Science Communication in a Politicized World: Challenges and Strategies with Your Local Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D.

This episode of When Science Speaks features Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D., an epidemiologist data scientist and senior scientific consultant at a nonpartisan health policy think tank. Dr. Jetelina is also the creator of the influential newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist, which aims to translate evolving public health science for evidence-based decision making.

Dr. Jetelina shares her surprising experiences working with policymakers during the pandemic, especially in a challenging landscape where epidemiology and politics intersected.

She expresses her astonishment at how policymakers in Texas, despite the political climate, were receptive to listening to scientists and implementing innovative policies. She also highlights the significant impact of policy interventions in real-time, such as the use of Uber to deliver vaccines and reduce disparities.

Moving on to the role of scientists in advisory positions, Dr. Jetelina acknowledges the challenges of effectively communicating with policymakers. She emphasizes the importance of speaking in plain language and providing the bottom line upfront. Policymakers prefer concise policy briefs that focus on the essential scientific evidence, allowing them to make informed decisions efficiently. Dr. Jetelina also discusses the need for scientists to better understand policymakers’ needs and align their communication accordingly.

Regarding science communication in general, Dr. Jetelina shares several go-to principles and tactics she employs. She emphasizes the significance of listening to communities and stakeholders to address their needs effectively. By maintaining a bidirectional relationship with the audience, whether policymakers or the general public, scientists can better insert science and evidence into decision-making processes. Dr. Jetelina further stresses the importance of providing meaningful context, reducing cognitive burden, incorporating storytelling, and offering actionable solutions in scientific communication.

The conversation then delves into the challenges of combating misinformation, which has become increasingly prevalent in the modern information ecosystem. Dr. Jetelina suggests two key approaches: combatting misinformation reactively and proactively. While debunking individual rumors can be time-consuming, teaching the public how to recognize and critically evaluate misinformation is a more effective long-term strategy. She also highlights the need for proactive communication, which involves anticipating public needs and providing timely information. Dr. Jetelina emphasizes the urgency of integrating both reactive and proactive approaches into public health and science communication.

The discussion concludes with a focus on trust and the disturbing trend of harassment faced by scientists communicating evidence-based information. Dr. Jetelina attributes this behavior to the politicization of science and the growing fear among individuals. She emphasizes the importance of addressing emotion and building trust through relatability and transparency.

The episode offers valuable insights for listeners interested in science communication and science policy. Dr. Jetelina encourages individuals to take the leap and start communicating, whether through personal efforts or by finding suitable mouthpieces to convey important scientific findings to the public. She emphasizes the power of practice and the importance of having a proactive approach to science communication during emergencies.

Don’t miss this engaging conversation with Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, as she shares her experiences, challenges, and strategies in navigating the intersection of science, policy, and public health communication.

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