On COVID Research…

Over the past day, I’ve seen multiple articles (three, four, five?) from different people posted on COVID. Generally, posted with an agenda of either orange-man-bad or lizard-people-left-wing-libral-conspiracy. I’m not gonna get into specifics of these debates. I try VERY hard to keep my life positive and mostly non-political. Personally, I’m trying to wear a mask out in public, keep hand sanitizer in the car, and am actively avoiding any/all social situations. Biggest risk I’m taking these days is occasional to-go food and potentially get a beard trim from my barber after the 18th – which I’m only considering because I know how fastidious he is.

Instead, I’d like to talk about basic “Scientific” literacy. Long standing crisis like COVID move too slow for the media to cover on a 24-hour basis. Research takes months or years if done right. Building a simulation or model isn’t like an episode of CSI or Numb3rs. If you see an article talking about “new study says” or “study claims” or generally anything “study” related – take it with a grain of salt. A number of researches are rushing to publish “findings” right now, and the news will happily take those that match THEIR viewpoint, dress them up, and push them as some sort of huge revelation. They aren’t. Don’t confuse the media’s search for content as in-the-field development.

Coming from the standpoint as someone that’s actively developed forecasting models and lately done lots of cloud processing with spatial data: models are hard. They are also limited. I’ve seen multiple recent posts on conflicting models saying conflicting things from preprint papers waiting to be peer reviewed and published. Without thorough review of the collected data, methodology, and analysis these “reports” are near worthless. In data science, epidemiology has had something of a gnarly reputation as a weak science: poor documentation of method, lack of reproducible results, significant examples of p-hacking, poorly documented data sources, “studies” consisting of largely anecdotal data or retrospective with significant bias, etc… Once we get out of today’s weeds, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some better development with increased interest and more realization of the importance of the field. But – if I’m objective, at this point, the “models” have been mediocre at best.

TL;DR – Please, please, PLEASE, stop shouting at each-other over SCIENTIST SAYS THING. We all have our own risk tolerance and concern over relatives or the economy. Chill, sit down, and don’t be a douche. Realize that personal space is now 6′ for a lot of us. You’re gonna see people wearing masks – they may even be Orange-Man voters. If someone isn’t wearing a mask – maybe they have a respiratory issue or some reason they can’t / aren’t. If you favor the shutdown or reopen – realize there are some REALLY good points on both sides and that it’s OK to disagree.