Boost in science literacy may have changed our heroes

30 Apr 2020 | 2 mins

There are indications that the general public’s scientific literacy may have improved in recent months due to a strong desire to keep up with the latest on COVID-19 and this may be having an impact on both our heroes and the power of social media influencers, according to research from UWA.

A key researcher on community attitudes to vaccination and the impact of government policy, political scientist Dr Katie Attwell from the School of Social Sciences, said with the widespread use of phrases such as “flattening the curve”, the WA community appeared to now have a better understanding of how connected our health is and the importance of everyone following scientifically proven advice and “pulling their weight”.

“I think we are living through an interesting time during which the general public’s scientific literacy has probably gone up significantly and one day I hope somebody studies this and is collecting information on what the public now knows,” she said.

“People understand perhaps better than they ever have in my lifetime just how connected we all are and how much impact one person’s behaviour can have on another person or a group of people.

“So, if we are seeing a bit of a backlash against influencers at the moment – who are spreading misinformation or are trying to flog products that don’t do anything but they are trying to suggest might protect us in some way against getting sick – then I think that is a good thing.

“We need to hold people to account for the views that they present and influencers do obviously have a lot of influence on what’s in the public discourse and what people think and it’s about time that we started calling some of these people out for spreading dangerous ideas. We should be pointing out that their level of expertise  – whether it is cooking or whatever – is not actually anything to do with disease prevention and population health.

“Also, one of the really valuable things from the time we are living through is that we are reconsidering who in our society is capable of providing inspiration and leadership.

“It seems funny now to look back at the last few years at the vacuous celebrity culture and cults of self-promotion that certain people were able to use and even create jobs and livelihoods out of – from doing nothing other really than flogging products and making the rest of us feel rubbish about our own lives.

“Truly, we have had this moment of going – ‘OK, who are the real heroes?’ – and it’s the public health worker, it’s the nurse, it’s the teacher, it’s the check-out person. These are the people who actually matter to the functioning and wellbeing of our society.

“I think it has been an incredibly refreshing and important development and one I hope we continue to talk about after this pandemic is finally over; that we talk about recognising these people in terms of the pay we give them and also perhaps the credit that we give them for the work that they do and how important it is.”

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