Responding to COVID-19

Responding to COVID-19

Facing the urgent global health threat of COVID-19, AAAS moved quickly to help lead the fight to speed research related to the virus and to keep the scientific community, policymakers, journalists and the public informed with updated and potentially lifesaving information. AAAS and the Science Family of Journals provided evidence-based research and a wealth of informational resources through publications, statements and virtual events.

AAAS and Science Journals Share and Speed COVID-19 Research

On Feb. 10, the journal Science received its first paper about COVID-19 — on the structure of the viral spike protein that invades human cells to start a COVID-19 infection. Nine days later, the paper was published. Later in the year, the editors of Science saw that protein become the basis of leading vaccines.

From the very start of the pandemic, AAAS and the Science Family of Journals threw their might into keeping the scientific community and the public informed about the latest COVID-19-related discoveries. Science and other journals agreed to make all COVID-19 research papers free and immediately accessible. The journals encouraged posting of all submitted papers on preprint sites and greatly expedited publication time frames. Science and AAAS provided summaries of COVID-19-focused research to journalists and offered coronavirus-related teleconferences, Facebook Live events and Member Community discussions.

The AAAS Annual Meeting, held in February, quickly added sessions on the emerging coronavirus. Media and social media outreach by AAAS expanded to keep journalists and the public updated on COVID-19-related scientific information. In editorials and statements, AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh and Science Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorp urged the community to collaborate without compromising standards and called for policymakers to follow evidence-based research.

News From Science COVID-19 Reporting

Throughout 2020, in its News section, Science tackled the full range of COVID-19 news updates and issues surrounding the pandemic.

Starting with a Jan. 3 report on the concern raised by pneumonia cases linked to a seafood market in China, the coverage of the virus was comprehensive, providing the latest information regarding differing attempts to contain its spread, comparisons with past disease outbreaks, inequity in treatment, research on coronavirus misinformation, long-term COVID-19 symptoms and even advice regarding the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from your pet.

Science’s COVID-19 coverage was supported by grants from the Pulitzer Center, the Heising-Simons Foundation and Lyda Hill Philanthropies along with other generous foundations and individuals.

Danny Rogers, co-founder and chief technical officer of the Global Disinformation Index, says the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased his workload.

“I’ve been calling COVID-19 the Super Bowl of disinformation,” Rogers said, citing fake cures, stories weaponized to incite racial violence and conspiracy theories — many that could have tragic implications.

Rogers said people live or die, protect their health, or fall ill based upon what information they read.

A member of AAAS who presented a AAAS Community Chat in April, Rogers uses his background in quantum physics in his fight against disinformation. Statistical mechanics, he said, can be used to predict “large-scale effects from small-scale activities,” such as how someone might vote when exposed to certain information.

Rogers said GDI’s efforts are paying off by “getting bad actors deplatformed” across advertising and social media.

Photo Credit: Hadar Goren

SciLine Supports Journalists Covering Pandemic

The first COVID-19-related media briefing hosted by AAAS’ SciLine featured seasoned science and health journalists — Laura Helmuth of The Washington Post and Caroline Chen of ProPublica — as well as Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association. The session was designed to guide journalists with little experience in science writing through difficult topics such as data related to mortality rates and testing capacity.

“Our efforts through media briefings like this one and other services that we provide are all geared toward getting you in touch with scientists or in touch with validated and credible scientific information,” SciLine Director Rick Weiss told journalists.

Other briefings held by SciLine in 2020 dealt with pandemic-related topics, including health disparities and vulnerable populations, COVID-19 cases in children, and asymptomatic transmission of the virus. The service, which is free of charge, also offered journalists broadcast-quality video, a downloadable infographic that tracks cases and deaths by county and state, and scientists’ answers to commonly asked questions.

Parikh emphasized the value of such efforts to the public, to scientists and public health professionals working on COVID-19, and to policymakers.

“We at AAAS are redoubling our efforts to share credible, evidence-based research with decision-makers at all levels,” Parikh said.

Golden Goose Awards Recognize Coronavirus Research Pioneers

The Golden Goose Awards, which recognize federally funded research that might be considered odd or obscure, were focused this year on pre-pandemic research that gave scientists studying COVID-19 a head start.

U.S. National Institutes of Health researchers Kizzmekia Corbett, Barney Graham, Emma de Wit and Vincent Munster were honored for having studied spike protein structure after coronavirus outbreaks of Middle East respiratory syndrome (often referred to as MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (otherwise known as SARS). When SARS-CoV-2 broke out, they were able to replicate its genetic code, providing a basis for several COVID-19 vaccines.

University of Texas at Austin scientists Jason McLellan and Daniel Wrapp, with funding from NIH and assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, received recognition for studying an antibody produced only by llamas, alpacas and camels. After antibodies were developed by an animal infected with the SARS coronavirus, the antibody could be paired with a larger human antibody to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and block infection.

Vanderbilt Vaccine Center’s James Crowe and colleagues received a Golden Goose Award after using a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant to develop a way to produce an antibody for any virus from a survivor’s blood sample. Crowe and his team made thousands of monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, which were sent to pharmaceutical companies for further development.