19 represented an exercise in scientific education, with strong communication from experts to the general public. Despite some hiccups that are sometimes spectacular, when specialists speak in fields which are not theirs, the scientific voice has been listened to.
With the Sorbonne’s study group on sociological analysis methods, we will publish on Tuesday November 16 the results of the 2021 survey on the relationship of the French to science, conducted jointly with the University of Lorraine and the London School. of Economics. And contrary to what we sometimes hear, nothing indicates that the crisis constituted a moment of rupture of citizens with science. On the contrary, it appears as a period of accelerated learning, including on subjects as complex as the conduct of clinical trials.
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The survey shows that the trust placed in scientists is far greater than that given to journalists and politicians. One should not exaggerate the conspiratorial opinions, very visible but which emanate only from an active minority. That said, to prevent them from spreading, especially in times of crisis, scientific communication can and must improve.
Scientists already need to be more transparent. Links of interest must be indicated systematically, to avoid the “all sold to Big pharma” effect. Some of these links are already listed in a database, but it remains difficult to access and little used. Scientists and media alike must say from what position they speak: engineer at Google or at the CNRS, it’s not the same.
The reflection on scientific communication must also extend to social networks. Scientists invest YouTube or Twitter to talk about their work. These networks are indeed very good educational relays. But a communication on a social network or on a blog is very different from a peer-reviewed academic publication. A researcher who mixes up these modes of communication should revise some of the fundamentals of ethics.
For the general public, to avoid this kind of confusion, we must continue to support general scientific culture. Obviously, and this has already been said many times, science education must be reviewed. But it is also a matter of making people understand the scientific process itself, the critical spirit and the fundamental values that make research work possible.
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Above all, citizens and researchers alike must learn to admit when they do not understand or do not know. Scientific approaches are evolving, the science of yesterday is no longer that of today. The successive health and climate crises invite us to be both humble and ambitious in our relationship to knowledge. “
► “You have to know how to be a teacher, without ever judging”
Christophe Lamarre, general practitioner in Roubaix
“The health crisis has cracked my patients’ confidence in science and medicine like never before. In my practice, most of the people I see are destitute, often poorly educated and know nothing about how drugs or vaccines work. In territories like Roubaix, where more than half of the population is below the poverty line and where the Covid-19 has wreaked havoc, the school has lost its aura and its ability to lift individuals out of poverty and exclusion.
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Education, and therefore knowledge, like scientific knowledge, is associated with power. In the light of the crisis, science and medical expertise are associated with money and a system of domination of which they would be the victims. This results in an almost generalized mistrust of my patient population towards vaccination and anything related to the virus in general. In some neighborhoods where the vaccination rate is very low, scientific discourse does not enter homes, but false information and anti-vaccine arguments disseminated on social networks fill the space.
Of course, Roubaix is an island of poverty, which is not representative of all of France. But we see that in most disadvantaged neighborhoods of large cities in France, we find the same patterns, with record vaccine fractures. Even after several months of the vaccination campaign, concerns remain overwhelming. Despite the studies, the televised speeches, I am told daily about the visceral fear of dying from the vaccine. The very notion of health is polluted by political and media debate and it is difficult for many to see clearly. So they close.
What the crisis has taught us is that it is no longer enough to be a doctor to inspire confidence. You have to constantly bring proof of your good faith, your willingness to help. I am one of those doctors who take the time to explain, but it is a priesthood. I often spend more than an hour with patients making diagrams on the functioning of cells, RNA, reassurance about side effects. It shows that people are quite capable of understanding scientific principles, even complex ones, if we put the means to it. They are even rather demanding and come out of the cabinet with the impression that they are finally seeing a little more clearly.
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But you have to know how to be a teacher, without ever judging. I see a growing contempt for those who don’t know, which worries me. The school must take back its role in hand, and raise awareness in science classes in particular. Of all the teens I have vaccinated, none had ever received any lessons on how vaccines work. Popular education tools must be made available. Television is a great transmission channel, but no popular Covid-19 program has yet seen the light of day. It must be done. “