I hope you and your families are well, but with the United States approaching 1 million coronavirus cases and the world approaching 3 million, there is little doubt many of us will be personally touched by COVID-19 in the weeks and months ahead. I pray daily for those affected and those who are caring for them.
I applaud our Society’s clinicians for their commitment to their patients and to all BDRP members working on the front lines during this public health crisis. Others are working remotely or as essential personnel to keep laboratories running and data collected and analyzed. We are all exhausted by the new demands and stresses, which is why it’s so difficult to ask you to do more at this time. But I am compelled to do so.
Back when Responsible Conduct of Research was done face-to-face with experienced mentors, I received a copy of the NAS guide “On Being a Scientist.” It’s a wonderful document I still use today. It ends with a section on the responsibility of a scientist in society, concluding that “science and technology have become such integral parts of society that scientists can no longer isolate themselves from societal concerns.” That means we have a responsibility to communicate, not just to other scientists, but to society as a whole.
Our past presidents Tina Chambers and Sonja Rasmussen are excellent examples of effective outreach related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tina’s work to understand the effects of COVID-19 during pregnancy and lactation was featured recently in The New York Times. Sonja worked with her colleagues at the University of Florida College of Medicine to develop an informational video and was quoted recently in The New Yorker about the importance of getting communications right during the pandemic. Congratulations and many thanks for the time and effort you invested!
Now you may be hesitant to do the same. Not everyone is ready to meet the media, but there are simple things you can do to support better science communication and excellent resources to help.
1. Monitor your local news. Find out what they are covering. What are they missing? What are they getting wrong? It doesn’t take long to write a Letter to the Editor or post a comment correcting misinformation spread by a non-expert. If you’re ambitious, write an op-ed or guest column for your local paper. Decision-makers read these regularly. They do have an impact.
2. Work with your home institution. Even small institutions generally have a public relations or communications expert to help you tell your story. You don’t have to be directly involved in COVID-19 research to have a newsworthy story. Did you donate PPE to a local hospital? Did you teach a unique lesson on the virus to your virtual class? Can you help to explain what a clinical trial is or why safety testing of new drugs/vaccines must be so rigorously controlled?
3. Take advantage of BDRP resources. Our Society has a fantastic communications consultant in Nicole Chavez and an energetic group of volunteers on the Communications Coordination Committee led by Linda Roberts who would LOVE to help you with a Birth Defects Insights Blog or support your efforts to communicate about your work.
4. Advocate! As a member of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), we have access to great resources to advocate for science funding to support our important work. You can use these to develop relationships with local, state and federal representatives.
5. Learn more. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) is a fellow FASEB member and is offering a free webinar Tuesday, April 28th (2pm EDT) on “Effective Science Communication in the COVID-19 Era.” Register for a great discussion of how scientists can help shape the national and global conversation, regardless of their field or expertise.
I hope you will carefully consider these options, and I strongly encourage you to attend the ASBMB webinar. If you’re like me, you’ve been asked by friends, family and neighbors to explain what’s going on, and you’re not sure what to say. This webinar is designed to give you more confidence in answering some of their questions and helping them to understand how science works.
Before I close, I also need to remind you about a fantastic BDRP webinar also taking place on Tuesday, April 28, at 11am EDT, featuring two of our outstanding and award-winning, early career members: PhD student Kian Afsharian at the University of Toronto and Dr. Kristal Rychlik at Johns Hopkins University. They will be discussing “Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Adverse Developmental Outcomes.” Thanks in advance for communicating your important research to our members!
Christine Perdan Curran
Northern Kentucky University