Politicians are politicizing the new coronavirus; bureaucrats are bureaucratizing; the news media – especially television – is dramatizing, sensationalizing, hyping and fear-mongering; and the public is left uninformed and – worse – misinformed.
And then there is the complete disaster area of social media. Of course there is some factual information on social media, but the media is a boiling cauldron of rumor and conspiracy theory that the World Health Organization is calling an “infodemic.”
Turning to the Internet to research the health crisis is at best an exercise in frustration, often leading to out-of-date information and misinformation.
One of the problems with documents on the Internet lies in the difficulty of dating them. Sometimes it is difficult to find the date of publication, and often it isn’t there.
However, there is highly reliable information on the Internet; but sometimes it takes real effort to find it because search engines are woefully inadequate.
Is this a pandemic to be taken seriously? Or are we just being a bunch of alarmist Chicken Littles?
One way scientists attempt to assess a spreading virus is to quickly accumulate data on infection, mortality, etc.
Data should reveal critically important facts. Is COVID-19 more dangerous than influenza? One would think so from the amount of clucking that confronts us, but its death rate is much less than influenza’s.
One of the problems is that no one – NO ONE – knows how many are infected, or may become infected by COVID-19.
True experts advise that up to 40 percent of people who are infected have no symptoms, thus they never will become data. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that another 40 percent of infections are mild.
Another reason we don’t know, and never will know, how many ultimately are infected is because politicians and bureaucrats who toe President Donald Trump’s mark are acting to minimize the data.
Trump even has forbidden scientists to talk to the media without laundering their data through the White House ringer.
But, the best and most trustworthy scientists in the world don’t have and cannot accumulate data on which to reasonably assess the size of the epidemic because the United States doesn’t have enough test kits to test everyone with symptoms. Likely, neither does any other country.
Ruth, my trusty navigator, and I recently drove to Utah and back. Many hours in the car were devoted to listening to CNN on Sirius satellite radio.
Soon I was reminded of a book in my library. It is “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death? How Pessimism, Paranoia, and a Misguided Media are Leading Us Toward Disaster,” by H. Aaron Cohl. It was published in 1997 near the end of my 32-year career in science writing and media relations for Washington State University.
I should take it off the shelf, dust it off and re-read it, as it seems especially relevant to today’s news, and not just to COVID-19.
Anyone interested in why our news services are what they are, and how they can better analyze the news, be it print or electronic, should read “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?”
Meanwhile throwing our hands up and ignoring COVID-19 isn’t a good idea.
Seek credible online sources.
In my opinion, that doesn’t include the politically hampered Centers for Disease Control.
If you want to seek reliable online information, go only to trustworthy sources, such as Johns Hopkins.
You can view a video of its Capitol Hill briefing on March 6, 2020, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnk8DuAly9Y.
“Doctor” Day advises all to wash their hands frequently and carry pocket size containers of hand sanitizer when they go out.
Terence L. Day is a retired Washington State University faculty member who has lived 47 years in Pullman. He encourages comments and dialogue through email at email@example.com.