The Virus Stuck Between Science and Politics: Coronavirus
8thousand Participants Followed the Sabri Ulker Foundation’s Nutrition and Health Communication Conference
The speeches at the Sabri Ulker Foundation’s 4th Nutrition and Health Communication Conference were held between 17th-18th November this year. The Nutrition and Health Communication Conference is an event that reflects the mission of Sabri Ulker Foundation very accurately. The conference is a program that aims to share up-to-date scientific information on nutrition and health transmission with health and media professionals, and to inform students, curious young academicians and the public and it attracts a lot of attention. The number of online viewers, especially health professionals, academics, students of the nutrition and dietetics department, and media professionals, reached 8000 people this year. Holding conferences online is now our new normal. We can do it both online and offline and accommodate tens of thousands of participants next year. Our target is always better, always further …
The first speaker at the conference was Scientific Committee Member Professor Serhat Unal. He is a valuable scientist who works in the field of infectious diseases and microbiology and has many articles and awards in both Turkey and abroad. He commenced by stating that humanity has struggled with many infectious diseases such as the plague, cholera, malaria and SARS for centuries, so Covid-19 is not actually a surprising disease. He furthered that the world is cooperating against the Coronavirus epidemic, but once again underlined that the epidemic has not yet been stopped and that masks, social distancing and hand hygiene are essential towards stopping the epidemic. He also emphasized that the epidemic so far could not be stopped because these measures could not be implemented properly in the world. “Although options such as the mutation of the virus, herd immunity, and effective treatment and medication have been discussed, it seems that this pandemic will be solved by vaccine” he continued with the good news. He proceeded in his speech as follows: “There is hope in the vaccine, but keeping our immune system strong is also very important. The Coronavirus continues to devastate the world. We cannot give up on masks, distance and hand hygiene. We must not forget the basic rules of healthy living. Regular health checks, avoiding stress if possible, regular exercise, regular sleep, and a healthy and balanced diet all are very important. A healthy body means a healthy immune system. A well-functioning immune system is actually the most important force against all diseases, especially Covid-19. It has been scientifically proven that vitamins C and D are extremely important in combating this disease. It is also very important to include these vitamins in addition”. I follow all the suggestions of our expert and expect everyone to do the same because I care about the health of others.
Dr. Julian D. Stowell was another speaker. Stowell has been a member of the Sabri Ülker Foundation Science Board for many years. He is a biochemist with 40 years of experience in the food and pharmaceutical industry in the UK. In his speech, which he started off by saying that ‘We encounter numerous speculative Coronavirus news every day, that the Coronavirus is squeezed between science and politics on the one hand, and on the other hand, shuttling between economics and public health. It takes time for data to mature, so scientists should be careful about this issue while making statements about Covid-19’. His emphasis was very important. Stating that Pfizer announced that 50 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine could be produced by the end of 2020, Mr. Stowell went on, “Vaccination studies are carried out in healthy individuals. So what will the effects of this vaccine be on individuals with a health problem? Does the vaccine reduce the spread of the virus or slow its reproduction in the body after it infects the body? What are the results in different age groups? There is not enough scientific data for these questions yet and studies continue. In addition, the vaccine must be transported by cold chain at minus 75 degrees. This is another point. The data analyzed and approved by independent researchers should be treated as scientific data. For example, the Oxford vaccine is developed with a different method and storage conditions are more suitable ”.
Harvard Health Communications Professor K. Vish Viswanath began his speech by saying that the advancement of science has prolonged our lives and changed the way we live. He attributed the difficulty in health communication to the fact that incorrect and incomplete information was widely shared. He emphasized that the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has made a great contribution to the spread of false and incomplete information. Stating that the other important factor that confuses things is social media, he listed both the positive and negative effects of social media. Stating that people spend more and more time on online platforms and 3.75 billion people in the world use smartphones effectively, he concluded his speech as follows: “In fact, there is no mechanism that controls and processes the information flow on this platform. Without such a mechanism, incomplete and incorrect information becomes mainstream. Information is not equivalent to communication, and producing a lot of information does not mean it being understood by everyone. A new scientific study comes out every day and it may contradict the information in previous studies. When we add social media on top of this, the information is transferred quite differently. The structure of health knowledge is completely affected. While journalists share mostly anecdotal stories, people cannot manage the information bombardment that comes upon them. When you ask people what causes cancer, they list almost everything.’
Prof. Klaus G. Grunert, the Professor of Food and Agricultural Marketing at Aaarhus University, who joined on screen later, emphasized the “informative” aspect of health communication. He explained that especially during the pandemic period, health communication becomes more difficult and people have the right to know which food is good or bad for them, and this information should be accessible. A study conducted in Denmark revealed how dietary guidelines are understood by people is questioned and that only one-third of people can usually give answers. He said that the general recommendations were well understood but people did not understand the details such as how much fish they should eat. His proposal was: “The information should be given in a shorter and more understandable way in manuals. Thus, more accurate information can be obtained. Understanding is an active process. We refer to our previous knowledge to understand a message. Therefore, each person creates a different meaning. Most people have difficulty understanding details and technical information. For this reason, he/she has difficulty understanding complex expressions and searches the Internet and then is more confused. Providing more detailed information is therefore not always better and can cause a loss in details.’
Indeed, what Stowell, Wiswanath and Grunert have said is happening before our eyes with Covid-19. There are many articles and reviews about Covid-19 everywhere. Many urban legends have also come as a promotion. We should take science as a base on all activities and communication studies related to Covid-19. The media should not share personal opinions. Anyone who makes a statement about Covid-19 should also reveal the supporting data behind it and give it to the media. I think that in order to overcome the pandemic, everyone in the triangle of science, media and society should do his part and this triangle should work in cooperation.
Deniz Ulke Arıbogan has touched a very important issue in her speech. “There can be a similarity between conspiracy theories and reality. It can be difficult to separate the two. Twitter, for example, is a world of lies. It allows one to enter into a hyper reality where lies and truth cannot be distinguished.” As you remember, I have suggested that you should enter the social media with your ID number because of the damages this fictious world can cause to society and human life. It become trend topic that day! Later, everyone came to the same point as me, and some legal regulations were made in this regard. Currently, many social media applications require a phone number to open an account, but since it is a social media economy that feeds on “anonymity, avatar”, this is still an open issue under the name of “freedom”. But besides the benefits of social media, the damages it causes are obvious.
Professor Arıbogan continued as follows: “There is an issue that we call toxic information; This is actually the situation of socially discrediting the information that is being spread. If a scientist acts together with the media, this is then defined as the humiliation of science.” Later, she emphasized that scientific publications are not read and there is a situation where scientific information does not reach the public. She said that science was blocked at this point and that information remained in a closed space among academics. I agree, and this is exactly why we launched the “Science Talks About”, this project at the Sabri Ulker Foundation. We wanted to express that the information written in a language that scientists in scientific publications understand will be understood by the public and let more people benefit. I think we have been very successful so far.
The Professor ended her talk with the following: “China isn’t the most free country in the world, but science can develop there. So I think it’s the vision that matters. If there is light somewhere, there is also a shadow there. We have shadow and no light. There is an atmosphere of fear that scares people and this must be eliminated. What we call a university is not a factor that will pave the way to science. When a university is opened in every city, instead of developing science, we develop that city in a touristic sense.” At this point, let me share my opinion. Indeed, isn’t it interesting that China, an authoritarian country has succeeded in economy as well, while masses complaining about authoritarianism in many countries of the world have been talking about to “pause democracy”. Otherwise, the issue is not about democracy or authoritarianism, but a high-level management standard, let’s call it “governance” now!
Dunya Newspaper Chief Editor Hakan Guldag said, “I think a journalist can write on any subject, paying attention to the basic principles. I think we are protected by law. I also do not agree with those who say they cannot write on certain issues. For example, TURKSTAT has announced inflation, we see that data with details. We can also confirm this information. If people do not believe TUIK figures, we can investigate this too. We can continue to do journalism.” He wanted to explain that the problem of those who complain about the freedom of the press is because they do not comply with the basic principles of journalism. Here the rule is: First reporting and then verifying the “hit”. Of course, I never compare interpretation and reality in the media.
I think it was very important that Guldag made the following emphasis in his speech: “On the nutrition side, as a person who performs this profession, my observation is that some scientists do not appear in publications in order not to be media monkeys. That’s why we stay in a narrow pool.” Here I can not agree with that. I do not say this specifically for Dunya Newspaper, but if good scientists are avoiding the media, it cannot be an excuse for bringing these bad people to the media. Because the more you do this, the more the good ones run away and the bad guys get into. It is imperative to find another way.
From the presentation Fiona Lethbridgeîn from the Science Media Center, one of the associations established in 2002 in England, in order to ensure trust in science, I understood that the media does not have time everywhere, it has to get a lot of information from everywhere and reach conclusions and make news in a short amount of time. Therefore, the media must be constantly informed about the results of scientific research in a language they can understand. What Science Media Center has done is that if there is new scientific information in science and magazines, it aims to make it public. For this reason, it goes to journalists, public opinion leaders, influencers and tells them correctly, checks their misunderstanding with questions and ensures that the news is scientifically based. For example, due to the Covid-19 crisis, they have held more than 60 meetings with journalists, newspapers in their offices, enabling them to produce accurate news for their investigations.
Dilara Kocak, one of our famous dietitians, said interesting things in her speech. “Healthy eating is a variety, eat in season, eat as much as you need” as she summed up the situation. I endorse this statement. Kocak later said, “yes, spinach is very healthy, but if we eat only spinach all of the time, we get sick. 75 percent of the total food supply in the world consists of 12 plant bases. This situation, which causes monocultural agriculture, actually causes an increase in diseases and negatively affects sustainability” and touched upon a very important issue.
There is no unhealthy food, but a distinction between what is suitable for your body and what is not, would be more correct.
Dr. Aysegul Selisik from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization made a very stimulating speech. She started with, “The agricultural sector has not stopped, it has continued to work in the Covid-19 pandemic”. Then she touched on the problem of hunger in the world: “Currently, 690 million people are struggling with hunger all over the world. This year, the number seems to have dropped a little, but such a result has occurred as we have accessed more updated data of China. This figure shows us that we need to work harder to reach the “sustainability” goals we target in the world, that is, to reach the point of zero hunger. We understand that we should protect our natural resources and not waste them. We need to support agriculture and innovation. We need to put agriculture at the center as a strategic sector all over the world ”.
Selisik later approached the issues of agriculture which also concerns Turkey. All over the world, farmers make up more than 80 percent as small family businesses, and of course, on a large scale the yield is more, but furthered that it was not the truth.
She stated that if we do not support, if we destroy, or leave them as they are, small farmers in Turkey would give up on producing and will not be working any longer in agriculture. She stated that as the Food and Agriculture Organization, they think that the protection of family farming is very important for the protection of agricultural heritage.
She mentioned that they have proven with research that if there were sufficient financial resources, agricultural production would increase by 30 percent. She said it is necessary to support farmers and young people and ensure that they stay in agriculture. I agree with most of what Selisik has said, but even if the small farmer has sustainable financial resources, I don’t think the problem will be solved. Turkey currently has millions of hectares of idle farm land. The state should give the field and operations to the farmers for free. The crops should be shared. The land should be owned by the one who sows it and water by the one who uses it. One reason the farmer suffers is that he can only work for 3 months. 3 month is the most beet farmers in Turkey work. How long do they work? Stripping, sewing, hoeing, etc. they work for a total of six weeks. As long as this working period is not year-round, it is not possible for a farmer to have a healthy financial structure.
Further on, she talked about waste: “One third of the food produced is thrown away. Why are we still not conscious of this, why do we take more food on our plate and then let it go to waste? If we want to eat healthy, we have to achieve sustainability in agriculture and balance food waste. If we overcome them, we won’t have a problem anyway. she finished his speech. As Yildiz Holding, we support the Food and Agriculture Organization’s movement to prevent global food waste with our “no waste company” model. We have completely internalized this culture by working on this model for years. For example, while working with the goal of zero waste in Ülker, we recycled 91% of our total waste in 2019 and we have arrived at reaching the rate of converting 98.9% of the raw materials we receive to finished products. We are among the best in this regard in the world. On this occasion, I wholeheartedly congratulate all my colleagues who have placed importance on a wasteless corporate culture.
President of the Diabetes Foundation of Turkey, Sabri Ulker Foundation Scientific Committee member and our dear friend Professor M.Temel Yilmaz in his speech mentioned that Covid-19, which is negatively affecting the entire world, has created a panic effect in especially diabetes and heart patients and chronic diabetes patients locked themselves inside their homes. He informed that in those with a well-controlled glycemic index, the risk is reduced and the disease is overcome more mildly. Just considering that there are over 8.5 million different the lives are of diabetic drug users in Turkey are and we are reminded that the effects wearing masks, social distancing and rules of hygiene are rules that we must understand and obey, not for ourselves but to protect against numerous risks for chronic patients especially during the pandemic. Famous for his vitamin studies from Hohenheim University, Prof. Hans Konrad Biesalski said that low vitamin D levels are very common in Covid-19 patients. “In Europe, we see vitamin D deficiency especially in almost all elderly individuals. variation in the range of 60-66% in Turkey emerges a lack of vitamin D, “he added. Istinye University Vice Rector, Sabri Ulker Foundation Scientific Committee Member Prof. H. Tanju Besler emphasized that the relationship between Covid-19 and nutrition is not known clearly and there are many areas to be examined. In fact, Prof. Gokhan Hotamisligil, also had mentioned that they were investigating the relationship between Covid-19 and metabolism.
There were other speakers at the Nutrition and Health Communication 2020 conference. They were all experts in their field and provided important information for two days. You can watch the speeches that I have summarized from my point of view and other speeches on the YouTube account of the Foundation (**). I feel that our investment in Nutrition and Health Communication has turned into a social benefit and it is beginning to bear fruit. We are happy if we can help more of our people interpret scientific information correctly by doing more, hosting such information conferences, seminars and panels. We are not after information that protects our industry nor distorted by thinking about it, nor do we seek to block such information. We do not have such power in any case. We only want new scientific knowledge, evidence-based knowledge, to properly enlighten the public. Without hiding anything, but in every way, right. If we do not do this, one of the basic laws of the economy, that bad money expels good money from the market, Gresham’s Law will also apply in this area. Bad information settles and expels good information from the information market. It is our social responsibility not to allow such a thing.
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(*) Sabri Ülker Foundation YouTube Account: https://www.youtube.com/user/sabriulkervakfi