Here’s the thing about a pandemic: it’s everywhere. Everybody wants to read something reassuring. Everybody wants to say something useful. Everybody thinks their perspective matters. And most of us should just shut up so we can hear the actual experts speak.
Just in the past 24 hours I’ve seen friends sharing information about everything from the epidemiology of COVID-19 to the ways communities should respond, in which the authors and quoted experts include: a military historian, a computer scientist and a person who is famous for writing a non-scientific memoir. I shouldn’t need to say this, but folks: if you want to learn about epidemiology, look for a fucking epidemiologist.
6 months ago: 1 epidemiologist per 100,000 population
Today: 100,000 epidemiologists per 100,000 population #epitwitter
— Health "Physical Isolation" Nerd (@GidMK) March 19, 2020
Here is my top tip to help you figure out who is qualified to speak on a subject: Look up what the person was an expert in before COVID-19 was a thing. If they studied infectious disease, or if they treated respiratory illnesses or if they worked on public health campaigns, great! Trust them if they’re speaking within their area of expertise.
But so, so often, they are not. Some people have just learned a factoid or two and are trying to run with it. In the case of journalists and politicians, gathering information about new worldwide happenings is part of the job—but that doesn’t make them qualified experts themselves. They should be citing solid sources.
The most rampant misinformation right now seems to consist of opinion pieces that say things people want to believe. These are mainly flimsy arguments, often based on nothing more than disconnected data points or pure speculation, that conclude we should reopen all the schools and workplaces and start having parties and visiting our friends again. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Too bad the actual experts aren’t saying any such thing.
If you read something that tells you what you want to hear, take a look at who is delivering that tempting opinion. If they weren’t an expert in pandemics before this pandemic, stop reading. And if you do get swept away by something you read, fact check the hell out of it.