“When you study something like the opioid crisis, it carries a certain amount of controversy,” MacKinnon says. “We don’t intend to be controversial, but it’s the nature of the work. And we don’t shy away from it.”
More than ever, Cuadros says, he is fighting an anti-science backlash around the global pandemic. Even his family has shared conspiracy theories with him over social media.
“One said COVID-19 isn’t a virus but a bacteria caused by the 5G phone network,” Cuadros says.
“It’s very frustrating. Maybe we need to do a better job as scientists of explaining what we do and, more importantly, how we do it,” he says.
That’s why Cuadros thinks the simple maps he creates to share his research results at UC are such effective tools for communicating science to professionals and the public alike.
“When I give health presentations at conferences, you can show them fancy mathematical models. They get bored. You’ve lost them,” Cuadros says. “Almost anything can be illustrated in a map. It’s so very powerful. And people can get engaged in a conversation.”
Getting people to trust science will be especially important once a vaccine for COVID-19 is found, he says.
“People also are very skeptical about it. Trust will be very important. A majority of people trust in science, but the few who don’t make our work a bit difficult,” he says.
In the meantime, the pandemic is not simply going away. Cuadros empathizes with people who want a return to normalcy.
“I miss going to the gym. Exercise has been a big part of my life since I was a kid when I used to play soccer with my dad,” he says.
He bought a stationary bike and elastic bands to use at home, but it’s not the same. He also misses going out for a beer or dinner with his wife, UC biologist Maria Torres.
“It’s amazing that a little virus can create such a big disturbance in our lives. But we’re really good at adapting,” he says.
Despite reservations, Cuadros remains optimistic and hopeful for the future.
“This is an inflection point,” Cuadros says. “A pandemic of this extent is something that will reshape society, the economy and the course of human history. With the quarantine, we’re learning what is important and meaningful to us.”