Be alarmed. Some reflections about the COVID-19 risk communication in Germany



Publication Details

Wiedemann, P. & Dorl, W. (2020). Be alarmed. Some reflections about the COVID-19 risk communication in Germany. Journal of Risk Research,


2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This article addresses six typical communication traps regarding COVID-19 which can also be observed with respect to other risk topics. First, we argue that risk communication can slide into what is known as 'risk kitsch'. This refers to the misconception that avoiding risk automatically results in safety. However, the avoidance of one risk always leads to other risks. Life without risk is not possible. We go on to scrutinize the unquestioning belief in numbers. It would seem that describing risks in terms of numbers promises to overcome chaos, provide order, and create a sense of agency over the threatening health risks. However, is this really so? Don't numbers also lie, lead astray, or misrepresent? The third issue we examine is the impact of pictures and individual cases on risk perception. What key picture-or rather what particular graphic-shapes the risk perception of COVID-19? What message does it convey? Does it bias and mislead us? The fourth issue involves the use of COVID-19 modeling studies which aim to provide answers to a number of essential questions: How bad can it get? What does it depend on? What can be done? Yet it is clear that not all assumptions underlying modeling computations are valid. Information content is not necessarily the same as reality content. The fifth section examines the question of how politics can navigate through the crisis. Is it navigating with a faulty compass? How defective is the compass? We then consider the question of morality, which is a crucial issue during a pandemic with its life- and-death stakes. Are moral evaluations always helpful? Or does a rigorously moral discourse hinder the necessary consideration of alternative options in dealing with the pandemic? Finally, we will draw some conclusions. What could better risk communication on COVID-19 look like? What can be improved, and how?.

This record is in the process of being updated. Please contact us for more information.



Link to publisher version (DOI)