The amount of information shared in the last ten months around COVID-19 and responses to pandemic management is incalculable. And, while it is an exciting time in science to realize that indeed we have the ability to rapidly develop, test and market vaccinations in the hopes of smothering the virus - what other diseases can we finally tackle with this vigour? - it has also laid bare the challenges that science has in the knowledge translation and implementation of its results.
On page 2 of Wensing et al.'s editorial, they note, "The amount of immediate information is very high...much of this information is uncertain, inconsistent and quickly replaced or complemented by new insights and guidance."
Most of those embedded in science, be it a laboratory or a clinic, are more familiar with the frequent changes seen in science. We are used to finding studies in the literature that are at odds with each other, that are quickly replaced with new knowledge or that change in focus, as a discipline collectively, successively approximates a solution that will work within a particular population.
Before COVID-19, the public really only heard of research at the later stages of development (e.g., results of later Phase III or IV clinical trials), or the breakthroughs that are especially astounding and worthy of garnering a headline. These days, though, people are seeing laid bare more of the scientific process as the media generates reports on the latest findings. It is easy to see how one outside of science could interpret the "rapid cycling" from initial new idea to tested and busted theory, and the rise and fall of excitement that accompanies it, as untrustworthy. (Indeed, I think we've seen that already in our own social networks in the variable interpretation of evidence.)
The rapid cycling of information in this context is an acceleration of the necessary and expected evolution of a growing science, and it is important to consider this in our scientific messaging to and response with the general public. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has long recognized the knowledge divide when translating research into clinical practice, but this is one aspect on which we have perhaps not given adequate focus.
Personal blog for Bryn Robinson, PhD. All opinions are my own.