Stop and Think. That’s all I’m asking.

I get angry-tired like a toddler who’s awake three hours past bedtime every time I hear comments about Covid-19 like the ones below:*

“The science keeps changing.”
“All the experts are saying something different.”
“The rules are confusing and don’t make sense.”
“So many statistics are overblown/confusing/don’t tell the whole story.”
“The whole crisis is being exaggerated for headlines.”
“It’s impossible to tell what’s true, there’s too much hype.”

No. No, no, NO. ALL WRONG.

The science is NOT changing, and it ISN’T contradictory, and it isn’t exaggerated. If you feel like the news is overwhelming, confusing, and full of hype, you are not filtering out the crap and only absorbing the facts.

There is a LOT of crap information in the world. Always has been, always will be, and it gets worse all the time. Blame conspiracy theorists, the news media, arguing scientists, the way social media works, human nature…I don’t care.

What I care about is stopping the spread of defeatism that goes along with those complaints. So, then. How to do that?

There are two systems of crap-filtering: do the critical thinking work yourself, or farm it out.

The second one is the easier and historically proven system. People routinely base their practical, everyday life choices on advice from a set of trusted, knowledge-having, opinion-dispensing friends.

Word of mouth recommendations. They’re the gold standard. Ask anyone.

In modern life, we have an alternative that also works well: find and collect a few–a VERY FEW–information sources known for rigorous fact-checking and analytical, easy-to-understand reporting, and only base your actions on them when all those sources agree. But that’s a little harder.

Either way, I strongly suggest farming out your info-filtering unless you are a wonky, information-obsessed, research specialist trained in scientific analysis, critical thinking & education. (Hi. It me.)

Prefer to do all the work yourself? Don’t trust any research you haven’t done yourself? Cool. Then DO IT & stop pretending the problem is in the information being too confusing. Here are some tips from your neighborhood wonky, information-obsessed research specialist trained in scientific analysis:

  • The words “forget everything you’ve learned” mean “ignore this, it’s bunk.”
  • The more times an article about anything medical refers to “poisons” & “toxins,” the more likely it’s bunk.
  • Never trust any data provided in an article unless it comes with citation links.
  • When provided links, follow them. If I had a dollar for every time I discovered the original study said the opposite of the what it was being used to prove…I could feed all my friends steak for dinner every night for a year. Not exaggerating even a little.
  • Never assign the same persuasive weight to opinions as to analysis.
  • Never trust an expert’s degree or fields of study alone. Dig deeper. Are they experts in the field they’re speaking on, or only something that makes them look relevant? What do they do for a living NOW? (Example: whose opinion should you believe about cloth mask effectiveness, someone w/a phD in industrial design who works for a company selling respirators, or surgeons & nurses who can confirm they’ve remained unharmed despite decades-long careers wearing masks for hours at a time?)
  • Learn the difference between expert opinion and expert analysis. (Hint: are they asking about their own research, or someone else’s? Some people are willing to pass judgement on studies they haven’t even read. investigate the expert’s background, determine how current their credentials are, etc. And again, check for “further research citations and check THOSE!)
  • Don’t dismiss a new analysis because it contradicts an older one–or because it contradicts someone else’s opinion. (Are you seeing a trend here?) In rapidly changing environments, older information becomes obsolete.
  • Example: in early March there was ZERO data to support wearing basic masks. No public studies had ever been designed, and in the medical field, the results were 50/50. Sooooo, I was all-in with Team No-Mask in March. But GUESS WHAT? That was months ago, and the Grand Uncontrolled Experiment that is Pandemic 2020 has produced a LOT of data that confirms mask use helping.

Does that list sound like a lot of work? Does it make you tired just reading it? The people shoveling bullshit information into the world on purpose count on that. They know very few people want to do all that filtering just to get a little useful, practical advice. They rely on that defeatist reaction to spread self-serving spin and outright lies. They make money off it. GAJILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

Meanwhile, I look at that list of techniques and think, “Oh, look, another day ending in y, another new topic to chase back to its primary sources.”

The current mask situation as I see it stems from the collision of America’s Two Big Twitches: its fetish for personal responsibility and its distrust of intellectuals. But that’s a topic for another post, and maybe one best left to someone else.

My wonky friend recommendation, gleaned from way too much research & analysis: if you’re going out of your home to face other people, put a mask on, keep your distance, and don’t touch your face. And don’t let anyone INTO your home if they won’t abide by those safety guidelines.

Look, if you want to buy me a glass of wine, I’ll grab my soapbox and I can rant (at length) over Zoom about the nature of science, evolving bodies of knowledge, the dangers of being “fair & balanced,” and the unintended consequences of using analogies instead of facts… but I warn you, it will end up with me saying, “JFC, do the math. Wear a mask anywhere indoors and outside where you can’t keep your distance, keep your distance when you can, and follow basic hygiene. Look at the infection rates in every country that’s done those three things–and in some cases, nothing else!–and it’s fucking obvious. Do the easy things, nobody has to shut down again, everybody wins.”

Stay safe, amigos. That’s it for now. Until later.

*I grant there are worse things to declare & share than the comments up at the top of the post. There’s ACTIVE disinformation. But refuting false statements has a way of giving them more weight than they deserve, so I will NOT be indulging in an exhaustive & exhausting debunkery post. I have more Valerie & Jack scenes to write.

PS: I mean, in person I burst out laughing at people who think masks can make their blood toxic, scoff at people who feel oppressed by being asked to stand back six feet and give the Mom Stare Of Doom to anyone cold-hearted enough to say Covid won’t be serious for them, so their grandparents deserve to die from a preventable disease…but I don’t have the time to get into online arguments.

So. That’s a long explanation of why I’m not taking comments on this post.