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.

Facts are facts.

Another of my “Something someone said on the Internet pissed me off” rants.

First, the thing that got said (paraphrased for simplicity.) “Historically speaking, facts accepted in the scientific community get proved dead wrong all the time.”

No. Nope. Wrong. The above statement is bullshit of the stinkiest kind, and I am sick to death of shoveling it out of conversations on science.

No scientific fact has ever been proven dead wrong, nor will one ever be. None. Zero. Zilch. Not even a one.  A conclusion being disproven and replaced is a whole different matter.  A disproved conclusion is not the same as a fact being proved dead wrong.  (Memorize that statement if necessary.) Not equivalent. Not even close.

I can see why people who aren’t paying attention get confused by those two points. It’s those pesky words “facts” and “proof” and the human brain’s difficulty processing complex concepts. Disproving an accepted conclusion is the evolution of understanding. Replacing facts with their opposites is merely an exchange of position.

Let’s pause and turn a hairy eyeball on the phrase scientific fact itself. It is a misnomer. It’s shorthand in public discourse for “Generally recognized consensus about a singular conclusion.” It’s also a useless, lazy misuse of vocabulary. Unanimous acceptance (that’s what consensus means)  is a rare creature in the scientific community.

Here’s a suggestion: the next time you see the phrase “scientific fact” used in a news report, go ahead and substitute “unicorn.” This might serve as a reminder you are being told a fairy tale rather than being told the full, complicated, amazing truth.

See, in scientific fields nothing is permanently accepted as correct, period.

This is How Science Works in a nutshell. Today’s accepted conclusions are tomorrow’s hypotheses to be tested and challenged.

For something to be accepted as “scientific fact,” by the scientific community as a whole,  it has to be a point so big, so obvious, and so well-documented that almost everyone in the field of study agrees on it. And even when a cherished unicorn is birthed–meaning something that mostly everyone accepts– it is wrapped in multiple cushiony layers of contingency before being let loose in journals or symposiums, poked, prodded and disputed.

But dealing with ugly layers of complexity and ambiguity  isn’t half as fun as stripping away everything but one shiny click-baitable tidbit.

That’s how the reasonable scientific conclusion of “we did a study of a bunch of people on a certain diet expecting one result but getting another, so we plan to study more people with more variables to pinpoint whether the result comes from the cause we think or something else” turned into “OMG STOP EATING WHEAT IT’S POISON” with one news article.

The fact is, complexity doesn’t sell, sensationalism does. Conclusions get promoted by various media, by medical professionals and through other organizations tangential to science for many reasons. They are hardly ever presented with complexity attached because it dilutes the message du jour.  Thus what gets declared as “scientific facts” in popular media are rarely either.

Another fact: complexity can be used to obfuscate a conclusion no one wants to believe.  Even when it’s so widely accepted that scientists call it a fact.

Take climate change, for example.  By climate change I mean the way science has tied objective measurements to a perfect correlation with historical production of carbon dioxide. The conclusion human actions are affecting climate has attained fact status atop a mountain of data from hundreds of years’ worth of global, independent multi-disciplinary studies. That consensus is neither monolithic nor free from contradictions, but calling the general conclusion anything but fact is as ridiculous as questioning the existence of hats. (the jury is still out on owls. And the cake is a definitely a lie.)

But when you take complexity, add a hefty misdirection courtesy of “Oh, well, science is always changing its mind and contradicting itself,” and it’s been nigh impossible to get public support for critical conservation efforts. Which is why I hate that particular little piece of bullshit so much.

But I digress. I grant that the ever-popular conflation of confidence  with fact has led to major crimes against humanity — but this usually happens when badly tested ideas (or outright frauds) are bent to the service of social or personal agendas. The fault lies in the human frailties of arrogance, laziness, desire for attention, and greed, not in the “scientific facts” themselves.

OK. That’s it for a while.

The Latest in Completed Things

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Books:

The Betrayal: Kelley Armstrong. New book in another fae-based contemporary fantasy series to follow my Seanan McGuire readings. The authors’ spins on the same topic are as unlike each other as fruit jam and cheese, but the books made a nice pairing. This series comes with a love triangle (ish) that has yet to grate on my nerves, and it’s based right in my hometown zone of NW Illinois. All the characters seem oddly detached from their own lives and feelings, but it is not a flaw in the writing, it’s due to their actual personalities. I’ll keep running with it a while longer before giving up on caring about any of them.

Broken Trust: W.E.B. Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV. I started with The Corps series by Griffin, and have kept reading everything he’s written ever since. These are manly books for manly readers to an extent no one else I read, not even Lee Child, comes close to matching. I do not defend my enjoyment. The heroes (all men, of course) are ridiculously heroic in their clueless, sexist bigotry, the women are all cartoon caricature broads, broadly sketched and rated on their looks before anything else, the plots hinge on conspiracies and greedy moustache-twirling cartoon sterotypes of every cultural imaginable.

What I can say? They’re still fun. For me. And at least the stories are solidly grounded in accurate history details based on personal experience and professional knowledge of law enforcement, the military  and the intelligence community.

Movies:

Doctor Strange. Did I mention seeing this already? Yes, I did. Well, I’m still thinking about the cape, so here’s a link to a fab review that goes into much detail on the kinds of ponderings that I do in my head but not on the page: In-depth analysis of Doctor Strange

Tale of Tales. Three pre-Grimm fairy tales from Italy woven together into one big story. It was a hit at Sundance. I’d never heard of it before coming across the DVD at work (Oh, library, I love you.) It was weird and uncomfortable, and I can see why certain audiences loved it, but I did not. I like my dark, bleak storytelling leavened with a shake of humor or at least one character I didn’t want to see demolished.

Ice Age Collision Course. Exactly what it looks like from the trailers. Ridiculous silliness, slapstick, and stupid. Exactly what I needed the night I saw it.

Independence Day: Resurgence. I would swear I watched it earlier this fall, but I could not remember a single minute and so I pulled it from the ‘brar to watch again.

I. Can’t. Even. The stupid burned so bad. You know it’s a horrible waste of time, digital filmstock and money when I can’t even enjoy a good Destroy All Cities montage because I JUST COULDN’T EVEN. Too much muchness in the science gibberish bullshit dumbness category. And I have a HIGH tolerance for enjoying a movie despite such things.

Independence Day was no gem of a movie. It was jingoistic, White Savior crapfest packed with swaggering stereotypes and a lame-ass plot woven with castoff’s from an ABC after-school special. It was also FUN, and I loved its fun parts all to pieces without shame.  This one? OH. FUCK. NO. Here’s the point where I started sorting laundry:  “Tornadoes have an eye right? We go for that.”

I was totally rooting for the evil aliens long before the mother ship landed COVERING A WHOLE OCEAN without, ya know, destroying all human life right there.

The Signal. Hmmmmm. Small, slow, quiet science-based drama, usually all good signs,  but OMG did it drag. Too much hacker posturing, too much precious dialogue, too much time spent hammering home to the audience the point that we cannot know what is real,  who’s lying or who can be trusted…until the Very End <dun-dun-DUNNNNNNH>

Imagine the reveal scene in the Matrix drawn out for a whole movie. And with aliens.  It was very much impressed with itself. For all I know maybe everyine else thinks this is the best movie ever but I was unmoved. I’ve never had much tolerance for moody, “suspenseful” character explorations. On the plus side? A threatened love triangle never materialized. Of course, neither did  any reason for the only female character’s existence beyond set dressing. Le sigh.

Kikki’s Delivery Service. I’d seen it before, but somehow Spouseman never had. So on an evening when we both needed some pure, powerful goodness viewing, we curled up with this gem. Teen witch leaves home to learn life  lessons, master her powers and find her own place in the world. No love triangles, no questionable cultural propaganda, just sweetness and strength. Bliss.

Television:

Darn DC darn crossover making me watch all the shows and not just Supergirl. Now here’s how to do fun-stupid cartoony big-action drama stuff. Tons of snappy dialogue, and some wholesome heroes. Yayness!

Maybe next time don’t balance the whole complicated plot on people  getting upset about someone changing their timeline when a) they have no memory of alternate histories and b) they’re supposed to have a basic grasp of multiverses, meaning they would know nothing is lost, only that their universe changed spawning another one…yes, the whole storyline is absurd, but that point doesn’t make character sense. I can accept bulletproof aliens much more easily than I can accept unrealistic psychology. Yeah.

Game of Thrones. Spouseman and I have worked our way up through Season 5 now. This show. Oy. The relentless beatdown of all that is good…takes a toll. We recovered with some Miyazaki, and we’re taking a break until the weekend before wading into the next batch of blood and brutality.

This is why we watched Kikki’s Delivery Service. We needed the perspective balance.

House & Yard & Life Stuff

I cleaned my oven.  That’s as close to interesting as house things got. Next post will have holiday decoration pics and maybe a baking report.