When a Virus Becomes Politics
This Straight, No Chaser addresses the notion of when a virus becomes politics, aka you’re too close to the source.
I can’t recall a situation (even including HIV), in which scientific information was being researched, discovered, information released and information politicized in plain view on a daily basis. I would suggest this level of transparency (subjecting research to the hourly news cycle) is not a good thing.
The Scientific Discovery Process
Scientific and medical consensus are rarely based on an individual research study, regardless of the quality of the study. Each study builds upon that which came before it, forming a medical consensus. Subsequent to forming consensus, recommendations and policies are announced to the medical and public health communities, which undergo additional analyses. It is usually at this point that information is released to the public in a mass fashion.
What you’re seeing with COVID-19 is both how the sausage is made and what happens when a virus becomes politics. Scientists aren’t close to being perfect. Studies are flawed, and interpretations are constantly (and sometimes successfully) challenged. This isn’t occurring any more or less frequently with COVID-19 than it ever has. It’s just occurring in a far more public manner that it has been previously, and it’s being done in a more premature manner than it should.
The scientific method is not well suited for public consumption. The public wants certainty. You correlate certainty with competence. That’s not what we’re seeing. Episodes ranging from hydroxychloroquine, to both the CDC and WHO’s statement on masks, and to the evolving evidence or case fatality rates are being interpreted as confusing by the public, and they are. However, this is closer to the norm than you’d imagine. You just haven’t been excessively exposed to this.
Health Empowerment is the Key
Overall, in the spirit of engaging, educating and empowering the public, this isn’t a bad thing. You need facts to help you determine your own best course of action. However, perhaps the biggest challenge is to avoid misinformation. Yes, there are those presenting information through a political slant, and there are those are imposing a political spin on every piece of new information. I want you to appreciate that facts themselves don’t come with a political bend. It is what it is. Perhaps you’re reading this information through a political filter. That’s on you.
Science follows the facts. Individuals decide what to do with the information. Hopefully, you’ll prioritize matters of health and not live your lives subjecting your health to the priority of adhering to a political ideology. When a virus becomes politics, everyone loses.
Stay safe. Make good choices. Ask good questions. Lives are in the balance.
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