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Seema Yasmin: How to conquer a pandemic with communication

A specialist in reporting on epidemics — and a medical doctor to boot — explains why bad information is an enemy of public health.

A pattern of journalistic tools like cameras, microphones, notepads, and newspapers

We need to “pre-bunk” false claims that lead to bad decision-making. | Adobe Stock/incomible

Seema Yasmin is a rarity in public health: a medical doctor who is also a journalist.

As such, she’s seen a lot, from Ebola in West Africa to SARS and MERS, and now COVID-19, the most serious pandemic in a century.

Yasmin is currently director of research and education at the Stanford Center for Health Communication. From her years in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a group widely described as “the disease detectives” — and as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, Yasmin says that the greatest impediment to halting an outbreak is the rapid spread of bad information, and even abject disinformation, which when abetted by social media can spread faster than the disease itself. To halt the pandemic, she says medical science and public health experts — and the journalists who cover them — must become better storytellers to get ahead of bad information and to “pre-bunk” false claims that lead to bad decision-making.

Learn more in this COVID-19 special edition of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast with host Russ Altman.