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Scientists must inform the public – but not by claiming false certainty


Journalists and fact-checkers must be reminded that scientific concepts can be hard to render in language that is both simple and true.
From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, my expertise on emerging viruses has been sought by the media. Sometimes I will be quoted in an article, but I often avoid taking sides on issues that I believe are unresolved, so my statements don’t always make good copy. Still, I frequently recognize my input in the general background statements made by journalists. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill’s inaugural rectorial address to the University of St Andrews, “bad articles need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing”.

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