How to reason when information is incomplete, uncertain and emotionally-fraught
This was wonderful. I wish every scientist wrote like this! Love the phrase "sticky priors." I've always thought of them as axioms, or maybe that's related, but am switching to "sticky priors." Thank you for sharing this with us.
Thank you for this! Especially the section on unexpected or absent results, factoring in the supply and demand for different types of data and findings. That's a tough skill for lay people like me, but the essay handles it elegantly and practically. I try to put on my Bayes hat to weigh priors and new data, but sometimes it narrows my perspective. The essay gives such a great model for improvement.
Thank you for this informative article.
Dr Robinson wrote "... the media knew there was strong demand for stories of children at risk for COVID-19 in childcare settings and that there weren’t enough verified outbreaks to meet that demand." For me this confirms that, along with everything else, we have to deal with a sensationalist (read, profit-driven) media.
wonderfully written- scientific and logical and human at the same time. thank you!
This is a bit late perhaps, but the following link provides some very interesting evidence that schools are major sources of covid transmission. This should not be surprising given two recently accepted data points. First that young kids get a covid at similar rates to adults thought they tend to be less symptomatic and second that covid transmits primarily via aerosols. Combine these two data and there is no reason to expect schools to be peculiarly safe spaces. The following tweet provides data to back this suspicion up:
Thank you, Dr. Robinson. To me, one of the more subtle and challenging parts of your piece is the tension between the individual choice you were able to make for your family and the population-level decision-making sphere shaped by institutional epidemiology. As a public school teacher recently ordered back to in-person schooling by my state's governor, I have facilitated discussions in our school community about how we can best practice consent as families decide whether their child should attend in-person school or remain fully remote. The families have a choice that was not given to me and my colleagues, making consent especially challenging -- and, I believe, adding to the demands upon meta-epistemological thinking. I believe our governor followed the advice of epidemiologists, especially those of the CDC, when ordering schools to re-open. Consequently, a population-level health decision has led to at least three tiers of differing decision-making power, beyond the tier-of-one occupied by the governor: families of school children were provided a choice; teachers and other school staff were not given a choice; and the wider community was also not allowed a say. Are questions of consent admissible within meta-epistemology? What role should consent play in a meta-epistemological toolbox? What questions are asked or left unasked depending upon one's position within the field of consent of a given system?
Wonderful. Thank you Dr. Robinson, and thank you @zeynep for making a place for such contributions in your forum.
Principle 2 is my new Exhibit A for meta-epistemology. It is not epistemology in any sense, yet there's nothing more critical for accurately building real-world knowledge.
What a treat. Thank you.
I can't do better than to quote Akex K in saying "Thank you Dr. Robinson for this thought-provoking and well-explained piece. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how to weigh consistent information lacking natural constituencies".
While you put the pieces together and came to the right conclusion in March 2020, it took the American Association of Pediatrics 3 more months and the CDC 6 months after that. Does that suggest that having a deadline and skin in the game gave you an advantage. Or as Ben Jonson said, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Thank you Dr. Robinson for this thought-provoking and well-explained piece. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how to weigh consistent information lacking natural constituencies.
I'm wondering how you and Dr. Tufekci think about the risk of Long Covid for a vaccinated individual, and whether you feel there is any reason to suspect that the risk level may differ depending on which vaccine one received. Do you feel that we have enough information on this topic to start applying the principles from Dr. Robinson's essay?
I found Dr. Tufekci's "Long Covid: How Bungle Reporting on a Thorny Topic" article very helpful and reassuring. Since then, however, I have not succeeded in finding much information about vaccines and Long Covid. As I recently received the J&J vaccinate, this is a subject I am quite interested in!
Thank you for reading this comment, and if you choose to respond, thank you for that as well!
For anybody who is interested, here's the link to the prior Insight issue I mention: https://www.theinsight.org/p/long-covid-how-bungle-reporting-on
Great article - especially the analysis of the media by asking the question "is there a demand for stories about X"? The only puzzling bit was the end. She correctly concluded that, even in the middle of the pandemic with no vaccines, it was not in fact risky to send her kid to childcare before there were no vaccines. Yet now she's vaccinated with what she correctly describes as "so, so effective" vaccines, which she must know have reduced such risk as there is even further, she runs through a whole series of reassurers, including the "silent lunch time" of her pre-schooler?
How have the recent school hotspots in MI, PA and Ontario,BC affected your views on kid infectiousness? Looks like schools have become locus of infections and earlier data concerning their low levels was more a function of their being asymptomatic than being without infection.