I think I’m going to be dividing the blog posts into two categories for the time being: coronavirus-related ones and completely nonrelated ones. It’s the biggest medical story right now – this one’s going into the history books, unfortunately – so I can’t pretend to ignore it. But neither can I go all-coronavirus-all-the-time. That would involve a lot of repetition and a lot of preaching to a readership that doesn’t need to be preached to. Regular visitors here can all read log-scale plots: we are in for a rough time. To get personal, I am currently self-quarantining away from my workplace (email and video conferencing instead) because of a possible exposure in my family (no signs of anything yet, fortunately, but I don’t need to be riding the train and sitting in conference rooms, either).
But if you do have some knowledge and expertise, one thing you can do is to try to share it. There is a vast amount of poor information out there right now, some of it deliberately poor. In that latter category I put the avalanche of quick-buck artists who are climbing the Amazon seller’s charts with supposed guides to the epidemic. These things seem to mostly consist of plagiarized news article shoveled between paperback covers and marketed to scared people who don’t know any better, and the people who are producing them are scum. They remind me of the artilleryman in H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, musing about how the Martians will treat humans after conquering the Earth:
“Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks—who knows?—get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”
“No,” I cried, “that’s impossible! No human being——”
“What’s the good of going on with such lies?” said the artilleryman. “There’s men who’d do it cheerful. What nonsense to pretend there isn’t!”
And I succumbed to his conviction.
The folks peddling the Amazon junk would do it cheerful, too, if they were energetic enough. So would the ones selling colloidal silver solutions, herbal wonder teas, and all manner of quack garbage to scared customers who don’t know any better but to believe their claims. Homo homini lupus; man is a wolf to man, and times like this bring out the wolves, for sure. Do what you can to spread better information among friends, neighbors, relatives, and online contacts, and help to knock down predatory behavior when you see it. We’ll be seeing more.
But those of us in the biomedical field don’t always have a high spot to stand up on, either. There have been a *lot* of irresponsible press releases, mostly (but not entirely) from small companies, touting their coronavirus moves. It’s annoying, to say the least, when you try to tell someone that one problem with this epidemic (as opposed to seasonal influenza) is that there is no vaccine, and they respond with a link to a story about how WhooZatBio says that they’re cranking one out right now. Some near-zombie biotech companies that have been staggering around in the public markets for years have popped up with hot coronavirus-themed PR hits, and people should be ashamed of themselves. No one should be looking out over the current landscape and seeing only a neat marketing opportunity. That goes for people seeing mainly a political opportunity as well; it’s obscene.
So fight for order, for sanity, for the best and most realistic information available. Be a voice of reason wherever you can, while resisting the temptation to get into pointless shouting matches that will sap your energy and your time. (I’ve started muting a few folks on Twitter for this reason, something I rarely do). Things are bad right now, and I very much fear that they’re going to get worse. Physical and public health hygiene is vital, and informational hygiene isn’t that far behind it. Do what you can.