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Read this: Meet the Covid Influencers

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Meet the Covid Influencers…

BBC sounds music Radio podcasts hello, this is the media show from BBC Radio 4 now the omicron variant means we will still have decisions to make about how you're celebrate Christmas and those calculations will be guided by will be here from politicians from health officials and from the media and they will the media cover the pandemic and was told to for people who in the different ways that become popular sources of information on the virus and have also become well-known characters within the story let me introduce them professor Neil Ferguson is an epidemiologist at Imperial College London he's also an adviser on the government sage committee Dr Margaret Harris is a spokesperson for the world organisation who joins us from Geneva professor Christina puggles director of UCL clinical operational research unit and John burn-murdoch is the chief data reporter at the Financial Times

As well as all the other work Christina and John are also two of the best-known Coburn analyst on Twitter so there a lot of decisions for people to make those decisions will also be informed by in the last few minutes the UK is recorded over 100000 cases of coded in one day for the first time during this pandemic.

That will of course be covered in tomorrow's news in be covered on the radio and on the television right now and all four of you as you look across the media coverage of the current state of the pandemic.

How do you assess the quality of the information being provided professor Ferguson we can start with you? I think there are some outlets which you clearly have an idea lost last intend to filter the science almost outlet print media and broadcast media are doing and have them to a pandemic.

The job in a rapidly changing situation of a lot of uncertainty I think social media which I spend a lot of time on is a rather different East and be more problematic for the extensive and some disinformation, but I think within mainstream Media a lot of journalistic and political journalist.

I've had a record education geology biology and generally get it right many more times and get it wrong you had almost 140000 followers on Twitter but you haven't tweeted since April last that's just I mean there is more my interior department to try to persuade me to treat and it was not a problem.

I actually well.

I'm looking at the front pages from this morning the Daily Mail doubleboost for Christmas the Metro xmas Christmas can go ahead take test to see family at Christmas the Times told us and the Daily Mirror

minister rules out Christmas restrictions, but urges caution Christina of those headlines helpful

Mean I'm not so much.

I'm not so sure what else they could report given.

That is what the Prime Minister said yesterday on numbers and round numbers is going to be headline tomorrow.

Come over 100000 cases cases that 8 or 9 Days you actually got over 100000 by last week and that doesn't get reported and so you kind of end up focusing on numbers and not what they mean which is that were about to go into a period when mixing the doctor people particularly older people with really what I would like seeing what are the numbers mean not we've reached a certain someone between milestone or John burn-murdoch.

You spend a lot of your time posting long threads on Twitter trying to tell us what number.

Do you think that perhaps across the media people don't have the same confidence you doing handling.

What those numbers mean?

I think I will I think first of all I'm I'm certainly not enormously consent in in all these numbers myself either.

I'm constantly checking these things with experts have been studying stuff for years and decades and I think I think what what they're feeling in casinos.

That is exactly right at putting that point about how there is often too much focus on numbers are not enough to happen around as I think I've been is truly done anything else.

There's been constant illustrations of the very rapid growth which we've known about the best part of the month and it feels in the last in the last couple of weeks.

That has not really been providing much more light, but it's been providing a lot of heat.

Where is the big question we had a courses around what this needs to be disease and that is much trickier to get a better handle on it's off and qualitative answer as much as a qualification understand you have scientific concerns about the merits of focusing on these numbers Dr Margaret Harris at the world Health

PlayStation does sometimes big numbers serious though, they are desperate situation that they describe can they actually thought of Us helpful if you go through a big number like 100000 like the UK's just done does it make it easier to get big simple messages across to a whole population or in your case a whole world number or big milestone.

Does concentrate Media my so it makes Media sort of brand of think about those issues, and it gives an opportunity one of the problems with big numbers.

Is there so I don't think individuals can even get their minds around what that means said it means more to Europe with your grandfather who died then if 50000 people died in the week as died last week and and the fact that we having way more numbers.

In the year were finishing then died of the infectious disease malaria HIV and tuberculosis, but it's very very hard for people to grasp but when it gets bigger and smaller numbers are easier to understand this morning that affect you personally I suppose what I was looking to blow though was whether a strength of messages sometimes more important than being entirely scientifically accurate or comprehensive perhaps is a better way of putting it sample Chris Whitty got a lot of attention for saying a few days ago.

Several there are several things we don't know about omicron, but all the things that we do know are bad now professor Ferguson he's been criticizing some the saying that but it's no doubt that it got the country's attention.

Yes, I would actually agree with what he says and I think Chris is only very cautious and in Enniskillen sense and chilli there are many things standstill severity releases report on but it will still be a gradual process information you think want me back to the challenges of the media one of the challenges is just the whole industry being driven by Cliff rates and buy headlines and that isn't always conducive to a reflective discussion weighing up uncertainty in the balance way and I can buy myself at the central that sort of thing of you say something in one interview one morning which is gravity then taken out of context within hours.

Could you give us an example last week? I was asked in summer Today programme.

What does I think about reducing the test period from 10 days to 7-days isolation period after positive test tonight and my comment was quite effective but if you have test to release at the end of retain quite a lot of the effect must maybe have better compliance which was then broadcast by my favourite the Telegraph and the Daily Mail Liz Ferguson supports a particular policy.

So when you say something of course you're putting in the public domain and then the media takes it and turns it into one thing soundbytes one thing or another world speaking of sound Bites let me play you a section of the world Health organization's press conference from yesterday, which got a huge amount of the Press Conference more.

Generally was covered but this particular clip was very heavily shared and very heavily used this is the head of the whl Dr tedros adhanom ghebreyesus.

Cancelled is better than a life cancelled.

It's better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve letter Dr Margaret Harris was that planned.

Yes, but that was originally we were going to have a social event for an interview that we put off the year before because of coded and then request that we give some time with our experts yes social but also time for the conversation or but we decided the situation and the epidemiology of Switzerland this would be a dangerous thing to do so he was speaking to them but knowing that this was also.

And it was a message earlier.

We talk it's something we all need to do right now and when you're preparing that speech you and your colleagues the w00d Mark out a section of the speech where you think this is the bit that's going to get picked up.

This is the Sound by to use professor Ferguson phrase we actually over now trophies the stuff that's technically moving something on or advice is to get picked up, but we don't say ok.

This is the one this is where we're going.

We we don't really sort of put a big push into one particular thing but I wonder and John burn-murdoch from the ft.

If I could be in on this clearly the point of that statement was to say to everyone around the world take omicron seriously, but you might look at the date around on the corner and think well actually doesn't event cancelled.

Avoiding a life cancelled because some of the data around covid 4 people who had boosters suggest that they have a very very very good chance of not even being hospitalized let alone dying.

Look at me, I'm in person.

I would I would see a line like that coming in present tense of a press release that's a very nice pre-written line, but it's not it doesn't really to me as someone who cares more about the detail.

I wouldn't I wouldn't quibble over the exact equation of one event and one desk, but you know it's something that one of our other report is not using a story but for me.

I don't want to see more about what the other data is showing go back to something Neil said earlier as well, which is I think it's absolutely true that a lot of orangeries incentivized on the complex.

They the real the great thing about working a place like the FC is on getting things right because if we don't I'll comment as well very very eager to let us know and the really great thing for me about about that's right.

The pandemic is being that.

It's kind of been a constant pushback stopping me from from leaning towards any sign as it were on this one on the pandemic because I would I would much rather be.

Boring and right then get a lot of clicks on one story that turned out to be absolutely wrong so I think they're alright.

They're definitely different in different parts of the media, but it's really about making sure I have to climb backwards everything next week.

Don't respond Neil your balance coverage.

It has been the minority have kind of logical signs of covid in the Politics of covid both get into twined and then sometimes diverge again then again and again typically around course times of crisis where decisions need to be made Christina can I bring you in on this this this tension perhaps between being scientifically comprehensive and the need for very simple public message.

Example Boris Johnson was criticised by some people earlier in the week for saying he was still considering whether to bring in restrictions Before Christmas subsequently decided he wouldn't do but there was a statement earlier in Grace said he was still considering that but wasn't that reasonable given that the date of wasn't perhaps as clear-cut as needed.

The data was quite a car has been watching grow a month so the fact that we were going to have Finley hi cases this week leading into Christmas was known and we know that hospitalizations and deaths take several weeks to appear so the fact that if it's not milder the NHS can you drop on next week that is a known fact the question is what you going to do about it.

Do you take the gamble but it's milder and you'll be ok or did you try and prevent some infections now? So so I don't think I don't think it was unclear.

I think it was quite clear.

I mean that's how I see it anyway, but do you accept that there is a tension between scientific nuance sometimes and the need for a simple macro messages from global Health Bodies Like the who0 or from government such as Boris Johnson's.

Meaning of going to be able to dig into everything and press conference or in your messaging.

I don't think that means that you always have to avoid me once uncertainty and I think you know we've seen very different messaging throughout from Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland that we have from Boris Johnson in England and we know the servers are showing that she has a much higher level of public trust and we've seen I think it's well very responsible messaging from Angela Merkel when she was talking about it or I think they're always explaining to people why you're doing the things you're doing and what the data showing and what that means the policy there doesn't have to be overly simplistic.

I wonder if you're listening to that Margot the why if you're thinking about that why statement from a few weeks ago which use the word mild with reference to omicron, which got a huge amount of traction and which it appears lots of scientists have been trying to.

back from ever since

so indeed and it wasn't a statement it was actually a comments in a press conference Again by one of my colleagues in our East Middlesbrough to rain in regional office and he was trying to say we're getting from South Africa indicated milder than you once was lost and and it was very much.

Why is eating smile then? Yes indeed? It has been a struggle to constantly explain this is looking at early days from South Africa it's a very different populations from what we seeing Europe you can't just translate one from the other but it has been something.

We've had to really work to because that then that's what I want to hear people cherry-pick naturally that was the information they wanted and that's the information that has stayed in the sort of response and perhaps that example is it is it?

To take us onto another dimension of this which is the degree to which we all take information from individuals such as the four of you vs.

The degree to which we take information from institution because all four of you in different ways have become known as individuals who provide information that may well be a value for people wanting to understand the pandemic Christina at the beginning of this.

Did you imagine that you would have 180000 followers on Twitter and that would be very well known across the UK for your commentary on covid-19 party because so much of it has been from my living room.

It doesn't feel like I put out to eat and I don't actually expect people to leave them but I do take it seriously you know especially as people who follow me grown to more numbers.

Yeah, I know that I can't make a mistake and secondly really matters so

I always try to be fair and try and make sure I wanted to the day so naturally I took lots of like they gentleness like John and try and make sure that I'm not being stupid or that.

I'm understanding it understands.

What spice because I'm trying to work out.

What's happening and explain my wife think is happening to people was there a moment though in the spring of last year where they you were a professor in mathematical modelling in Healthcare who was becoming known for an analysis of kovid that you were providing on Twitter was there a moment where you were sitting in your living room or your study and you thought my god.

This is becoming a thing this is becoming an extra dimension to my working live.

Probably was the end of the summer like September 2020 when casestyle again off again when we were kind of hoping that maybe we could I wouldn't have two humps the numbers every weekend and then it's not going away and it takes you know days out of my working life when I have a full time job and that is actually quite challenging but sometimes.

It's just like my mum said why I can't take it.

I don't think about that.

It doesn't feel real to me and I can let you know I have my job and one day that will be my job again and this is an Interlude I feel like I have responsibility to try and explain things but I didn't say it's kind of accent does Dumbo Motors you're listening in a Christina when she posted a thread people share again another thread here from Christie

Same thing happens with you you now have over 400002 followers your thread to get shared by hugely influential people not just in the UK but around the world was there a moment where you realise that you were suddenly holding this very important position within the information ecosystem around the pandemic early March 2020 and then you know just Duty with people and it's been a completely organic process since then you know I've not had discussions about my my friends with with buses at the ft.

I've not there's not been any sign of plan of action.

I don't Sit Down on Monday morning and tickled my tweet about this what you get some more responding to the news.

I think I think I think there's something you feel extremely accountable when when your that's as close as it were to the people are consuming information and I think for me if anything it's I'd like.

Improved my attention to details of journalist because you feel very exposed when you put something out there and you'll start seeing your replies come in and you've got as you've said extremely smartly people people studying this stuff for years and decades and you know if you get if I eat something out all excited and an expert reply to me being so you've got this completely wrong that would be so no for me.

It's been something completely organic, but I think something just really good for for getting my head around Mr Neil Ferguson you were already a well-known scientists in the UK at the beginning of the pandemic you became one of the primary voices on how the UK should respond to it and then in a 2020 the Telegraph reported that you've broken social distancing rules.

You've sent several times that something you regret were aware at the start of the pandemic that you were a public figure who would be of interest to the media.

I mean, I think different since beginning of January of last year was 10th of January last year.

I mean really I've been heading a research has been working on is our job waiting on stop on on the pandemic trying to feed into policy here and around the world Health Organisation so the Media's new tyre and MOT tiny fraction of my time.

I'm in a week or so, but it's 5% of my time is the weather you sort it or not.

You've even got a harmonica my name in Google the overhead lines anymore.

I'm conscious.

Yes, I am something in the popular discourse.

Just focus on doing the science communicators as well as I can does it feel strange To You Christina to be a almost character in The Story you mention the fact that Daily Mail is called you and notoriously blue expert.

I mean the whole thing is the whole thing is strange like the whole last two years is strange and some point if and when it's over and I really hope I'm not here in a year's time, then.

I will have time to think about what is meant to me, but I haven't I haven't had that chance so I can't because I'm still living it and especially the people on stage and John people been working so hard for so long.

I don't think anyone's really have time to process.

What any of it and don't hurt the why was you listen to this.

How does this fit into the the macro messaging and the macro scientific calculations that you do at the wh0 because without meaning to be rude the head of the whl perhaps wouldn't have been someone who most people could name before covered, but now everyone knows who Dr Ted Ross is.

How's that changed the dynamic of the organise.

Well, I think only on a decision was made that this was really good something very very serious.

We needed to give regular updates and person who was willing to do it now in the past.

We may not have had a director general willing to do that and we may have been much more in the background but because it was so knew we were all together we access information and we thought we really needed to get around every day in the early days.

We had daily press conferences even on weekends and then that move 4-days 3 days and 1-2 to press conferences a week and it has been Dr tedros all the time.

He is extraordinarily relentlessly committed and Beth has made a very big difference and it's bloody very different and because of that and this is no reflection on anything.

He's done.

He has become a political.

Figure in the some people are big supporters of the positions.

He takes others have been firstly critical and I wondered John Neal and Christina in your own different ways if you felt yourself being sucked into a political sphere perhaps you don't want to be in I was looking at some comments just in the pressing the last few days Dan Wootton on GB news saying Boris Johnson has to stand up to the scientists and see no I will keep the country open Young on the Daily Mail at last Boris is placed his trust in the common sense of the British people not the kassandra's in lab codes.

Have you felt Neil Ferguson that you are being sucked into Polish in the way that you don't want to be.

I mean, I think the scientist science has become politicised.

I'm in particular the people you mention and that's that we have thinking I mean I don't take it seriously in the sense that most of what is said by such folks is not everything stayed and it's trying to find cherry-pick evidence particular position try to stay very clear the politics and I don't even my views on what the government should do publicly I try to focus on communication.

Did you have you did have some political some papers who's politics perhaps? They felt didn't align with what you were saying playing you very very close scrutiny absolutely but things happen to scientists in the area of climate change that being the bearing bearing as it were bad news can get you criticize quickybaby.

Particular vested interest ideological bent Christina what about you? Have you found yourself on lining with people on a particular part of the political spectrum? I think much more so then the Neil has and I think actually spy and have been meticulous about not getting involved on that side of it.

Where is I think you know to be much more kind of the evidence is in we think that means you should do xx so you are taking a political position now.

You know in an ideal world.

I would be completely aligned as what the government is doing to combat the pandemic.

I think in the early days.

That was the case now that hasn't stayed that way, but they certainly didn't like it's party political, but I feel like I have the decisions that the government has made in that has exposed giving me a political start out of time just before I finish I must ask you John have you got any more threads plan because they're peep.

Really want to know what's going on with this.

I do but annoyingly my work my jaw keeps getting in the way of them.

It's one of those things.

I think that these are my job, but these days.

I write three stories a day in the headspace to do it at 8 p.m.

And I love you too tired, but yes, I will have more stuff here.

Good to hear it.

So there's we listening to follow John and Christina on Twitter I wouldn't following Neil on Twitter because he hasn't tweeted for a week in a year and a half but thank you very much to all of our guests we completely out of time professor Christopher Christina professor Neil Ferguson Dr Mark Harris and also John burn-murdoch.

Don't forget you can get past editions of the media show fire the BBC Sounds app and the media shall be back this time next week with Katie razzall before now Heroes Atkins and the media show team thanks for listening and have a lovely Christmas

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