29 July 2021

Questacon Goes Viral is an unprecedented event for unprecedented times

| Lottie Twyford
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Questacon's Liquid Nitrogen chefs conducting science experiment

Questacon’s resident Liquid Nitrogen chefs will be freezing up a storm for refreshments at Questacon Goes Viral. Photo: Questacon.

In the age of lockdowns, QR codes and masking up, Questacon is set to host the COVID-19 pandemic’s viral (in the online sense of the word, not the illness) evening of all evenings.

In conjunction with a host of ANU researchers, the special adults-only Questacon Goes Viral event on Friday, 30 July, is about super-spreading, but not in the way you might assume.

Instead of spreading the virus, ANU and Questacon want to spread the science of vaccines, pandemics and viral information.

As science communications manager at the ANU, Toby James says he hopes Questacon Goes Viral is the first of many community events to look deeper at how misinformation is spread during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what actually makes an effective science communications strategy.

“Here at the ANU, we have a whole range of researchers who are willing and able to share their expertise from psychologists and immunologists, to epidemiologists and public health experts,” he says.

Set of Miss Information Pageant at Questacon

The set of Questacon’s Miss Information Pageant is ready to go. Photo: Toby James.

Since the pandemic began, these professions have become familiar to almost everyone, but not all the information being spread comes from, or has been verified, by experts.

Toby says not everybody gets their information from watching the daily state and federal government press conferences.

To address this, attendees at the Questacon Goes Viral event will get to take part in the Miss Information Pageant with psychologist and researcher Dr Eyrn Newman and two PhD students.

Toby says entries in the pageant will range from conspiracy theorists to anecdotal evidence, and everything in between.

“These are important conversations to be having because sometimes it’s about being able to recognise information as either anecdotal or false when you’re just hanging out with friends and family at a backyard barbecue,” he says.

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“We all need to know how to interpret information that might have been passed along through our social networks.”

At the end of the event, attendees will be asked to vote for their preferred way of consuming misinformation, before a panel will help debunk what’s just been presented.

Toby says the night will run a little like a variety show.

“It will kick off with a skit or theatre piece about how vaccines work which will be set up in a kind of office environment,” he says.

Researchers Dr Meru Sheel and Professor David Tscharke will teach visitors about what exactly happens in a cell when a vaccine is administered, as well as what happens in populations which have greater and lower rates of vaccination.

The evening will finish with a more traditional conversation with academics and the ABC’s Dan Bourchier.

READ ALSO The hidden dangers of QR code check-ins

In addition, researchers present on the evening will be conducting some science all around public health communication and attitudes towards this, as well as an evaluation of scientific communication techniques which have been, and continue to be, used during the pandemic.

“Obviously, the pandemic has been difficult for everyone,” says Toby. “Lives and livelihoods have been lost and people’s mental health has suffered, but we are hoping to approach it all in a fun and optimistic way and look at the power of communication.”

Ensuring the evening remains focused on fun, Questacon’s resident Liquid Nitrogen chefs are busy freezing up a ‘Fizzy-Pfizzer-Spider’* to try.

*Vaccine not included.

This very popular event, Questacon Goes Viral, has already sold out, but the team from ANU and Questacon is looking to run a regular series of community events on the subject of misinformation and scientific communication.

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