Multidisciplinary Center for Infectious Diseases (MCID)

Ethical Considerations of the Relationship and Interactions between Science, Policy and the Media during the COVID-19 pandemic (ESPRIM)

Applicant: Dr. Bettina Zimmermann (Cluster: Society and Law)

Recipient of MCID Early Career Research Grant for Women (ECRG-W)

Institute of Philosophy

The role of scientific experts in COVID-19 policymaking has been contested in the media and beyond in many democratic societies. The role of scientific experts in policymaking caused conflicts and was subject to intense media coverage, reflecting the normative conflicts inherent to COVID-related policy making: What level of restricting personal liberty is justified to protect public health? Who receives economic support? How can health-related harm be weighed against psychological and economic harm when implementing lockdowns and school closures? The field of public health ethics proposes a number of principles to address these normative conflicts, including health maximization, protection of the vulnerable, solidarity and reciprocity, trustworthiness, justice, autonomy, and harm minimization. Taking these principles as theoretical framework, this project aims to assess the relationships and interactions between scientific experts, policymakers, and mass media and compare them between Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Each of these countries installed different forms of scientific participation in policymaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the project aims to shed light on differing views on moral values in policymaking between scientific disciplines. The project includes and combines data from a comparative newspaper content analysis, a content analysis of expert policy recommendations and policy documents, and qualitative interviews with scientific experts. It sets out to inform relevant stakeholders to optimize relationships between scientific experts and policymakers in future health crises.