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Germans want open communication of uncertainty in the coronavirus pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic once again highlighted the uncertainties inherent in science. The results of a German-wide study conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charite—Universitaetsmedizin Berlin show that most Germans want to be publicly informed about this uncertainty. ..The result was published in the journal JAMA network open..

Since the SARS-Cov-2 virus was first identified in December 2019, the spread of the virus, the symptoms of COVID-19, and new scientific discoveries about new therapies have been reported almost daily. What is valid one day can be out of date the next day. Similarly, predictions of how infections will occur by Christmas, how they will affect the current blockade of “circuit breakers”, and current estimates of reproduction numbers (R) are: I’m not sure.

“Politicians and health professionals are afraid to hesitate to convey scientific uncertainties and create distrust, but when they present the uncertainties of pandemics, those reports will come later. If found to be invalid, it can adversely affect public confidence, “says Odette, who is the lead author of the study and a senior at the Center for Adaptability and Rationality at the Maxplank Institute for Human Development. He is a researcher and a related researcher at Charite’s Institute of Medical Sociology and Rehabilitation Sciences.

In the context of COVID-19, a team of 2,011 Germans from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charite to investigate people’s preferences for health communication with varying degrees of scientific uncertainty. An online survey was conducted using a typical sample. Participants were presented with four scenarios to convey information about the future course of the pandemic with varying degrees of scientific uncertainty. In the most uncertain version, for example, information about the current infection, death, and R number was conveyed in a range rather than an exact value. The text also emphasized that “it is unclear whether the observed differences are due to random fluctuations or the first signs of the onset of a second wave of coronavirus infection.”

In contrast, the version with the lowest degree of uncertainty reported accurate values, stressing that “this evolution in case numbers is undoubtedly the beginning of a second wave of infection.” Did. Each version ended with the same charm. This means continuing precautions to protect risk groups, such as wearing face masks in public places.

Participants were then asked for the most suitable version to inform people about the future course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest group of respondents (32%) chose the version with the highest uncertainty. This version was also most likely to persuade people to comply with containment measures. Overall, more than half (54%) of participants preferred one of the versions that communicated numerical and / or verbal uncertainty over the other. The version left without mentioning uncertainty was selected by only 21% of respondents and found to be the least popular. Interestingly, communication expressing uncertainty seemed to be particularly effective in motivating those who are currently skeptical of government containment measures to comply with them.

“The government and the media should have the courage to communicate uncertainty more openly in order to better engage with those who are currently skeptical of the government’s response to coronavirus,” said Max Planck Fellow, co-author of the study. Gerd G. Wagner recommends. MPI for human development.


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For more information:
Odette Wegwarth et al, An assessment of the attitude of the German public towards health communication with varying degrees of scientific uncertainty about COVID-19, JAMA network open (2020). DOI: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2020.32335

Provided by Max Planck Society

Quote: Germans, coronavirus pandemic obtained on December 10, 2020 from https: //medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-germans-uncertainty-coronavirus-pandemic.html (December 10, 2020) Wants open communication of uncertainty

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Germans want open communication of uncertainty in the coronavirus pandemic

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