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Editorial: Science communication in difficult times: the intersectionality of science communication and risk communication during disasters and crises

TYPE Editorial
PUBLISHED 26 April 2023
DOI 10.3389/fcomm.2023.1196680
J. Brian Houston,
University of Missouri, United States
Nova Ahmed
RECEIVED 30 March 2023
ACCEPTED 12 April 2023
PUBLISHED 26 April 2023
Ahmed N, McKinnon M, Onyige CD and
Yokoyama HM (2023) Editorial: Science
communication in dicult times: the
intersectionality of science communication and
risk communication during disasters and crises.
Front. Commun. 8:1196680.
doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2023.1196680
©2023 Ahmed, McKinnon, Onyige and
Yokoyama. This is an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative
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No use, distribution or reproduction is
permitted which does not comply with these
Editorial: Science communication
in dicult times: the
intersectionality of science
communication and risk
communication during disasters
and crises
Nova Ahmed1*, Merryn McKinnon2, Chioma Daisy Onyige3and
Hiromi M. Yokoyama4,5
1Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh,
2Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University,
Canberra, ACT, Australia, 3Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn, Bonn,
North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 4Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The
University of Tokyo, Bunkyo, Japan, 5Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, The
University of Tokyo, Chiba, Japan
science communication, risk communication, intersectionality, disasters, crises
Editorial on the Research Topic
Science communication in dicult times: the intersectionality of science
communication and risk communication during disasters and crises
The ability of humankind to solve problems and adapt to changing circumstances is key
to our long-term survival. Locally, nationally and globally we face a myriad of problems, yet
the impacts of many of these are disproportionately felt, such as climate change (Mearns and
Norton, 2010) and pandemics (Tai et al., 2021). Science communication has an important
role to play in modern societies (Davies, 2021), from fighting misinformation (Goldstein
et al., 2020) to helping engage diverse stakeholders (Weingart and Joubert, 2019), defining
and addressing problems and implementing solutions. Science communication, and those
who work within it, thus have roles as brokers of knowledge.
Knowledge is a resource, but one that is not always distributed evenly (Medvecky, 2018).
This can have ethical implications (Dahlstrom and Ho, 2012) as how well communities can
prepare for, endure, or recover after times of difficulty or crisis can often be influenced by
the information and perspectives that are used to define both the problem and the potential
solutions. Yet those defining the problems and formulating the solutions are typically
not those most acutely affected. For example, the COVID pandemic has highlighted how
women, minority groups and those in developing countries bear a much higher burden as a
consequence of reduced access to support and resources (Benski et al., 2020;Ho and Dascalu,
2020;Medeiros et al., 2023). Similarly, the impacts of climate change, such as bushfires and
intense tropical storms, disproportionately affect those who already have less, compounding
their disadvantage. Failing to recognize the impact of intersectionality on communities
during times of challenge or crisis, or even just in day-to-day living, means that sometimes
solutions serve only to widen pre-existing gaps. This Research Topic includes five articles
exploring how countries, typically not well-represented in the academic literature, responded
to challenges or crises and the different science and risk communication strategies they used.
Frontiers in Communication 01
Ahmed et al. 10.3389/fcomm.2023.1196680
Nabavis paper presents the difficulties of communication
during a water crisis in Iran. He discusses the inherent challenges
of effectively communicating with a multitude of stakeholders—the
decision makers, those impacted by the problem and the experts—
within a situation exacerbated by the uncertainty, fear and urgency
of the public. Current governance, power dynamics, scholarly
dominance and other regional factors influence who has the
power and agency to participate in decision-making. Consequently,
this privileges some knowledge perspectives, such as engineering,
over other academic disciplines and sources such as indigenous
knowledge of water systems and customs. This work discusses how
co-production can be used productively to widen participation in
water governance.
Cagayan et al. explore the COVID-19 vaccination of pregnant
women in the Philippines. Pregnant women were excluded
from vaccination until the Delta variant arrived, creating
urgency to protect them, requiring improved communication
across this community. Despite authority-led recommendations
from the Department of Health for pregnant and lactating
mothers to be vaccinated, many did not come forward to
receive it; the initial vaccination rate of this group was 19%.
There were concerns about the adequacy of the vaccination
communication which was affected by social disparities. Cagayan
et al.s paper describes a communication campaign which was
designed to overcome these difficulties, using visual infographic
and video based information on social media platforms. The
communication messages were simple, clear and gender balanced.
Despite being used by publics as well as health authorities,
concerns remain around the ability to reach all communities via
this approach.
The Yokoyama and Ikkatai paper measures and compares
trust in experts and trust in government in 2020 and 2022
in Japan. The authors found there was no change in trust in
experts, which was maintained at a relatively high level, but
ruling party supporters trust experts more than opposition
party supporters. This may be because ruling party politicians
are receiving expert advice. In other words, rather than
the content of the advice, it seems possible that trust may
depend on the viewpoint of whether the advice is useful for
the ruling party’s politics, communication itself, and what
one believes.
Risk communication is an essential component by governments
and agencies globally to curtail the spread and devastating
effects arising from COVID-19. An understanding of the
effectiveness of the national risk communication strategy is
key in generating effective solutions in the future. In a study
conducted in Nigeria, Lawal showed that public attention
peaked at the beginning of the pandemic when there was a
stringent nationwide lockdown imposed by the government, but
there was considerable decline in safety adherence afterwards
despite increasing new cases. The results indicated that the
risk communication efforts were inadequate in providing a
prolonged health behavioral change. The evidence suggests
that risk perception may have been poorly targeted by risk
communication interventions.
The final paper also considers risk communication during
COVID-19 in the context of Bangladesh. Ahmed et al. show,
through their qualitative study, how risk communication during
the pandemic was unable to effectively reach marginalized
and low income communities. Interestingly, rural communities
were connected to local governance and support groups and
received certain information while urban low income, low
literate communities were beyond the reach of such support
systems. Participants who had formal or semi-formal jobs such
as working in a ready-made garment factory or in a household
were connected to authority or personnel who could provide
them with some level of information about the pandemic.
However, community members with small scale or informal
businesses were not connected to any authority body and
remained disconnected from information sources, compounding
disadvantage. Social prejudice also negatively affected socially
marginal participants such as widows living with small children.
The major challenges arose from the traditional top down
approach of risk communication where the authority made
the communication strategy and decisions without knowing the
challenges of the general population.
The work presented in this Research Topic shows examples,
predominantly from Asia, where marginalized communities
are impacted most. Despite illustrating that there is a lot of
work and effort to design and develop effective communication
mechanisms that include them, marginalized communities
are still most likely to face barriers to accessing and receiving
information, including barriers created by social prejudice.
The articles also show how the general populations may
perceive authorities as untrustworthy and lacking compassion,
undermining the legitimacy of the information shared.
Collaborative approaches to communication can influence
these perceptions, and may go some way to overcoming
these barriers.
Author contributions
NA wrote the first draft of the manuscript. MM, CO,
and HY wrote sections of the manuscript. All authors
contributed to manuscript revision, read, and approved the
submitted version.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be
construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Publisher’s note
All claims expressed in this article are solely those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of
their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher,
the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be
evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by
its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the
Frontiers in Communication 02
Ahmed et al. 10.3389/fcomm.2023.1196680
Benski, C., Goto, A., Reich, M. R., and Creative Hlth, T. (2020). Developing
health communication materials during a pandemic. Front. Commun. 5, 6.
doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2020.603656
Dahlstrom, M. F., and Ho, S. S. (2012). Ethical considerations of using narrative
to communicate science. Sci. Commun. 34, 592–617. doi: 10.1177/10755470124
Davies, S. R. (2021). An empirical and conceptual note on science
communication’s role in society. Sci. Commun. 43, 116–133. doi: 10.1177/10755470209
Goldstein, C. M., Murray, E. J., Beard, J., Schnoes, A. M., and Wang, M. L. (2020).
Science communication in the age of misinformation. Ann. Behav. Med. 54, 985–990.
doi: 10.1093/abm/kaaa088
Ho, A., and Dascalu, I. (2020). Global disparity and solidarity
in a pandemic. Hast. Center Rep. 50, 65–67. doi: 10.1002/ha
Mearns, R., and Norton, A. (2010). Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity
and Vulnerability in a Warming World. New Frontiers of Social Policy. World Bank.
Available online at:
Medeiros, M., Edwards, H. A., and Baquet, C. R. (2023). Research in
the USA on COVID-19’s long-term effects: measures needed to ensure black,
indigenous and Latinx communities are not left behind. J. Med. Ethics 49, 87–91.
doi: 10.1136/medethics-2021-107436
Medvecky, F. (2018). Fairness in knowing: Science communication and epistemic
justice. Sci. Eng. Ethics 24, 1393–1408. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9977-0
Tai, D. B. G., Shah, A., Doubeni, C. A., Sia, I. G., and Wieland, M. L. (2021).
The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities in the
United States. Clin. Infect. Dis. 72, 703–706. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa815
Weingart, P., and Joubert, M. (2019). The conflation of motives of science
communication - causes, consequences, remedies. J. Sci. Commun. 18, Y01.
doi: 10.22323/2.18030401
Frontiers in Communication 03
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to expose underlying inequities in healthcare for black, indigenous and Latinx communities in the USA. The gaps in equitable care for communities of colour transcend the diagnosis, treatment and vaccinations related to COVID-19. We are experiencing a continued gap across racial and socioeconomic lines for those who suffer prolonged effects of COVID-19, also known as ‘Long COVID-19’. What we know about the treatment for Long COVID-19 so far is that it is complex, requires a multidisciplinary approach and there is still much research needed to fully understand the effects. In this paper, we discuss pragmatic considerations for including affected communities, relevant stakeholders, and leaders from communities of colour in the planning and implementation of Long COVID-19 research.
Full-text available
Behavioral medicine scientists, practitioners, and educators can engage in evidence-based science communication strategies to amplify the science and combat misinformation. Such efforts are critical to protect public health during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and to promote overall well-being.
Full-text available
As the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly around the world, information related to the pandemic also spread quickly and in massive amounts. Uncertainty and unknowns about the pandemic together with the explosion of information created confusion and fear among many populations. A major challenge for public health practitioners is to provide clear and consistent messages that can be understood by different types of audiences, including vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children who are often forgotten in this process. We compared and analyzed the development processes of health communication products for pregnant women in Madagascar and for elementary school children in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study compared these two field experiences in different socioeconomic settings to identify common strategies for the development of communication materials in a health crisis. The two cases both developed communication materials developed in collaboration with key local communicators and the target audiences. Both products used a simple and clear structure and included do's and don'ts. Messages were tailored toward the lifestyles of the target audience and phrased to fit with cultural and linguistic contexts. Both developer teams paid attention to easy-to-understand words and culturally accepted design and colors. The final products were distributed swiftly and widely through multiple channels with the local community. These two field experiences demonstrate common strategies for developing health communication materials that are culturally-tailored and visually-appealing in a timely manner and can be disseminated through existing channels in a health crisis. Our experiences emphasize that collaborative and iterative efforts based on an existing trust relationship with the target community can provide the foundation for a rapid communication response in a health crisis.
Full-text available
This research note explores the nature of science communication’s role in modern societies, using data from a qualitative interview study with scholars and teachers of science communication and discussing this in light of science communication literature. Six types of roles for science communication within society are identified: It is said to ensure the accountability and legitimacy of publicly funded science, have practical functions, enhance democracy, serve a cultural role, fulfil particular economic purposes, and act as promotion or marketing. These arguments are examined and their implications for science communication research and practice discussed.
Full-text available
While the domestic effect of structural racism and other social vulnerabilities on Covid‐19 mortality in the United States has received some attention, there has been much less discussion (with some notable exceptions) of how structural global inequalities will further exacerbate Covid‐related health disparity across the world. This may be partially due to the delayed availability of accurate and comparable data from overwhelmed systems, particularly in low‐ and middle‐income countries. However, early methods to procure and develop treatments and vaccines by some high‐income countries reflect ongoing protectionist and nationalistic attitudes that can systemically exclude access for people in regions with weaker health systems. What's needed is a global coordinated effort, based on the principle of solidarity, to foster equitable health care access.
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We explore and discuss the diverse motives that drive science communication, pointing out that political motives are the major driving force behind most science communication programmes including so-called public engagement with science with the result that educational and promotional objectives are blurred and science communication activities are rarely evaluated meaningfully. Since this conflation of motives of science communication and the gap between political rhetoric and science communication practice could threaten the credibility of science, we argue for the restoration of a crucial distinction between two types of science communication: educational/dialogic vs promotional/persuasive.
Full-text available
Science communication, as a field and as a practice, is fundamentally about knowledge distribution; it is about the access to, and the sharing of knowledge. All distribution (science communication included) brings with it issues of ethics and justice. Indeed, whether science communicators acknowledge it or not, they get to decide both which knowledge is shared (by choosing which topic is communicated), and who gets access to this knowledge (by choosing which audience it is presented to). As a result, the decisions of science communicators have important implications for epistemic justice: how knowledge is distributed fairly and equitably. This paper presents an overview of issues related to epistemic justice for science communication, and argues that there are two quite distinct ways in which science communicators can be just (or unjust) in the way they distribute knowledge. Both of these paths will be considered before concluding that, at least on one of these accounts, science communication as a field and as a practice is fundamentally epistemically unjust. Possible ways to redress this injustice are suggested.
Full-text available
This article discusses three ethical considerations science communicators face when considering narrative as a communication technique for science policy contexts: (a) What is the underlying purpose of using narrative: comprehension or persuasion? (b) What are the appropriate levels of accuracy to maintain? (c) Should narrative be used at all? These considerations intersect with perceptions of the appropriate roles of communication and of scientists within democracy. By providing a clearer articulation of these ethical considerations, the authors hope that narrative can become a more useful communication technique toward informed science policy decisions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups, with high rates of death in African American, Native American, and LatinX communities. While the mechanisms of these disparities are being investigated, they can be conceived as arising from biomedical factors as well as social determinants of health. Minority groups are disproportionately affected by chronic medical conditions and lower access to healthcare that may portend worse COVID-19 outcomes. Furthermore, minority communities are more likely to experience living and working conditions that predispose them to worse outcomes. Underpinning these disparities are long-standing structural and societal factors that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed. Clinicians can partner with patients and communities to reduce the short-term impact of COVID-19 disparities while advocating for structural change.
Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World
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