It is interesting to consider this from a different country. As the numbers are still relatively low in Australia, I think that it will be more dancing. I guess time will tell.
The scientific community spent the pre-pandemic years designing faster ways of doing experiments, sharing data, and developing vaccines, allowing it to mobilize quickly when COVID‑19 emerged. Its goal now should be to address its many lingering weaknesses. Warped incentives, wasteful practices, overconfidence, inequality, a biomedical bias—COVID‑19 has exposed them all. And in doing so, it offers the world of science a chance to practice one of its most important qualities: self-correction.
In some cases, bad papers helped shape the public narrative of the pandemic. On March 16, two biogeographers published a preprint arguing that COVID‑19 will “marginally affect the tropics” because it fares poorly in warm, humid conditions. Disease experts quickly noted that techniques like the ones the duo used are meant for modeling the geographic ranges of animal and plant species or vector-borne pathogens, and are ill-suited to simulating the spread of viruses like SARS-CoV-2. But their claim was picked up by more than 50 news outlets and echoed by the United Nations World Food Program. COVID‑19 has since run rampant in many tropical countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, and Colombia—and the preprint’s authors have qualified their conclusions in later versions of the paper. “It takes a certain type of person to think that weeks of reading papers gives them more perspective than someone with a Ph.D. on that subject, and that type of person has gotten a lot of airtime in this pandemic,” says Colin Carlson of Georgetown.
A guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend
Yong begins by explaining how COVID19 is just one of many coronaviruses, each of which is different.
There isn’t just one coronavirus. Besides SARS-CoV-2, six others are known to infect humans—four are mild and common, causing a third of colds, while two are rare but severe, causing MERS and the original SARS. But scientists have also identified about 500 other coronaviruses among China’s many bat species.
This is in contrast to SARS-CoV-2, the disease that the virus induces. Something which there is still a lot of mystique and mystery around.
Prasad’s concern is that COVID-19 has developed a clinical mystique—a perception that it is so unusual, it demands radically new approaches. “Human beings are notorious for our desire to see patterns,” he says. “Put that in a situation of fear, uncertainty, and hype, and it’s not surprising that there’s almost a folk medicine emerging.”
In the rush to understand, scientists face the challenged on not only sorting through peer-reviewed research, but also the plethora of preprint research released into the public discourse.
Preprints also allow questionable work to directly enter public discourse, but that problem is not unique to them. The first flawed paper on hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 was published in a peer-reviewed journal, whose editor in chief is one of the study’s co-authors. Another journal published a paper claiming that the new coronavirus probably originated in pangolins, after most virologists had considered and dismissed that idea.
Associated with this challenge, there are questions about those who actually has expertise and the reality that to produce the answers we may want we actually need to work together.
No one knows it all, and those who claim to should not be trusted.
In a pandemic, the strongest attractor of trust shouldn’t be confidence, but the recognition of one’s limits, the tendency to point at expertise beyond one’s own, and the willingness to work as part of a whole.
Something that confounds this is the inconsistency with the messaging from the official streams.
The impulse to be reassuring is understandable, but “the most important thing is to be as accurate as possible,” Inglesby says. “We should give people information so they can do what they think is right. We should tell people what we don’t know and when we’ll know more.”
With this confusion from those in power comes the rise of disinformation and falsehoods by those wishing to take it.
As the reality of the pandemic becomes clearer, the partisan gap is rapidly closing. But as time passes, misinformation, which refers to misleading stories that are circulated in good faith, will give way to disinformation—falsehoods deliberately seeded “to leverage the disaster for political power,” Starbird says.
One particular point of confusion is the death count associated COVID-19 and the fact that we often overlook what the numbers actually say.
If flu deaths were counted like COVID-19 deaths, the number would be substantially lower. This doesn’t mean we’re overestimating the flu. It does mean we are probably underestimating COVID-19.
This all creates for a challenging narrative. Like the Y2K bug, it is a difficult story to tell, for the success often relates to what goes untold.
I cannot read about the losses that never occurred, because they were averted. Prevention may be better than cure, but it is also less visceral.
Along with steams such as Coronacast, I have found Ed Yong’s posts useful in making sense of the current crisis.
Group A includes everyone involved in the medical response, whether that’s treating patients, running tests, or manufacturing supplies. Group B includes everyone else, and their job is to buy Group A more time. Group B must now “flatten the curve” by physically isolating themselves from other people to cut off chains of transmission. Given the slow fuse of COVID-19, to forestall the future collapse of the health-care system, these seemingly drastic steps must be taken immediately, before they feel proportionate, and they must continue for several weeks.
An orca, then, is an apex predator’s apex predator. No wonder sharks flee from them. But orcas don’t actually have to kill any great whites to drive them away. Their mere presence—and most likely their scent—is enough. Many predators have similar effects. Their sounds and smells create a “landscape of fear”—a simmering dread that changes the behavior and whereabouts of their prey. The presence of tiger sharks forces dugongs into deeper waters, where food is scarcer but cover is thicker. The mere sound of dogs can keep raccoons off a beach, changing the community of animals that lives in the tide pools.