📑 Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing

Bookmarked Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing (The Atlantic)

A guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend

Ed Yong continues his reporting of the coronavirus. In this article, he summarises the challenge associated with the current crisis into six parts: the virus, the disease, the reserach, the experts, the messaging, the information, the numbers and the narrative.

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.

3 responses on “📑 Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing”

  1. Strange events like the coronavirus provide the opportunity to look at the familiar with new perspective and reimagine a new sense of normal.

    There is something uncanny about social distancing and staying at home. One oddity is that there is so little to compare it to. A colleague compared it to being trapped on a desert island. This made me think about Wilson and Castaway, however I feel that is a bit extreme and does not completely capture the situation.
    The strange thing as to consider various pieces of fiction and how if they were set in the current climate they might be different. Jessie Gaynor reimagined the beginnings of a number of stories, such as Pride and Prejudice:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.

    However, the book that has left me thinking has been How to Make a Movie in 12 Days.
    Written by an old friend of mine, Fiona Hardy, the novel tells the story of Hayley Whelan and her journey to create a film over the summer break in memory of her grandmother. It grapples with one calamity after another in an epic quest against time set in suburbia.
    After finishing the book, I was left thinking about the world it depicts. Whether it be riding around the streets, sending messages to friends on the family computer or posting on YouTube channels, I wondered how this may date in the future. However, the pandemic has taken these thoughts to a whole new place.
    I was left thinking about the impact that the requirement to stay at home would have on the ability to film various scenes, the limitations in regards to socialising, especially not in parks, cafes or libraries, and definitely especially not with the older at risk members within the community. There is also the impact of hygiene practices, such as washing hands, wearing face masks and disinfecting equipment, and the challenges this would create in regards to the movie making process in twelve days.
    However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was in fact a great novel for capturing the current circumstances. Although there is a longing for face-to-face communication, with pyjama clad late night rendezvous, there is also the reality of asynchronous communication. Associated with this, the novel was built around a personal passion project with an authentic outcome. Something essential during times when formal learning is not occurring. Much of the inspiration stemmed from the long movie binges that Hayley and her father would partake in. This all encapsulated what Ian Bogost suggests when he says that we are all basically already living in quarantine.

    Discussing what The current virus is so confusing, Ed Yong suggests that the coronavirus itself does not have a clear narrative.

    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.

    I would argue that other than dystopian tales there are not many pieces of fiction which help in making sense of the current normal. However, what I have found is that solace and meaning can often be found in strange places.
    What about you, what books have helped you during the current crisis? How have they helped you in making sense? As always, comments welcome.

    If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

  2. Strange events like the coronavirus provide the opportunity to look at the familiar with new perspective and reimagine a new sense of normal.

    There is something uncanny about social distancing and staying at home. One oddity is that there is so little to compare it to. A colleague compared it to being trapped on a desert island. This made me think about Wilson and Castaway, however I feel that is a bit extreme and does not completely capture the situation.
    The strange thing as to consider various pieces of fiction and how if they were set in the current climate they might be different. Jessie Gaynor reimagined the beginnings of a number of stories, such as Pride and Prejudice:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.

    However, the book that has left me thinking has been How to Make a Movie in 12 Days.
    Written by an old friend of mine, Fiona Hardy, the novel tells the story of Hayley Whelan and her journey to create a film over the summer break in memory of her grandmother. It grapples with one calamity after another in an epic quest against time set in suburbia.
    After finishing the book, I was left thinking about the world it depicts. Whether it be riding around the streets, sending messages to friends on the family computer or posting on YouTube channels, I wondered how this may date in the future. However, the pandemic has taken these thoughts to a whole new place.
    I was left thinking about the impact that the requirement to stay at home would have on the ability to film various scenes, the limitations in regards to socialising, especially not in parks, cafes or libraries, and definitely especially not with the older at risk members within the community. There is also the impact of hygiene practices, such as washing hands, wearing face masks and disinfecting equipment, and the challenges this would create in regards to the movie making process in twelve days.
    However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was in fact a great novel for capturing the current circumstances. Although there is a longing for face-to-face communication, with pyjama clad late night rendezvous, there is also the reality of asynchronous communication. Associated with this, the novel was built around a personal passion project with an authentic outcome. Something essential during times when formal learning is not occurring. Much of the inspiration stemmed from the long movie binges that Hayley and her father would partake in. This all encapsulated what Ian Bogost suggests when he says that we are all basically already living in quarantine.

    Discussing what The current virus is so confusing, Ed Yong suggests that the coronavirus itself does not have a clear narrative.

    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.

    I would argue that other than dystopian tales there are not many pieces of fiction which help in making sense of the current normal. However, what I have found is that solace and meaning can often be found in strange places.
    What about you, what books have helped you during the current crisis? How have they helped you in making sense? As always, comments welcome.

    If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

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