Many factors contribute to the haze of confusion surrounding the facts
The coronavirus pandemic is sowing confusion across the globe, not just medically but in the representation of fact vs. hopes. Since, 1918, most of the world has not experienced anything akin to a global outbreak of this magnitude. In order to navigate this novel landscape, quality, consistent, and factual information is essential. Unfortunately, many journalists are already getting the boot during the shutdown, which causes trusted reporting to be less available, but the stifling of facts does not stop there, as now scientific integrity may be in question too.
As harrowing as COVID-19 is, the disease is presenting new opportunities for scientists and medical researchers. Academically speaking, it is an irresistibly hot topic, and any significant contribution to its study could launch a career. Thus, there is a budding competitiveness amongst the scientific community, with many researchers rushing to uncover something (anything) about the coronavirus and get it published.
According to a new post on Harvard Law’s Bill Of Health website, a recent study from Stanford University epitomizes the chaotic drive for scientific corona-findings right now. The Stanford study is documented in an unpublished paper titled, “COVID-19 Antibody Seroprevalence In Santa Clara County, California.” It describes a procedure whereby the scientists tested multiple Santa Clara County residents for the SARS-Cov-2 antibody, which causes COVID-19. The ultimate findings suggest that many more Santa Clara residents had the virus than sought treatment for it.
By extension, the scientists suppose that this conclusion could be true for other parts of the world as well. If it is, it could significantly alter the reported data as well as the global reaction to the virus.
Peers in the scientific community, however, express skepticism towards the Stanford study, citing dire flaws in its methodology. First off, Stanford improperly selected its subjects for the tests. Rather than creating an algorithm for testing random individuals from the Santa Clara area, it fished for volunteers on Facebook, attracting people more likely to seek out testing in the first place and ergo, more likely to have symptoms. Using social media also means that they probably drew in a younger crowd, catering to a demographic that is less at risk and therefore less prone to hospitalize or report feeling sick.
Critics also note some inconsistencies in the data itself, particularly the section that takes into account the risk-factor of faulty equipment or inaccurate results. Overall, the results are more than a little suspicious, depicting a possible example of scientists getting excited over this unprecedented natural phenomenon and jumping to conclusions.
Politics, ratings and money are putting pressure on journalists and scientists alike
Of course, the scientific community meets even greater discrepancies when findings get thrown into the blenders of media and politics. Even when the science remains rightfully impartial, different forces can twist or manipulate data to tell a different story.
“If refusing to mislead the public during a health crisis is insubordination, then I will wear that badge with honor,”Rebekah Jones in an interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN
In Florida, for example, Department of Health scientist recently lost her job for refusing to skew data. In a statement to CBS, she said that the Department wanted her to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
Jones’ job at the Department was to create Geographic Information Systems (maps) of Florida that topographically represented the spread of COVID-19 across the state. Her work was widely praised and her departure comes non-coincidentally around the same time that Florida Governor Ron Desantis is trying to reopen stores, restaurants, and barber shops across the Sunshine State.
In a leaked email, Jones warned other Florida Health Department workers to be weary of forthcoming data produced by the state, for it could easily be meddled in corrupt agendas.
Science, by definition, is the objective study of what is. When warped to fit a subjective point of view, though, it becomes something very dangerous—a destructively deceitful force disguised as the truth. Nowadays, truth is an unfortunately delicate term, but it is a necessity to conquer our current circumstance. If we lose science as the impartial study of truth, then we lose the facts, and thus lose our grasp on reality.
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