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Noticias y Opiniones / News and Views
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"Voci su Ebola" Project : a brick of   the "Science Memories" Archive
"Los rumores sobre el Ébola" Proyecto: una parte del archivo "Memorias de la ciencia"
Paola Vaccaro


Science history and social impact of science does not pass only through written communication. Testimonies, memories, experiences of the multitude of people involved in any   kind of scientific activities are a potential archive of the history of scientific   processes.
Oral history has now regained the dignity it had in antiquity as a source to preserve and rebuild   the memory. This is well exemplified by the huge collection of memories realized by the British Library, with the Oral History of British Science1,  a unique collection of biographical interviews in which scientists, engineers   and technologists reflect on their early life and background, their career and their involvement in the course of UK science in the twentieth century. Over a thousand hours of unedited interviews are made available in full on this website,   while the Voices of Science web resource offers curated access to audio and  video highlights from the interviews organised by theme, discipline and interviewee.    
Nowadays historiography  "without writing" is considered fundamental, especially as regards the social   history. Even in the history of science we are seeing a recovery of the centrality of oral history. Reasons for this are both the unique ability to rebuild what Albert Einstein called the "personal struggle", the tortuous personal journey that leads the researcher to the goal, and to rebuild the social history of   science.
The goal of the "Science Memories" Project ("Memorie di Scienza")2 is to give voice to these testimonies, and body to a searchable archive. The archive, dedicated to the italian scientific journalist Romeo Bassoli, is based on the idea of collecting oral histories, stories and narratives of the different figures who live the world of science: researchers, technicians, journalists, decision-makers, people still involved in the design and conduct of scientific research and its   applications. The collection will constitute an oral archive available via web in open access mode. The collection will include both original contributions, and the identification of existing but difficult to find or to use materials.    
The "Voci su Ebola"(Rumors/Voices about Ebola) project means to collect oral testimonies about the Ebola outbreak that hit west Africa in 2014-2015.
This project was awarded with the Romeo Bassoli Prize 2015. The prize, instituted by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), aims at giving voice to experiences about scientific research, collecting and organizing them in the "Science Memories" archive. The initiative   reflects the awareness that oral evidence and narrations need to be collected and preserved since they are, similarly to writing, powerful tools of dissemination, communication and historical evidence.  
The main objection to the oral sources by a methodologically conservative historiography has always been based on the issue of reliability: you can not give credence to the storytellers because memory and subjectivity "distort" the facts. Now, apart from the fact that this does not always happen or necessarily (nor indeed can we be sure that   there are not as serious distortions, albeit for other reasons, in archive documents),  all the more pressing oral historiography reasoned exactly the opposite: the   oral sources are important and fascinating precisely because they are not limited to "witness" the facts but work on them and build their way through the work   of memory and the speech filter3.

Reference context and objectives of the "Voci su Ebola"  project
The scenario in which the project is developing is the Ebola outbreak that hit West Africa in 2014-2015, with particular emphasis on the media impact of the cases involving  two italian health workers.
The goal is to create a series of audio interviews with experts and medical and paramedical   personnel directly involved in the event. These interviews, recorded and edited   in the form of podcasts, will be published on the web in open access mode.
In November 2014 and in May 2015 there have been two cases of Ebola Virus Disease involving italian patients4, 5, 6. They were Fabrizio Pulvirenti and Stefano Marongiu, infected while serving voluntary service in Sierra Leone on behalf of the NGO Emergency, respectively, as a infectious disease physician and as a healthcare   assistant.
Both patients  were transferred to conditions of biocontainment7, 8 at the Lazzaro  Spallanzani Institute in Rome, and assisted by a team of about 30 people (15 doctors and 15 volunteer nurses).
Emergency is an independent and neutral Italian organization, which since 1994 provides free   and high quality medical and surgical care to the victims of war, landmines and poverty; it operates in Italy and all over the world, and is present since   2001 in Sierra Leone with a surgical center and a children's hospital. In response to Ebola outbreak, Emergency opened a First Aid Post and two Centers for the Treatment of the disease.
The Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases (INMI) - IRCCS is a public institution  operating since 1936 in Italy, as the National Reference Center for highly infectious   diseases. In October 2014, the INMI was commissioned by Italian Ministry   of Foreign Affairs of the Technical and Scientific Coordination of Italian intervention  of cooperation in Sierra Leone 9.
Following the hospitalization of the two Italians and the news coming from Africa, the media went into fibrillation, creating a disproportion between the "real" epidemic and the "mediatic" one, and fueling outbreaks of racism already present in Italy 10,11. For better or for worse, the messages conveyed as by experts as by ordinary people through social networks were present over and above the traditional media12.    
As already happened in the '80s with AIDS13, amplification of individual anxieties and  their social impact overlapped to the benefits of a widespread information.   For the "mediatic" epidemic the intensification of the news has been not proportional to the number of clinical cases, but to that of global "sounding boards" in   form of online newspapers, or "social" sites. So, Ebola has been defined as "the plague of the third millennium", pace of the plague itself, recounted in so many Italian and foreign literature, responsible for millions of deaths in  history and still present in the world (3000 cases per year, according WHO)14.    
About a year after the first italian case of Ebola Virus Disease, it is possible to have from the   experts a clearer picture of the state of art in the fight against this dreaded virus and in the management of communication in presence of an international   health crisis. All the more so that in this case, in addition to providing valuable medical treatments, for the first time the conditions were also created for   the advancement of knowledge in combating the virus, with a scientific research "on the field"10, 15, 16, 17,.
For this project, a testimony is being required to the protagonists of those days, and in particular to the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases' team: the Scientific Director, the Head of UOC Viral Immunodeficiencies and Infectious Neuro-oncology, the Head of UOC Infectious and Tropical Diseases, the Head of   UOC of Laboratory of Virology, the Head of Microbiology Unit and Biological Bank. To get a complete picture, it will be heard also the live voice of nurses and technicians who have dealt directly of the two patients.
As for the Emergency NGO, we mean to collect testimonies by the President of the Association, the Manager Director of the Association's quarterly magazine, the co-founder of  the Association and Executive Director, the medical coordinator of the center of Lakka, Sierra Leone, and any other medical and/or volunteers who have served   in Sierra Leone service; the two italian patients of Ebola Virus Disease; the Press Officer.
Testimonies of ordinary people, Italians and foreigners living in Italy, there will also be collected, to give an idea of ​​what was the extent of the perceived danger in the days of the epidemic.
The interviews will focus on different levels: to the medical staff and researchers will be asked about both clinical and technical-scientific point of view, trying to   frame the situation from a historical perspective; in general, we will also   seek a personal reflection on the matter.

Methodology  and timing of the project
The interviews will be made with a Zoom H4 microphone to record both indoors and outdoors. When it will not be possible to reach the scene in person, if the doctors are serving overseas, an internet connection will be used. It will still be privileged the interview "face to face", avoiding as much as possible telephone connections or remote that worsen dramatically the audio quality. The main interviews (doctors, employees of Emergency and the "insiders") will be individually edited, for the sake of clarity and transmissibility of "expert voices". The interviews to the common people will be grouped so as to provide a lively and dynamic testimony, which reflects the actual media impact on society.
For the assembly and manufacture of the podcast a MacBook Pro computer will be used, equipped  with the Logic Pro audio software.
It is planned to complete the collection of testimonies by the end of April 2016, and to make the creation and delivery of materials by September 2016.

Project  communication strategies
The entire collection of oral interviews will be archived on a sound sharing platform (world leader in the field is Soundcloud -, with creative   commons license, available for listening and non-profit sharing.
A dedicated profile   on major social networks will be created, to share the interviews in a widespread   manner. Essential, in addition to the usual Facebook and Twitter, will be the opening of a YouTube channel: any website that operates in science cannot be separated today from including a number of video content13.
At the publication  of online interviews, press releases will be sent to the major newspapers and  news agencies. The collected material could be presented during a dedicated day, and diffused by radio broadcasts of scientific communication (as Rai Radio3Scienza),  or via web radios.
  1. Oral history  of British science. Visited: 20-01-2016.  Available in:     
  2. Perché.  Memorie di scienza - dedicato a Romeo Bassoli . Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available  in:      
  3. Portelli A.  Un lavoro di relazione. Osservazioni sulla storia orale. Tripod. Visited:  20-01-2016.  Available in:     
  4. Mala L. Scrivi  qui i nomi di tutte le donne uccise. Conaca . Visited: 20-01-2016.  Available  in:
  5. La Nuova. Visited:  20-01-2016.  Available in:
  6. Fabrizio Pulvirenti, La mia battaglia contro Ebola. Giugno 2015, Feltrinelli.
  7. Ebola: paziente  arrivato in Italia. Visited: 20-01-2016.  Available in:     
  8. Procedure operative  e documenti per la gestione del virus Ebola. Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available  in:      
  9. IRCCS Lazzaro Spallanzanni. 2016. Visited: 20-01-2016.  Available in:à%20INMI%20per%20EBOLA%20al%2010%20giugno%202015.pdf     
  10. Satolli R, Strada G, Zona Rossa. Feltrinelli .2015
  11. Il Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available in:
  12. Salce L, Barbato  S, Renna D, Bianchini F, Vaccaro P, Mazzeo F, Gasparini A, Rizza C,  Lanfranchi E, Petrosillo N, Nicastri E, Di Caro A, Capobianchi MR, Puro V,  Russo A, Ippolito G on behalf of INMI EBOV Team. First Italian Ebola Virus Disease case: management of hospital internal and external communication. New Microbiologica 2015, 38: 565-570.
  13. Vaccaro P.,  La scienza in video ai tempi della rete. Thesis, Master "SGP - La scienza  nella pratica giornalistica", Sapienza Università di Roma A.A. 2013/2014   
  14. Epicentro: Il portale dell'epidemiologia per la sanità pubblica. 2015. Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available in:       
  15. Lanini S, Zumla  A, Ioannidis JP, Di Caro A, Krishna S, Gostin L, Girardi E, Pletschette M, Strada G, Baritussio A, Portella G, Apolone G, Cavuto S, Satolli R, Kremsner P, Vairo F, Ippolito G. Are adaptive randomised trials or non-randomised studies  the best way to address the Ebola outbreak in west Africa? Lancet Infect Dis.     2015 Jun;15(6):738-45. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(15)70106-4
  16. Satolli R.  Ebola in Sierra Leone. 2014. Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available in:     
  17. Cosa ci insegna  l'epidemia di Ebola in Africa Occidentale. 2015. Visited: 16-01-2016.  Available in:     
Recibido: 14 de   marzo de 2016.
Aprobado: 7 de abril de 2016.

Paola Vaccaro worked for many years as a researcher, giving her contribute in the fields of marine biology, neuroscience and biotechnology, especially in Phage Display. She has coauthored several papers that were published in peer-review journals, like PNAS, Marine Biology, JBC, among others.
Recently her interests switched on science communication: her “Voci su Ebola” project was awarded with Romeo Bassoli’s Prize; at the moment she’s collecting different oral witnesses about the last Ebola outbreak.

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