The *whew* addition
This is a good illustration that fair-minded doesn't equal dry. Not to be overly flattering, but your skill as a communicator is really important. The market for your style of thorough, objective analysis is likely to be vastly underestimated. Kind of a media version of those issues of induction - the general incentives for inflammatory narratives are so well established that the media marketplace undervalues the demand for real insight
Zeynep: your exploration of the darkest, most twisted dimensions of the COVID story has been a profound guide to the perplexed. So many of your pieces brought me a sense of enlightenment even as the media was producing half-truths and pointing down blind alleys.
I’m not a scientist, just a citizen who wants answers and direction. At this stage, I’m not looking for COVID criminals to hang from the lampposts. I just want to know: where did this virus come from? Does herd immunity make a difference? What are the primary lessons from the pandemic that we need to pin up on the wall? What next?
Keep pushing, keep writing.
The continued lack of guidance about what to do with younger kids is perpetually frustrating. I understand it’s all complex but even an acknowledgment from the CDC or Covid Task Force (have we even heard from them?) that we still don’t know the long-term effects of even mild cases would be … something.
I’m afraid I was one of the gullible ones. When the Trump administration first floated the idea, I, too, concluded it was probably his usual xenophobic game. I thought I was reading widely enough that I could sort out the bullshit a little bit even though I am not a professional in the field. Clearly, I went into my extracurricular reading with blinders on as well.
"5-The groupthink! The groupthink! And the motivated reasoning. So much that it hurts, and startling. Humans are humans, even smart ones, part zillion." I'm sure you're familiar with the work of Kahneman. Cognitive defects in human thinking are, well, human, and especially dangerous among the "smart" - an expert in a domain is no more useful than anyone else, once problems start to expand outside of their expertise or radically exceed the parameters of past patterns, but because the problem started in their area (whether it be epidemiology, or soclia media mediated disinformation, or finance - I'm thinking now of the recession of 2008) they are still considered authoritative voices and can lead everyone off a cliff until/unless others are pulled in. Non-specialists with a global view like you are critical voices at times like these.
Re the virality, one thing I've been noticing lately (especially right after spending time with Insight and its logo :) is that there are other things besides outrage/fear/disgust that powerfully and consistently drive virality. One of them is... puzzles. (This has in fact been key to the growth of QAnon!)
I don't know how exactly this helps us in what I used to think of as "developing the intermediary mechanisms that allow non-specialists to effectively use information they're now consuming for themselves rather than via authorities they (correctly) only partially trust" and now have simply memeified as "scaling @zeynep". But I think it does, somehow, if we can figure it out.
This is a bit afield from the NYT piece, but curious what people think of this recent paper co-authored by some people from Center for Informed Public at U-Washington and a very diverse set of collaborators (sociologists, evolutionary biologists, information scientists, psychologists...). I could not help thinking of Zeynep's larger project as this seems at least somewhat apropos (if perhaps more a general "manifesto" than deep dive), and the expanded view of "crisis discipline" strikes me as a potentially important development even if some might feel it is restating the obvious. If there is any follow-up publication, I certainly hope they would consider reaching out to Zeynep.
And this was an interview with two of the lead authors:
When I commented earlier on your NYT piece I failed to mention exactly what you highlighted today: "I wanted to write something comprehensive but not inflammatory, and with information not blame as the focus."
You did that so well, and it is so needed.
Please apply all of the skills and strengths of this NYT times piece to your exploration of the topics you mentioned today.
I would love to see all of this in a book, but books take to long to write and to produce, and the event is ongoing and the information is still piling in. So maybe essays such as the NYT one are the best means of presentation. As long as the NYT leaves what you say outside the paywall.
If you can let us know which item(s) you want to focus on next, I hope our group can make helpful comments. What you bring us is so helpful to me. I hope we are paying it back. Lately you are far ahead of me in finding new information because you have developed so many front line contacts.
I would be hard to overstate how much I appreciate your work and look forward to your next 10 topics. You are not responsible for the context created by current political moves. Knowing it is not necessarily a reasonable goal, I hope you find a way to address 3, 9, & 10 in away that takes the current treatment of China under Xi, Covid, and Climate as three equally important problems in to account as suggested by https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/g7-leaders-take-on-china-covid-and-climate-2462648.
I hope NY works well for you and thanks.
Congrats on the article, Zeynep! Hope you are enjoying NYC. Looking forward to reading your follow-ups, to look back and explain, but also to anticipate how to prevent the next out-of-control pandemic.
It's tempting to just be a cheerleader for you on this forum, as you do such good and important work, and I don't mind doing so!
Also, you are so often 'right' or soon proved right, that woe be to he who would disagree.
All the same, I did disagree with you about changing from a two-shot to prioritized people vaccine program to a one-shot-to-all program earlier this spring.
With the benefit of hindsight, what do you now think about the course the U.S took?
Yesterday, the Guardian published an investigation of what went wrong with AstraZenica and why so much idealistic promise went south. https://is.gd/DqDOoh"
Among the more interesting claims was this: “ By the time AstraZeneca got involved, Oxford’s scientists had already set up the early trials. That meant, said Ward, that the studies were not tailored to the needs of regulators in the way that big drug companies would have done it.
“There are things that you can do as an academic and it all seems perfectly rational to an academic who thinks scientifically, but don’t actually make a great deal of sense in drug development terms,” she said. “There is in fact a difference between academic science and development of a product that you’re going to sell in the marketplace.””
It strikes me that in seeking explanations, Zeynep, you're playing the broker between those worlds, since your expertise is in the academic science, not regulatory matters. Does that ring true?
If anyone has an article on guidelines for a fully vaccinated person (90 years old) interacting with unvaccinated children arriving by air from a Delta variant heavy state/locale, I would love to see it. I would think standard guidance -- outdoors is fine, even unmasked. Avoid indoors. Mask the kids outdoors for extra safety.
Go up another 20,000 feet up and you arrive at my long-term interest in the management of collective human enterprises, or how humans can manage all the human-nature problems that get in the way of our massive systems. The objective, fact-based and non-judgmental tone of Zeynep's article in the NYT opens the door to scientists across the world finding ways to add new layers of security to their procedures. (She suggests some of these possible measures in the latter part of the article.)
The immense scope of the question, covered so well in the essay, raises a spectrum of questions about human systems in general. How can scientists remain objective in spite of their natural inclinations not to be wrong, to get the funding and attention necessary to continue their work? In the case of the bat scientists, we possibly see enthusiasm and impatience allowing them to give in to the temptation to Just Bring some Live Animals Back to the lab. How can labs maintain day-after-day, year-after-year the strict safety procedures that prevent contamination, especially when reliable evidence just doesn't exist or must be developed for each new disease. (remember our early preoccupation with fomites and even outdoor transmission?)
One of the main theses of John Gall's "The Systems Bible (Systematics")—the book that got me started on this back in the 70s—is that the main function of any system is to survive. Systems have a "mind" of their own, usually completely separate from the intentions and values of even their most powerful leaders. I've come to the conclusion that human systems are essentially amoral. Appealing to values may motivate the desire for change, but in the end cannot be effective in changing the course of a complex behemoth. We can only find ways to play off the elements of systems' internal logic against each other (checks and balances in a thousand different ways, and then again and again).
It's not surprising that "damaging" data gets lost and ideas and evidence are suppressed, whether at a national level like China or by an individual lab or university. What advances need to be made in global diplomacy to make a nation feel safe about admitting to "letting" something as consequential as a major pandemic get out of control? While it may have been China this time, it could be any other developed nation the next time. Once in awhile nations manage to work cooperatively, maybe for several decades or even centuries, towards some matter of global survival, isolating that one issue from the usual morass of national interests. Let that happen here with global health.
Zeynep's calling out of the virality and finger-pointing, combined with her resolutely impassive investigation into What Actually Happened are just what we need.
I’m having trouble figuring out how seriously I should be taking Bret Weinstein’s claims (https://twitter.com/BretWeinstein/status/1408479770644336640?s=20). He was unapologetically pushing the lab leak hypothesis while it was still considered a conspiracy theory, so I feel like he deserves some credit for that. Today, he is taking the position that while he thinks the virus is very scary, he thinks the vaccines are too, and isn’t vaccinated. He’s also been pushing ivermectin.
#6 is so familiar to me. Unfortunately the basic sciences and idea of "breakthrough innovations" are always sexier than the applied sciences and the "maintainers" who keep the world running.