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Bangalore-based Rashmi Vasudeva's journalism has appeared in many Indian and international publications over the past decade. A features writer with over nine years of experience heading a health and fitness supplement in a mainstream Indian newspaper, her niche areas include health, wellness, fitness, food and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in various publications including Mint-Wall Street Journal, Deccan Herald (mainstream South Indian newspaper), Smart Life (Health magazine from the Malayala Manorama Group of publications), YourStory.com (India's media technology platform for entrepreneurs), Avantika (a noir arts and theatre magazine), ZDF (a German public broadcasting company) and others. With a Masters in Globalisation and Media Studies from Europe, she has also dabbled in academics, travel writing and socio-cultural studies. Mother to a frisky toddler, she hums 'wheels on the bus' while working and blogs about her life and loves at www.rashmi-vasudeva.com
Every one of us who has ever taken a course of antibiotics has been instructed by doctors (and mothers) to complete the course even if you are already feeling fresh as a flower. But the recent (and controversial) advice on antibiotics published in the BMJ says something that actually sounds more logical — stop the antibiotics once you feel better.
The experts are also saying they don't really know if stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages resistance but “taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance.”
While the research has been backed by certain groups of experts, others have expressed deep reservations about how such conflicting advice will confuse people.
Indeed, these fears are not illogical. This latest controversy has opened the clichéd can of worms, not just about antibiotics but also about science communication in general. Studies such as these raise wider questions about building public trust in science in these “fractious times of alternative facts.”
It is the dilemma of our times, fleshed out expertly in this article. Evidence from science is (and always has been) confusing, mixed, incomplete and changeable. Scientists are not expected to agree with each other; debate is the very nature of research. And yet, experts today are expected to stick to narratives, simplify complex research to suit social media posts or highlight a ‘consensus view’ where there is none.
It certainly is confusing to hear experts differ on whether one should finish a course of antibiotics or not. Instead of covering up the uncertainty, or worse, glossing over the disagreements, communicators have to find ways to explain how evidence might always be ambiguous.
Seen in a larger context, this is part of the ongoing tensions around what the author terms 'the public role of science' (think climate change) where people expect unshakable evidence and one-voiced experts. Wiser would it be to consider conflict in science as the norm rather than the exception.