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A lot of the fear comes directly from the loss of trust in institutions. The press, WHO, the official authorities are no longer implicitly believed by everyone. This is the cost of deceit. When you finally tell the truth your cred is gone.
— wretchardthecat (@wretchardthecat) February 27, 2020
“A lot of the fear comes directly from the loss of trust in institutions. The press, WHO, the official authorities are no longer implicitly believed by everyone. This is the cost of deceit. When you finally tell the truth your cred is gone.” – Richard Fernandez
When I studied public health communications, it was stressed to never lie or deceive. Stick to what you know. Do not split hairs or use technical terms when less technical terms will do. Be clear and stay on the facts and your message. Once you cry wolf enough, no one will believe you when the actual wolf arrives. So many people have burned up their credibility, and now their precious expert status is useless. (I turn to Tom Nichols, who wrote The Death of Expertise, and contributes to said death every time he sends a tweet.)
If you desire further examples, the horrible communications of two Obama officials during crises made things worse. The CDC director during the Ebola outbreak kept on stating that Ebola was not known to be transmitted via the airborne route. That is true, technically, but it is likely transmitted via droplets (like a cough or sneeze). Airborne transmission is a technical term for extremely contagious agents that do not need a cough or sneeze to be transmitted. That obscured the truth. Similarly, the NRC chairman during Fukushima fed paranoia and used the crisis as a case for anti-nuclear activism. He was making claims that were unsupported by science and trying to maximize the disaster.
I try to guard my credibility when talking with people about the coronavirus. I know quite a bit more than the average bear on viruses and biosafety – I literally do it for a living – but I know there are people who know a lot more than me. Even my boss recommends sticking to official advice and tested guidelines. I try to balance skepticism and openness to new approaches.
I just wish more people in power would recognize how much they have devastated their credibility, and think before they cause more panic and mayhem.Published in