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Communications of the ACM


Science Needs to Engage With Society: Some Lessons From COVID-19

medical personnel, syringe, book, illustration

Credit: Inspiring / Shutterstock

The sudden disruption brought to our world by COVID-19 has put science and research at the center of the public attention. Scientists have been asked why the pandemic developed, how it may be countered and possibly defeated, and how its spread could be prevented. Almost all branches of science have been involved: from health to social sciences, from economics to technological sciences. Computer science (CS) was no exception. Its role—from tracing apps to modeling and simulation of virus spread—has been crucial. How did we manage this transition to the spotlight? What lessons can we learn? Hereafter, I will mainly focus on a key question: How effectively do we, as researchers, communicate with society? How should we equip ourselves to do it right? Why should we do it?

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Scientific Dissemination

Researchers know how to communicate with peers. They learn how to do it since they enter a Ph.D. program, and continue to learn and improve throughout their career. Research is an intrinsically open process that relies on communication among peers. The main ambition of scientists is to achieve novel results and disseminate them to the world, contributing to the advance of human knowledge and welfare. Dissemination is mostly achieved through publications: research results have no value until they become public and can be challenged by further research and used to advance science or to exploit it. The term "publication" comes from Latin "publicare," meaning "make public." The pre-publication peer review process acts as a scientific filter. Publication exposes results to continuous validation through test of time.


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