Those of you who are saying – you are just going to shut it all off because you don’t know who to trust – that’s a much better attitude than feeling certain you know who to trust when in fact you don’t really know. Knowing that you don’t know is a big advance over thinking you know when you don’t.
I am in a different situation – being a VERY math/stats-oriented person I don’t get stressed out at all by the statistical posts; I love reading them because I do feel I can understand the math and evaluate what they’re saying. And to be honest, how reliable an analysis is doesn’t always correlate with credentials – for the most part, actual epidemiologists talking about this situation are largely saying things that make sense mathematically – but not always. The “experts” mostly but not entirely agree, so if you can’t evaluate the arguments yourself you can’t just look at the credentials to decide. Similarly, that dude with the Medium post might well be spewing BS but in fact might be quite astute – I’ve seen both, in large quantities, during all this. I’ve been reading a lot of articles that say something like “if you aren’t an epidemiologist, just stop posting about this and leave it to the experts”. Yet, the “experts” are mostly but not 100% in agreement either; there are some greatly varying outlier views amongst them. And quite honestly among the non-credentialed, there are some making very good arguments and some making convincing sounding but awful arguments.
I don’t know the answer to this. What I will say is this: if you are starting from a position of knowing you don’t know, you’re already better off than most, as I said above. From there, however, I will say one more thing: you CAN understand it, if you really want to, if you have the humility to know you don’t know, the amount of work it would take to be able to figure out for yourself what is and isn’t credible here is actually within the reach of almost everyone. What’s missing isn’t the ability to understand, but the critical capacity to realize what you don’t yet understand and put in the energy and concentration to figure it out. That’s true of most things, really, but certainly here.
However, if you’re strongly WANTING to believe one particular story, you’re not going to be able to get there. And I’d say a large number of people do have a very strong motivation, conscious or not, to want to believe one story or another. It is difficult to really get to the bottom of anything with that sort of mindset.
To get back to the question however – what is to be done? Is there a better way of discussing this stuff? I really do wonder this. What does seem to be happening though is that slowly, over time, the “expert” consensus does seem to be converging on a sensible picture of what is going on, what is likely to happen next, and what are the likely best ways to deal with it. I have been heartened by this; yet online, there is still a flood of misinformation, bad analysis, bogus interpretations of data, and motivated reasoning. So no wonder people feel stressed out.
I would like to help with this flood. What is the best way to address this? Not only for this crisis, but for the long future? Because honestly our future as a species may well depend on us getting better at this.