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What is the role of scientific research in times of crisis?

Scientific research is known to allow a country to be competitive in the global "market" of knowledge, to keep up with the most advanced countries, and to guarantee the well-being of the population. The year 2020 comes with the crisis of COVID-19, and the death toll is nearly o.5 million due to this deadly disease worldwide. Let’s have a look at the role of scientific research in times of crisis.  

Role of Science Research in times of crisis:

Scientific research is rarely at the forefront of current events as it has been since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, we are bombarded with information on the risk factors and vectors of virus transmission, the development of faster diagnostic tests, the manufacturing of protective masks, and the development of vaccines. And that's without forgetting the famous epidemiological curves of newly infected cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In this era of this pandemic, scientific research is omnipresent in our daily lives and for several good reasons. Research first informs the public about the evolution of the pandemic based on epidemiological data and thus justifies various decisions concerning containment and distancing measures, measures which are not always very popular. 

Research also helps to counter disinformation, which takes up a lot of space on social networks, notably certain misconceptions such as that COVID-19 is transmitted by electromagnetic waves from 5G (fifth generation cellular technology) or even more eccentric ideas. , including the potential benefit of ingesting detergents to kill the virus.

Scientific research is essential to the production of new knowledge to understand better a phenomenon, namely COVID-19 in the current case, its origin, its modes of transmission, and its treatment. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it is mainly infectious disease and public health research that has occupied the media foreground and guided decision-makers, and rightly so! However, the contributions derived from research come from all sectors of the sciences, including biomedical, engineering, artificial intelligence, and the social sciences. There is, of course, basic laboratory research to better understand the virus and develop a vaccine, followed by clinical trials to assess the risks and benefits. 

Research in artificial intelligence to monitor the virus transmission 

It is also research in science and engineering that has produced technological innovation in the form of a miniature laboratory used for ambulatory screening for COVID-19. Research in artificial intelligence is also omnipresent in the development of geolocation systems for monitoring the chain of transmission of the virus. Even if it has been less in the fore so far, social science research has not been outdone. Several studies have documented the psychological impact of the pandemic and confinement on the mental health of young and old, including anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and suicide. 

It is particularly encouraging to note that our elected officials and our leaders rely on the evidence derived from research to guide many of their decisions and actions concerning the implementation of containment and physical distancing measures and the deployment of a deconfinement plan. It would be disappointing if it was not, but some countries have not followed this same course of action supported by scientific data. It is to be hoped that the research will also guide the deployment of psychosocial intervention programs aimed at helping people at risk or already struggling with psychological health problems, problems that are likely to be expensive in the long term.

Researchers highlight the importance of popularizing scientific knowledge. 

While the current crisis illustrates the numerous spinoffs from research, it also highlights the importance of popularizing scientific knowledge to understand and accept certain decisions. Several researchers contribute to this mobilization of knowledge by their interventions in the media to inform the population on the evolution of the pandemic and on its numerous consequences. A major challenge is an enormous pressure on the research community to get answers on multiple topics, and quick answers. But it is clear that there are not always definite answers and that there will always be areas of uncertainty. 

Certain decisions must also be based on judgment rather than on data, in particular the decision to allow family caregivers to accompany a family member at the end of their life. There can be no absolute certainty about the risks associated with deconfinement measures, just as there was no absolute certainty about the projections of new infected cases or deaths. 

Despite the significant contribution of scientific research, even the most rigorous studies have limits and cannot provide absolute truths and fully dictate the decisions of our elected officials. The interpretation of research results may also differ depending on the method used. For example, the per capita death curves seem much worse in Quebec than in the other provinces in Canada. But, it must be understood that the public health agencies of the different provinces do not all use the same calculation methods, particularly concerning the inclusion of deaths of people in long-term care centers with or without a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. 

Wrapping up: 

The usefulness of research becomes more convincing in times of crisis, like the one we are currently experiencing with this COVID-19 pandemic. Once the storm has passed, we must not lose sight of the essential role that scientific research plays in a changing society, hence the importance of adequately funding this research and our universities to train the next generation. The research contributes to improving life expectancy and the quality of life and well-being of individuals. Research is also a driver of the knowledge economyscientific research, and its funding must remain a priority in our governments' economic recovery plan.

Author: Vicki Lezama


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