Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

As a science communicator, I found an interesting thing recently.

While telling common people  about vaccines, first I used data, lots of it, genuine research results and meta-analyses, which is the highest form of evidence, to convince people about the efficacy of vaccines. I was fully satisfied with my work.  Although a few people read what I wrote,  who knows how many were actually convinced by genuine evidence.  There wasn't any interaction and I was disappointed. 

Then, I used another technique. I told people this story: 

One of my uncles took one dose of the vaccine. 25 days after taking it, he caught Covid. He is 74, has sugar, BP and other health issues.

It was only one dose but the partial immunization protected him to a large extent.

His symptoms were very light, just like ordinary cold. He survived it easily. He is fine now. He ‘s happy he took the vaccine.

If the viral load is high, if your immune system doesn’t work well, if you have the highly virulent strain, you might get infected but you will escape it with minimum damage if you take the vaccine.

Vaccination has that advantage.

And magic, magic, magic, magic! Thousands read this story. And people started interacting with me. There has been a tremendous response! People asked me so many questions about the vaccine that I was overwhelmed with tremendous joy.

One of my colleagues, who obviously didn't like this way of communicating vaccine science to people,  pointed out that this is just anecdotal evidence and I shouldn't be doing it.

I told him I knew this. 

But when genuine evidence doesn't work, there isn't anything wrong with telling people true stories, if you know what you are saying is supported by the highest form of evidence*.  

And why did this technique work? And the good old strict scientific method didn't?

Because people are not interested in statistics, data, and the highest form of evidence.

They are interested in happy stories that stir highest form of  emotions in them! 

People were impressed by my uncle's, a human being's , story. This isn't dull data ( these 're words used by some, not me).

He didn't develop severe form of the disease. This is a positive sign.

He recovered quickly. A happy situation.

A happy story that caused a positive reaction among people.

Now I really know how to go about sci-com successfully!

A recent study in The Lancet looked at more than 23,000 vaccinated healthcare workers in the United Kingdom from December to February and found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was at least 70 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 three weeks after the first dose.

Another Lancet study looked at more than 1.3 million people in Scotland during the same time period and found the Pfizer shot was more than 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization due to COVID-19 four to five weeks after the initial dose.


One person asked me this Q:

Dr Manmohan Singh was vaccinated with first dose and booster dose . Now he is suffering from COVID 19. Why is this?

This is my reply to him: 

That depends. Some people’s immune system doesn’t work properly, mostly because of other health issues or poor diet or age. Then they won’t develop immunity despite taking the vaccines. About 5% of the people come in this category. It is not the fault of vaccines.

Dr. Manmohan Singh ( ex PM of India) is 88. At that age a person’s immune system will usually be in a bad state. I am not surprised he didn’t develop much immunity despite taking the vaccine.

Another reason could be - he might have been infected with a different mutated strain of the virus.

And one has to wait for fifteen days after taking the second dose to get maximum immunity. If a person gets infected before that period, he will develop the disease, but the intensity will be low.

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What spurs people to save the planet? Stories or facts?

With climate change looming, what must people hear to convince them to change their ways to stop harming the environment? A new Johns Hopkins University study finds stories to be significantly more motivating than scientific facts—at least for some people.

After hearing a compelling pollution-related  in which a man died, the  paid more for  than after having heard scientific facts about water pollution. But the average person in the study was a Democrat. Republicans paid less after hearing the story rather than the simple facts.

The findings, published this week in the journal One Earth, suggest message framing makes a real difference in people's actions toward the environment. It also suggests there is no monolithic best way to motivate people and policymakers must work harder to tailor messages for specific audiences.

"Our findings suggest the power of storytelling may be more like preaching to the choir," said co-author Paul J. Ferraro, an evidence-based environmental policy expert and the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Human Behavior and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins.

"For those who are not already leaning toward environmental action, stories might actually make things worse."

Scientists have little scientific evidence to guide them on how best to communicate with the public about environmental threats. Increasingly, scientists have been encouraged to leave their factual comfort zones and tell more stories that connect with people personally and emotionally. But scientists are reluctant to tell such stories because, for example, no one can point to a deadly flood or a forest fire and conclusively say that the deaths were caused by climate change.

The question researchers hoped to answer with this study: Does storytelling really work to change people's behavior? And if so, for whom does it work best?

"We said let's do a horserace between a story and a more typical science-based message and see what actually matters for purchasing behavior," Ferraro said.

Researchers conducted a field experiment involving just over 1,200 people at an agricultural event in Delaware. Everyone surveyed had lawns or gardens and lived in watershed known to be polluted.

Through a random-price auction, researchers attempted to measure how much participants were willing to pay for products that reduce nutrient pollution. Before people could buy the products, they watched a video with either scientific facts or story about nutrient pollution.

In the story group, participants viewed a true story about a local man's death that had plausible but tenuous connections to nutrient pollution: he died after eating contaminated shellfish. In the scientific facts group, participants viewed an evidence-based description of the impacts of nutrient pollution on ecosystems and surrounding communities.

After watching the videos, all participants had a chance to purchase products costing less than $10 that could reduce storm water runoff: fertilizer, soil test kits, biochar and soaker hoses.

People who heard the story were on average willing to pay more than those who heard the straight science. But the results skewed greatly when broken down by political party. The story made liberals 17 percent more willing to buy the products, while making conservatives want to spend 14 percent less.

The deep behavioral divide along party lines surprised Ferraro, who typically sees little difference in behavior between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to matters such as energy conservation.

"We hope this study stimulates more work about how to communicate the urgency of  and other global environmental challenges," said lead author Hilary Byerly, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Colorado. "Should the messages come from scientists? And what is it about this type of story that provokes environmental action from Democrats but turns off Republicans?"

Explore further

Narratives can help science counter misinformation on vaccines

More information: Hilary Byerly et al, A story induces greater environmental contributions than scientific information among liberals but not conservatives, One Earth (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2021.03.004
Journal information: One Earth 





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