Priscille Rivière, 2022 Opecst-Science and Society Prize

COVID-19 vaccines contain 5G, vitamin C is effective against COVID, the variants are necessarily more dangerous... During the health crisis, Canal Détox strove to decode misinformation and unfortunate scientific oversimplifications. A valuable initiative implemented by Priscille Rivière and the communication teams at Inserm, which has earned her the Science and Society-Opecst Prize.

Stop fake news!

Portrait de Priscille Rivière
Priscille Rivière, Opecst-Science and Society Prize – Scientific information and communication department, Inserm head office, Paris ©Inserm/François Guénet

Following a master’s in biology, Priscille Rivière, head of the press department and deputy communications director at Inserm, went on to do the equivalent of the second year of a master’s in scientific communications at Université de Grenoble. « I found communication to be an interesting way to serve science, » she adds. Namely sixteen years of service to Inserm, reflected notably by the launch of the Canal Détox collection to combat misinformation, in October 2018. The triggering factor for this was « a conference in February 2018 on how to respond to fake news, at the annual congress of US scientific publisher AAAS, explains Rivière. In a way, it opened up a world of possibilities for me. » Following reflection, she opted for short videos in which « Inserm researchers take the floor because they are the ones doing the science ». In terms of subjects, Canal Détox decodes both off-the-wall ideas like snail slime to treat osteoarthritis, and genuine scientific concepts like Crispr « scissors » to modify DNA. For little over a year, the channel was publishing one video every six weeks.

Fighting the infodemic

But then came COVID-19. « It wasn’t long at all before the press department started to receive questions, remembers its manager. So in mid-March we published a video on the coronavirus. But in the face of the health context and the onslaught of information to decode, it was impossible to make quality videos at a steady pace. So we switched to a factual, written format, checked by researchers. » For almost eighteen months, Canal Détox focused almost exclusively on COVID-19. An unprecedented period that also led the communications team to diversify its activities. « At the end of the first wave, to relieve the experts who helped us and who were thin on the ground, we decided to create a wider pool of researchers keen to combat fake news, not just on COVID-19 but also on other topics, which we called the Riposte unit, describes Rivière. And to our great surprise, within three days, more than a hundred volunteers had responded! »

Portraits de collaborateurs de la cellule Riposte
Léa Surugue, Tatiana Marotta, Éric D’Ortenzio, Léa Roy et Carine Delrieu font vivre la cellule Riposte aux côtés de Priscille Rivière ©Inserm/François Guénet

Battling fake news in all directions

Since January 2021, these scientists have supported Canal Détox. Some suggest topics, others have contributed to writing a book – Fake news santé – a spin-off from the Canal Détox videos and texts, co-published in September 2021 with éditions du Cherche midi. The unit is also an integral part of the partnership established in early 2021 with Les vérificateurs (LCI and TF1 group), a fact-checking team that decodes all kinds of information, including in relation to health.It is in this context that the Inserm researchers were interviewed and took part in social media live streaming. For Rivière, « these initiatives will enable us to increase the Canal Détox audience and continue to add value to scientific discourse ».

To date, Canal Détox’s content has been viewed over 3 million times, Fake news santé has sold nearly 5,000 copies, and some fifty articles have been published with Les vérificateurs. No doubt, the momentum generated by Inserm communication is already bearing fruit, which has earned Rivière, the department’s deputy director, this Opecst-Science and Society Prize. « It’s a real honor! And not just a recognition of teamwork but also of my loyalty to Inserm, which I joined at the end of my studies, she says. I must emphasize that this loyalty also lies in the trust that I am given and the freedom we have to develop projects. » And there is no shortage of projects, especially new videos, because while the health crisis has subsided, misinformation most certainly has not!