April 3rd, 2020
In the midst of a crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. We are getting closer to a million confirmed infections. The actual number of untested cases is undoubtedly much higher. The frontline warriors in this disaster are the doctors, nurses, and other supporting health workers. At the back end, thousands of scientists and engineers are collaborating—also at an unprecedented scale—to understand the exact behaviour of the coronavirus, transmission dynamics of the disease, diagnostics, innovative technologies to scale up the fight, means of coping up with physical distancing and critical assessment of communications.
What is CovidGyan?
The torrent of information generated and spread from all corners of the world has created information overload. It is a challenge to comprehend reliable information while filtering out misinformation. A multi-institutional, multi-lingual science communication initiative, called CovidGyan, has been created to deal with just this challenge. The initiative is the brainchild of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC). Other prominent partners include Vigyan Prasar, IndiaBioscience, and the Bangalore Life Science Cluster (BLiSC, which comprises InStem and C-CAMP, in addition to NCBS-TIFR). An outcome of this initiative is the launch of the CovidGyan website:https://covid-gyan.in.
Infographics that address rumours and provide factual data can be found on the site.
Centre Directors Speak:
Coordinating this initiative is Prof. Rajesh Gopakumar, Centre Director of the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) in Bangalore. According to Gopakumar, the mandate of the CovidGyan initiative is to, “create, curate and communicate scientifically credible and authentic COVID-19 related content and resources.” He underlines that the main target audience of this content is the general citizenry as well as the scientifically curious who would like to keep abreast of developments.
Prof. Satyajit Mayor, Centre Director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), emphasises that NCBS houses expertise, knowledge and experience in studying all scales of biology, from viruses to ecosystems that we inhabit. He adds, “At the time of the COVID-19 crisis, it is especially important that we utilise our deep scientific understanding of the biological world to provide a more holistic perspective on the situation we find ourselves in, and seek appropriate solutions for the resolution of this crisis.”
Prof. Arnab Bhattacharya, who leads the TIFR Mumbai science communication initiative Chai and Why?, says that reliable information based on science is an urgent need due to the infodemic of misinformation about COVID-19. This compels us to realise that, similar to climate change, ignoring science can quickly intensify problems to a global scale. CovidGyan is an attempt to build this with the coordinated effort of scientists across India in several Indian languages.
Prof. V. Chandrasekhar, Centre Director of TIFR Hyderabad, pointing out the urgency, adds that COVID-19 is affecting countries around the world; a situation that requires the scientific community to work together to meet several objectives. To this end, scientists of TIFR-Hyderabad are working along with several others in the TIFR system towards this effort.
Prof. K. Subramaniam, Centre Director of the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) in Mumbai, mentions that the partner institutions in this CovidGyan initiative have diverse capabilities in scientific research, science communication, and science education. This combined capacity can be channelled to bring authentic and reliable information to the public as well as those engaging in the struggle against the pandemic in a variety of roles. He highlights that it is extremely important to localise reliable scientific information, which takes into account the individual complexity of Indian conditions.
Underlining the need for CovidGyan, Prof. Amol Dighe of Department of Theoretical Physics TIFR, says that COVID-19 is affecting each and every individual in some form or the other, and the fight against it is going to be at the medical as well as societal level. This is why people from all strata of society should have access to trustworthy information in a language that they understand best. He maintains that CovidGyan will be making resources available in as many Indian languages as possible, so that the science, as well as the guidance for health and well-being, reaches the widest audience possible.
Dr. Smita Jain, Executive Director, IndiaBioscience, adds that COVIDGyan is an effort to bring a validated pool of content either developed by practicing researchers from the partnering institutions or curated from across the web. IndiaBioscience has always brought interesting and latest news, columns and articles to its readers through its website and now as a partnering institutions of COVIDGyan, it hopes to continue to provide the best possible content to a much larger audience during this time of crisis.
Prof. Kaushal Verma, Office of Communications of Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru, concludes that CovidGyan is a timely portal that will go on to become a trustworthy and reliable source of information about various aspects of COVID-19.
Prof. Rajesh Gopakumar further emphasised the role of scientists, who are playing a dual role in the current crisis: the search for vaccines and cures and policy measures informed by science. The rationale for some of these steps may not be obvious to the general public and it is also the responsibility of scientists to explain these in a compelling way. The #CovidGyan initiative provides a forum to bring together scientists and communicators across TIFR and other partnering institutions to make an impact.
The CovidGyan website includes short informative videos, posters and infographics, FAQs, mythbusters, and articles, which are being actively translated into multiple Indian languages.