So it’s been a while since I wrote a full post, I know. Stop giving me that look, it’s my blog, I can do what I want. And write now (get it… write?) I want to delve into some of what I took away from the last two days at the Aedes Zika summit at the CDC. It was intense. There was tons of info on research into new pesticides, new traps, new methods, new ideas, and there was great conversations with some very smart people in a number of fields. It was entomologically awesome.
But that’s not all….
What I found most interesting was the underlying conversation after all of these talks on how do we communicate this info to the general public and why doesn’t the public trust “us”? This is huge. It’s an immense problem with no single solution, however I do have some thoughts.
First, we (the science minded individuals) aren’t arguing right. As an entomologist, I want to hear the facts, see the research, analyze the findings, and make an informed decision. Show me the facts! Most of us are probably pretty open minded and willing to view the data and come to a reasonable conclusion. This is WRONG. There was a study on having a discussion/argument with anti-vaxers and basically, it said that none of the communication messages worked. They were all fact based. Anyone not believing in the science and the facts is basing their entire view (and argument) on emotions. Scientists don’t do very well with these types of discussion.
Second, there is no “one message”. The CDC found this out when they went to Loredo, TX and Mobile, AL and started talking to random people about Zika and mosquitoes. Especially when they talked about genetically modified mosquitoes, they found most people had no clue what they were talking about. But when they started asking people if they supported using an altered mosquito to fight the bad mosquitoes, they were interested and wanted to learn more. There were differences between Texas and Florida when it came to acceptance of treatments for mosquitoes. One community was all for sprays and aerial applications, the other community had more of a “don’t spray that stuff” attitude. One major reason was because Florida was in a full outbreak of locally transmitted Zika while Texas did not.
Third is the issue of fake news. What more can I say about that? It absolutely astounds me
that someone will believe “Pesticides Kill Millions!” but not “Pesticides Found Effective in Controlling Mosquitoes” (which actually DO cause millions of deaths). It’s amazing to me that with all the great, accurate info that is readily available, people are more apt to quote/share/retweet inaccurate and downright false info.
Is it hopeless? I choose to think positively and believe that it isn’t hopeless. While facts are good (for some of us) remember that this is emotional for many people. “I hate spiders” cannot be combated with “no one has died of a spider bite since 1980” alone. The message must be more like: yeah, they can be a bit scary to some people but look at those beautiful colors and do you know they eat bad bugs like mosquitoes?”. Acknowledging the fear and uncertainty without making fun of it can help to make the connection and start to open people’s minds. Tailoring the message to your audience and remembering to change the wording, change the tone, and change the delivery (without changing the overall message) will help. A great take-away from the conference was that people were concerned about mosquitoes and the diseases they can transmit…. but they had other, more pressing things on their mind. Another very important message was when the entire community was involved, great things happened. A mosquito release program in Singapore was questioned because it would be faster and potentially more effective to release the insects from planes. The response: we got the insects into people’s hands and interacted with the entire community, we talked to them, we got their buy-in.
So where to go from here? Keep talking to people. Especially one on one. Don’t discount or belittle people’s fears and misconceptions. Go ahead and bring emotion into it, and then a few key facts. The more we, as science minded individuals, engage with other people and communicate, the more we can make an impact. Keep spreading the entomological awesomeness! In today’s climate, this may seem daunting and unattainable, but I will keep writing and sharing and posting in the hope that I reach just one person and open their minds just a tiny bit, just enough to let one cute little springtail in. I will continue with the entomological awesomeness!