Dealing with Misinformation about COVID-19

From Wikipedia: This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML

Disease is one of those stresses on our systems that prompts and promotes the spread of misinformation. All of us are hungry for information about how to respond to this disease, but with that desire comes a certain level of credulousness that lets in misinformation.

Check out the latest podcast from the Center for Inquiry to learn how to spot and avoid misinformation about COVID-19 from Benjamin Radford, who “… is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has written thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, and media literacy.” [1]

While the interview is from earlier in the outbreak (when world-wide deaths were just 2000, whereas they are now over 10,000), the information is nonetheless timely and useful. [2]



[1] “Recognizing Misinformation and Staying Safe from Coronavirus”. Center for Inquiry. Podcast: “Point of Inquiry”. March 11, 2020.

[2] “Coronavirus Myths, Misinformation, and Conspiracies“. Benjamin Radford. Center for Inquiry. February 11, 2020.

[3] “Misinformation Around the Coronavirus“. All Things Considered. 14 March 2020. NPR.

Science Policy Under Trump: Vaccine Policy . . . or maybe not.

A chart from the CDC showing the rate of measles infections and how it dropped precipitously upon the introduction of the first measles vaccine. Like all other vaccines, this one saved thousands of lives.

Since the election, while I have paid attention to the developments of the Trump administration, I have withheld on commenting about any of the news so far because nothing has actually happened. On the science front, the most salient decisions related to science policy that Mr. Trump has made so far have been the nomination of former Texas Governor Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, the nomination of US Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the nomination of the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Secretary positions require confirmation, and I am waiting to hear the confirmation process for Perry and Price before I come to any conclusions about how they might set policy for the nation on these areas of national priority.

However, there is one area that I feel compelled to write about, even though no formal action has been taken and the action reported earlier today is now contradicted by the Trump team itself. That is the announcement today that Mr. Trump has asked a leading ant-vaccine, anti-science advocate, Robert Kennedy Jr., to lead a panel to investigate the safety of vaccines . . . or maybe he hasn’t.

Continue reading “Science Policy Under Trump: Vaccine Policy . . . or maybe not.”

Bad Science Writing: College Paper Edition

A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.
A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.

Writers are born young. Good writers learn their craft through practice, trial, and error. Failure is the best teacher. Given my view of writing, there is much my own University’s weekly campus paper, the SMU Campus Weekly, can learn from this recent article that claims to assess the “Paleo diet.” [ARTICLE] I got so upset about this article and its complete lack of scientific assessment, I actually wrote a letter to the Editor of the paper. This is not the first credulous diet review article in our campus newspaper, but it is the last straw for me – a professor who teaches a class in the scientific method and how to construct a good assessment of a claim. This article represents the worst kind of science writing. Check out the article. Then read my letter below. I marked typos that I wish I’d caught before sending the letter with “[sic].”

UPDATE: I updated this after receiving a response from the Editor. I summarize her response, print my own email reply to her, and then document an assessment of the claimed “experts” used in the article.

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Microcosm: when science and the public meet

A recent DCII Panel Event on "Scientific Research and Public Responses" at SMU.
A recent DCII Panel Event on “Scientific Research and Public Responses” at SMU.

Science is a process by which reliable information is obtained by repeated use and assessment. In science, all claims are up for revision; however, absent better information when there is enough reliable information to make a decision it is usually considered wise to do so, even if future revisions (which one cannot predict) might cause adjustments to past decisions. This past week, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, on whose Faculty Advisory Board I serve, hosted a panel discussion [1] of four scientists moderated by a local public radio journalist. The event quickly became a microcosm of the very problem that the public has in understanding and using scientific information, and about public understanding of what it means to be a scientist. I’ve had a few days to process this event, and I want to share my personal observations and thoughts here.

Continue reading “Microcosm: when science and the public meet”