For science communication to be effective and inclusive, we need to understand and apply what works and why. Decades of social and behavioural science research provides us with a breadth of relevant evidence, alongside decades of lessons learned from experimenting with certain approaches in practice. The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was a drastic reminder about the importance of science communication. Policy-makers and researchers, communication practitioners and affected citizens have seen that measures to contain the spread of the virus will only be socially accepted if the communication between such stakeholders is effective. Weighing economic interests against public health concerns, and safety issues against data privacy concerns, has required regulatory trade-offs under conditions that have been described as ‘post normal science’. That is, the situation has called for urgent decisions with values in dispute while the stakes are high and facts uncertain.
These reflections are deeply embedded in the bigger picture of discussing the overall goals and taken-for-granted practices of science communication. In particular, the pandemic has provided a stark reminder of how important it is for science communication to more effectively put public interests at the heart of how scientific knowledge is produced, shared, and applied.