The American doctor has been interviewed by all major media, as well as YouTubers, and professional athletes. Fauci is absolutely everywhere, and in the process, he might be changing how we communicate science for a long time.
He talks to everyone, reaching every demographic
“What keeps [me] awake at night? Well, it’s irrelevant because I don’t sleep anymore,” said Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease expert on a podcast for the Wall Street Journal.
It’s hard to doubt him when he says he doesn’t really sleep anymore. When could he find the time? If he’s not analyzing data or communicating to specialists, he’s advising Trump and other policymakers in the US, or giving press briefings, or being interviewed by pretty much everyone.
To give you a taster of where Fauci has been:
- He talked to NBA Superstar Stephen Curry, in 40-minute long video conversation, addressing prevention measures and basic COVID-19 knowledge, as well as some NBA talk.
- He was on Desus & Mero, an American television late-night talk show series hosted by comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, where he sprinkled some very serious science into the show’s usual jokes.
- He spoke on Doctor Mike’s Youtube channel, to address an audience with a pre-existing interest in medical science.
- He was interviewed last week by Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook.
- He spoke on Pod Save America and the Hugh Hewitt Show.
- He talked to the imaginary character PFT Commenter on the Barstool Sports.
- He was all over the news, on all major channels.
- He was interviewed by an ever-increasing list of YouTubers and podcasters, from a variety of niches and with extremely varied audiences.
You probably get the point. Fauci didn’t go to the big media and waited for journalists to spread the message. He went down into the media trenches, talking to everyone with an audience that can tune in.
There is more value to this than it seems. It’s not just that he’s spreading his message on a variety of channels, but he’s reaching a number of varied demographics in the process — and he’s reaching them directly. People who are into basketball might see a Fauci interview on national media and not think much of it, but if you see Steph Curry doing the interview, that’s a whole new ball game.
What Fauci is doing is taking science communication to a whole new level.
It’s something that many science communicators have been recommending for years: if you’re a scientist and you have an important message, you don’t wait for the platform to go to you, you go to the platform — and Fauci has been using all the right platforms.
“If Fauci is determined to get out best possible information, YouTube lends itself to being the best platform,” said David Craig, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, and co-author of the book “Social Media Entertainment.”
A candid expert
There’s much to be said about the way Fauci gives interviews, but one thing always stands out: they never really seem like interviews. It’s like he’s just a guy (who happens to be the country’s top expert) talking to someone.
He’s explaining things in a way that’s easy to understand, which is what science communication is so often missing.
We’ve seen in recent years a trend of distrusting experts, and this trend is far from isolated to the US. Science suggests that distrust in experts happens when we forget that they’re human — when we see them as abstract figures in a suit or a lab coat. Well, it’s impossible to see Fauci as that.
Despite having stellar credentials and decades-long experience, Fauci speaks in a way that’s easy to understand for everyone. It’s not dense and it’s not jargon-riddled, it’s an actual person talking to another person.
If there’s something that other scientists need to take from this, it’s that when you’re talking to a broader audience (which is probably what you should try to do in the first place), you don’t need to talk like a scientist — you need to talk like a human.
It’s understandable why this comes as very difficult to so many scientists. Perversely, the scientific publishing system beats any attempt of simple communication into a pulp. Through and through, researchers are incentivized to express their ideas in the most precise possible way, using technical terms, and talking to a specialized audience who can understand them. That’s starting to change in recent years, but we’re still miles away from a communication system that is readily available to varied amd broader audiences. This is what Fauci is doing, and this is what so many times, science communication is lacking.
In one of the most troubled times in recent history, Anthony Fauci has emerged as a voice of reason and integrity, going the extra mile to send an important message across to as many people as possible. He’s not getting enough sleep, but his efforts are not in vain.