COVID-19 DONATION LIST
COVID-19, A Scientist's Perspective
By Tanya Dapkey, ed. JoEllen McBride
As I type this, I can hear an occasional ambulance in the background. Not sure about the rest of you, but I hear one at least once a day and have for a few weeks now. It’s disconcerting and sad. Bucks County, where I live, is now up to 4100 confirmed cases, and the people who are sick and dying, are people we know. This illness is no joke, it’s difficult to recover from, with intense symptoms as well as having lasting effects.
I am a co-founding member of the 500 Women Scientists Philly Pod and all of us in the Pod have been feeling very frustrated with the state of the world (as you all might be). As scientists, we view the world with a lens of trust in doctors and scientists. We understand how someone becomes a scientist, how they think and how hard they work to understand the world around them. We’re not all epidemiologists nor doctors, but we do have graduate degrees in various scientific disciplines. During undergraduate and graduate school we took courses where we were taught how to conduct research, where to look, and how to trust it. To see the pseudoscience being thrown around and the fear that fuels this, makes us anxious.
This fear fuels anger and the anger in some places has been transformed into protests. People are taking to the streets, screaming their frustrations into the void. We don’t agree with protesting right now, but appreciate the spirit of it. We get why fear turns to anger and how anger makes us take more risks. And we acknowledge that those people are hurting, they are afraid. We’re afraid too.
As scientists, we have a responsibility to speak up against this pseudoscience that has been circulating, and emphasize the importance of taking our time in learning more about COVID-19 instead of watching and believing viral videos. Our perspective matters, and we need to put effort into gaining the trust of the public. Speaking up and often will help the public get to know scientists as people who care about truth and how it can benefit us as a society.
But where do we go for accurate, reliable information? Why does the media (on both sides of the political spectrum) play to our divisiveness and stir the pot of insecurity? As a way to help others understand and feel less fear or uncertainty about COVID-19, we have collected some articles and information that might be useful for understanding this pandemic and how it’s affecting our lives.
The April 29th Atlantic article "The Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Be This Confusing,” written by Ed Yong, one of the best science writers out there, is a great example. If you want to know more about him, check out his TedTalk. This is a great article, there are some issues but on the whole it has a good overall review of the pandemic. He also emphasizes how much we don’t know and how it’s important to understand where we are and what else we need to discover.
“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. “
What we like most about it is that it didn’t come out until recently, giving Ed time to conduct interviews, digest the issues, and present them in a non-inflammatory way. He also states at the end of the article, “If the media won’t change, its consumers might have to. Starbird recommends slowing down and taking a moment to vet new information before sharing it……...We crave simple narratives, but the pandemic offers none.”
Where you get your data matters, and how that data is interpreted matters just as much. If we use the wrong data or interpret it the wrong way, our conclusions can be seriously flawed. Publishing our research matters, and there are rules in place in case a paper needs to be retracted. Every day we collect more data, we are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 and how effective quarantine can prevent the virus from spreading. There are many stories from doctors on the ground, but epidemiologists and other data scientists are working with reliable data on possible scenarios.
In a recent STAT article by Sharon Begley, 3 possible scenarios are discussed at length. She discusses how the virus can 1) Hit us with a large wave of infections (like now), followed by mini-waves; 2) A first large wave of infections (like now) is followed by an even larger and longer lasting wave of infections; or 3) The current wave establishes a new normal, lasting into 2022. None of these scenarios are ideal, and the reality is that COVID-19 will be a part of our lives until at least 50% of us establish immunity. How we choose to deal with this pandemic, and how much our leaders trust the science, will determine our fate.
Science does not exist in a vacuum, but many scientists operate this way. We have a tendency to hoard results and be very focused on what we do--neglecting to talk to the general public. We know why this happens. The push by our institutions to publish groundbreaking results with unattainable frequency keeps us from collaborating with other scientists and the public. The lack of diversity in our fields means the majority of scientists don’t advocate for changing the system because it works for them. This, and many other systemic issues, drive scientists into academic silos, with no time or motivation to reach outward. It does seem like trust in what scientists say and do has been on the decline for a while now. Our 500WS colleague, Gretchen Goldman, co-authored a piece about the lack of trust in scientists. They interviewed 63,000 federal scientists working under the Trump administration, finding that those scientists perceived a loss of integrity in science.
Finally, let’s address how this disease disproportionately affects certain communities. It was predicted that under-resourced communities would be hit harder. Essential workers, who are out in the world every day, are being sacrificed, African American communities all over the country are struggling. The people living with inequality have fewer resources, less health care, and increased chances of exposure, all of this culminating in an even wider economic and social division. It’s not just people in the big cities, Native American communities are also being hit hard by the pandemic, with the “third-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 in the country.”
Here in Philadelphia, the Academy of Natural Sciences is hosting a virtual discussion, Why is Covid-19 disproportionately impacting environmental justice communities?, May 20th from 3-4 PM EST. We encourage you to join the call to learn more about this important issue, it’s imperative that we become more aware of these issues so we can speak up and participate in social change.
Many scientists are doing their best to help share information, work together, and break those silos as well as speaking up against locking down information. We aren’t the first scientists out there to publish a blog post about COVID, and we hope we aren’t the last.
This post isn’t about telling you how we will or will not be ok, this is about taking a moment to stop and think before our panic and anxiety takes over. It’s about ignoring the fast moving media cycle, they don’t know what’s going on anymore than you do. Wait for the thoughtful, well-researched responses and trust the experts. What we are doing IS making a difference and saving lives. We are in this together, we will be ok, hang in there!