Journalism Resources

Indefinite articles: tackling highly polarised topics

Just how binary can human beings get?

It sometimes feels as if the whole pandemic has been a vivid lesson in binary thinking. We seem to find it more comfortable to think in dichotomies and to polarise over issues, often taking opposing positions to extremes.

So we don’t just believe that vaccination is an important tool in the fight against SARS-CoV2, we think that people who choose not to be vaccinated are betraying the social contract; we don’t just believe that masks are unnecessary, we think they’re muzzles that destroy our freedoms.

Among the fiercely polarising issues during this pandemic have been the tools of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), from masks to social distancing to banning public gatherings to hard lockdowns.

There’s no doubt that NPIs have caused harm, including economic damage and significant public health harms as people, for example, failed to attend clinics that screen for TB due to travel restrictions. But “Governments were not faced with the choice between the harms of lockdown and the harms of COVID-19, but rather sought to find the means to minimise the impact of both,” as Dr Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz and his colleagues write in a recent BMJ article (see the link under Insights).

It is going to take a very long time to gather data, weigh up the impact of virus and NPIs, and tease out the implications. The job of the journalist is to present the information as it is arrived at and published, of course; but just as we need to explain the uncertainties of scientific research, we also need to lay out the uncertainties and point to the unknowns in assessing this harm.

We know we’ll get some very neat little packages offered up to us as researchers make findings. It will be tempting to go for the definite statement. But if we do not carefully report findings and subject them to reflection and, if necessary, qualification, then experience shows that the audience will easily and comfortably slide into definitive interpretations which will often feed polarisation. It’s important that we convey information in ways that remind our audience of the unfinished and evolving nature of this long exercise, where what has been quantified may later be inflected by what remains to be uncovered, identified and analysed, of the seen and the yet-to-be even guessed-at.

How to report misinformation online
9th December 2021, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

As the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, we face the challenge of an overabundance of information related to the virus. Some of this information may be false and potentially harmful. Inaccurate information spreads widely and at speed, making it...

Covering scientific consensus: What to avoid and how to get it right
23rd November 2021, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

When reporting on controversial policy topics such as vaccine safety and climate change, journalists can look to scientific consensus to bolster their coverage and battle misinformation. If you’re unsure what scientific consensus is, don’t understand its significance or have no...

Global overview of COVID-19: Impact on elections
18th October 2021, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Elections postponed due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) span the globe. Here is a list of the current elections schedule and plans, as reported by governments, electoral management bodies, and news media. Please note that this list is...

COVID-truthers have a science problem. They don’t need more politicians or activists arguing against lockdowns or debating the efficacy of masks. They need scientists – qualified people with proven track records and fancy degrees. Even if these scientists retread the...

Abstract The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on health systems and economies around the world. This is particularly true for developing and newly industrialized countries that often have to deal with poverty and inadequate health systems. A greater...

Abstract In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists have the challenging task of gathering and distributing accurate information. Journalists exist as a part of an ecology in which their work influences and is influenced by the environment that surrounds...

How to Spot COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories
29th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

The COVID-19 pandemic is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. When people suffer a loss of control or feel threatened, they become more vulnerable to believing conspiracies. For example, the Black Death in the 14th century inspired anti-Semitic hysteria...

The CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance Database
24th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Here is the database that gathers all of the falsehoods that have been detected by the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus alliance. This database unites fact-checkers in more than 70 countries and includes articles published in at least 40 languages. Para búsquedas en español,...

Good News and Bad News about COVID-19 Misinformation
10th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Recently, a video called “Plandemic” went viral on social media. PolitiFact flagged eight fake or misleading claims it made about COVID-19. YouTube and Facebook removed the video; Twitter issued “unsafe” warnings and blocked relevant hashtags. All of the platforms couched...

How You Should Read Coronavirus Studies, or Any Science Paper
1st June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

A lot of people are reading scientific papers for the first time these days, hoping to make sense of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re one of them, be advised the scientific paper is a peculiar literary genre that can take...

Health Policy Watch: COVID-19
9th April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Health Policy Watch is a digital platform for independent reporting on top global health policy debates, trends, and research. To access Health Policy Watch’s open-access, daily news service, please sign up here for email alerts or follow us on twitter...

Statnews: Coronavirus resources
1st April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Read all of our coverage of the virus that has spread around the world. Sign up for our Morning Rounds and Daily Recap newsletters to get an update each weekday. Follow us on Twitter at @statnews. And please consider a...

COVID-19 resources for reporters
25th March 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Science-based resources for journalists covering COVID-19, including downloadable video, quotes from experts, and an infographic on cases and deaths by county and state you can easily embed on your site. To help reporters cover the pandemic, SciLine… hosts online Media...

Coronavirus and your wellbeing
17th March 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

You might be worried about coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) and how it could affect your life. This may include being asked to stay at home or avoid other people. This might feel difficult or stressful. But there are lots...

Advice for the public: Myth busters
13th March 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if...

Info for the public on COVID-19
13th March 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

On this website you can find information and guidance from WHO regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019. Please visit this page for daily updates.