What is it about?

In "Rethinking Evidence in the Time of Pandemics," the authors address the challenges of disinformation during global health crises like COVID-19, which has transformed the specialized issue of reliable medical evidence into a topic of public concern and debate. The book questions the assumption that evidence means the same thing to different constituencies and in different contexts. It explores the controversies surrounding COVID-19 by recognizing different types of rationality and plural conceptualizations of evidence, examining debates on measures like mandatory face masks and vaccine hesitancy. The authors put forth a three-step approach to help health professionals and authorities more effectively address evidence controversies during crises. This approach is grounded in Walter Fisher's narrative paradigm, highlighting the crucial role of storytelling in communication: 1. Acknowledge that people make sense of information through narratives. Instead of just providing more facts, health authorities should engage with how people understand these facts and the stories they create. 2. Analyze the values behind different narratives to understand why people believe in certain stories. For example, some opposed face mask mandates as a threat to personal freedom, while others saw it as a moral responsibility. 3. Assess the coherence and credibility of stories based on the values they appeal to and the context of individuals or communities. Consider the social, political, and cultural realities to understand why certain narratives resonate with specific populations. The book argues that understanding and addressing the narratives people belive in can improve communication about medical issues, reduce resistance, and foster better understanding during pandemics.

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Why is it important?

The book has the potential to make a significant difference in public health communication strategies by encouraging health professionals and authorities to consider the values, context, and experiences of different populations when crafting messages. By doing so, they can create more effective narratives that resonate with various communities, reduce resistance to health measures, and facilitate better cooperation and understanding among diverse groups. Ultimately, this can lead to more successful responses to pandemics and other public health challenges in the future.


As the co-author of this book, I've come to understand that stories challenging official pandemic policies shouldn't be dismissed as irrational just because they don't align with scientific rationality. It's crucial to consider the experiences and perspectives that shape people's understanding of the facts. By asking "How do these facts make sense to people, and why?" we can foster more inclusive and sustainable decision-making that acknowledges diverse personal narratives.

Eivind Engebretsen
Universitetet i Oslo

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This page is a summary of: Rethinking Evidence in the Time of Pandemics, September 2022, Cambridge University Press,
DOI: 10.1017/9781009030687.
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