The UK’s Science Media Centre director Fiona Fox says new visibility of experts will be crucial in combating doubts on official advice during troubled times

As the grim reality of coronavirus lockdown becomes clear, it is easy to see why those advising such extraordinary curtailments of life and liberty might face a backlash from the public.

But scientists, especially those in the public eye, are better positioned than ever to face the criticism that will arise thanks to their unprecedented public engagement, believes Fiona Fox, chief executive of the London-based Science Media Centre, which, in the past few weeks, has had the busiest period in its 19-year history.

Having provided its first expert quote on the novel coronavirus on 18 January, its five-strong team is now dealing with about 40 press enquiries a day and has arranged hundreds of interviews between journalists and scientists, as well as providing quotes, answers to queries and briefings from Covid-19 specialists.

Ms Fox, who has led the charity since its inception in 2001, told Times Higher Education that the early blanket enthusiasm for scientific expertise is now competing with more sceptical coverage – with the UK’s two most prominent scientists, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, facing questions over the UK’s strategy to overcome a pandemic. Neil Ferguson, the virus modeller at Imperial College London whose landmark report on 16 March led to the lockdowns in the US and the UK, has also been attacked for being overly alarmist in his early predictions.