Family and friends are familiar with the fact that — for about the past two weeks — I have been trying assiduously to avoid engaging in discussion about the coronavirus and its many implications on our lives.
This has sometimes meant being brutally honest in order to avoid slipping into that familiar pit of conjecture and speculation.
“Why are Israel’s numbers so low?,” a family member keeps asking. So I keep repeating the only honest answer I can muster in response: “I have no idea.”
Do you think we’ll have a vaccine this year? I have absolutely no understanding about how vaccines are developed — nor does the subject particularly interest me — but that would be nice wouldn’t it?
Although the coronavirus is clearly a sui generis situation for us all, my decision to minimize news exposure to it is really just a subset of my larger (mental health-driven) decision to be less responsive and cut down on the abundant avalanche of needless information that rains these days like a deluge from our smartphones, Twitter feeds, and Facebook. (And not to promote my own writing too relentlessly, but if the thought of this isn’t too big an anathema for you consider going into flight mode …. when you’re not flying!)
I talked about that here in case you are interested:
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And speaking about the exchange of unnecessary information, I believe that this crisis has probably thrown up more of it than any time in human history.
If one could quantity the amount of hours spent on Zoom calls, Facebook Group threads, and (even) Medium posts by those exchanging non-expert opinions about the virus — the amount, I am sure, would be quite staggering. There is barely a safe haven online where one can fleet to to evade the prognostics, analyses, and discussion.
It’s easy for me to pinpoint the information that I can clearly say is unhelpful because it is out of my control to change it.
This all falls on the “noise” side of the noise:signal divide and is therefore needless mental clutter rather than actionable intelligence. And that is information that, I believe, we would all be better off not consuming.
- When will the vaccine be developed?
- How many people are sick with the virus? (Judging by the output of news websites this question must require an hourly answer at the bare minimum).
- Is the government’s approach correct?
- What are the latest regulations which the government might announced? (These can be avoided by watching for keywords like “Expected” in headlines, as in “Government Expected to Announce X at Joint Press Conference”)
Instead what I would like to know is:
- When can I stop having to stay within 100 meters of my front door (I would REALLY like to know that!)
- When can I get a haircut at a barber shop again — if I choose to do so (okay, I probably need to do so at this stage)
- When can I go to the gym again — if I choose to do so
- When can I leave the country again — if I choose to do so
- What can I do to minimize my chances of contracting the virus? (Because this query might yield information which I can act upon), and:
- (If I develop symptoms): can I be tested for it?
All the rest — as the man said — is noise.
So I Created….A Safe Place For Fellow Non-Experts To Share Their Guesswork Online
Lest I hold myself up as some sort of paragon of virtue in this respect let it be known that I too have succumbed (repeatedly) to the natural temptation to interject my own mostly uninformed opinions about the virus.
On Twitter, Facebook, and the other online haunts.
I have expressed fascination about the Washington Post’s report that American diplomats visited — and cabled back their concerns over — the virology lab in Wuhan. And I quietly believe that may well turn out to be the nexus of this pandemic.
I have also publicly expressed my rage and ire that China has already reopened its wildlife wet markets —in a move that seems to brazenly defy the obvious lesson of history taught by the SARS crisis.
And so on and so forth.
But, since posting my speculation, I have also finally realized that that determination will only be made by professionals schooled in epidemiology and public health — and the pushback against China’s move is happening just fine without my added dose of amateur ire.
I realized that I needed to stop. But the cold turkey approach just seemed a little too dramatic.
Instead, the solution which I conceived of to help us Facebook-addicted stuck-at-home internet junkies gradually wean off the natural human impulse to share our observations and beliefs about anybody willing to listen was to form a unique and first-of-its kind Facebook Group:
Proud Armchair Epidemiologists is that meeting place — finally a safe haven for those that have zero scientific or medical training but haven’t yet found a way to suppress their innate need to share their opinions about the virus with the world.
Perhaps the rest of our beloved Facebook Groups will be cleaner as a result and we can all get back to …. talking about the weather.
I leave you with the description which I authored for it:
Do you know better than the official advice of your government, national health authority, or world-leading scientists? Do you struggle with the burden of being the family’s authority on epidemiology — constantly having to look up Wikipedia to find answers to questions? If so, then you finally have an online safe haven. Proud Armchair Epidemiologists is the official Facebook group of the (forthcoming) Association for Armchair Epidemiology (AAE). Network with other armchair epidemiologists, offer prognostics about the evolution of public health based upon your non-existent professional training in science and medicine. And find others to share the burden with.