I had a great laugh from watching ABC The Armchair Epidemiologist but find it also wrong and misguided. (video embedded below)
*** 1) What is good science?
Before we get to epidemiology, lets talk about what is good science? I like what Natalie Jeremijenko, an artist engineer once said,
“Science is question-driven. And the more interesting the questions, the more compelling the results.”
Yes, good science comes from good questions. Why does light travel in a straight line? Why is antibiotic resistance dangerous? What makes some computer problems much harder than others? Is P=NP? What does it mean by “P=NP?” and why does it have a US dollar one million prize on solving it? (sorry, I let the computer geek inside me spoke ;) ) What is 4D Printing? Why does a vaccine takes 12-18 months at best or may be longer and why can’t we create a vaccine in one or two months? If you ask good and interesting questions. Then you may get compelling results.
Good question to ask why can’t we, with the whole world working together, NOT be able to create a vaccine in one or two months? The challenge with vaccine is that it has to be absolutely as safe as humanly can! Why? To paraphrase Dr. Mike Ryan from WHO, what is worse than a bad disease is a bad vaccine. A bad vaccine is super bad because imagine for a second, we inject bad vaccine into healthy people and harming us. We cannot do that so we must ensure safety as FIRST priority. “Do no harm” is a good rule even in the days of Greek Medicine, the so called Hippocratic Oath. So vaccine takes time.
*** 2) Armchair Epidemiology
To be honest, I’m actually rather sad to see millions of HongKongers and even some reporters suddenly all decided to become Armchair Epidemiologists with main focus on the political side of Epidemiology and *without* paying the needed attention to the science of Epidemiology. Epidemiology is NOT easy but it is also NOT impossible to try to read and understand a little. A not very smart man like me can start to learn about the science of Epidemiology in the last few months, you can too!
How to learn more about the science of Epidemiology you ask? I say skip the Wikipedia page of Epidemiology, but start watching some good YouTube videos! What videos? Some legitimate University may offer some free online Epidemiology courses but I haven’t taken any myself so I cannot recommend you which ones to watch. But I LOVE learning by doing. So weeks ago, I started watching the WHO daily pressers and even downloaded their transcripts to read for precisions. When the WHO Director General Dr. Tedros, Dr Mike Ryan, and Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove gives their joint pressers, they give a pretty good overview of things, and then this is the good part, great and insightful reporters ask very good questions of them. Listen to the questions carefully, and listen to their answers carefully. DO NOT simply take the answers blindly. Think for yourself. Filter and consider these answers with your scientific mind, slowly learning bits and pieces to create a framework.
And don’t stop at the WHO YouTube video pressers. Go read letters and research papers in The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, Stat News, etc. Speaking about Stat News, follow on Twitter https://twitter.com/HelenBranswell . If you can remember just ONE thing from reading this post, remember @HelenBranswell and read her!
Helen, unlike the too many non-science reporters in Hong Kong and around the world, is herself is senior writer focus on infectious diseases! Helen’s spider sense picked up this on Jan 1, 2020 long before others did
“Thanks. Wasn’t so much thinking that this was SARS itself, more that it reminds me of the start of SARS.” (Tweet link)
So read more and many more science reporters’ work and skip the meaningless politics because when covid19 kills one of us humans, it doesn’t check our passports, race, or gender. Covid19 interests in two things and two things only, infect us quickly, and kills us fast-ish-ly.
*** 3) Honest Doubt
Honest Doubt is key in learning and trying to be better a “scientist” or has a scientific mind. Sometimes some “Armchair Epidemiology” can be good. Why? Because we need to all understand a bit more about the science of Epidemiology in our #covid19 age. And #covid19, I believe and suspect (a view hold by Bill Gates as well) that #covid19 will NOT be the last nasty virus or infectious disease we humanity will face. So it helps to be more scientific.
*** 4) Don’t blindly trust me!
I don’t blindly trust anyone! Blind Trust is dangerous. But careful consideration of what some experts say and then take careful time (for important enough topics or ideas) to study these ideas or claims is well worth it.
*** 5) My critique of the #ArmchairEpidemiologist comedy
I am NOT funny. I have too much respect for knowledge, respect for science and most importantly, our pursue to learn more about science and other topics. It is human nature to want to appear smarter than we are (well, heck, what do you think I am doing here!!!!). ;) But wanting to be smart is ok AS LONG AS we are being both honest of what we don’t know and also be doubtful of what we think. Constantly checking and critiquing our own reasonings and thinking.
*** 6) Lifelong learning
In closing, let me end with a quote by the then 100 year old Prof. Ronald Coase which is exactly how I try to live my life in learning.
Constantly trying to better ourselves with each passing day. Keep learning. Yes, I have a hashtag and it is #LifelongLearning! Thinking about it, I actually have a photo album that I call “Lifelong Learning (online)” on Facebook trying to document some of the stuff that I have taken time to try to learn over the years.
Pick something you like to learn and go ahead to learn more about it. I hope you live a long life and enjoy your journey in learning as much as I do.
Have a watch and a great laugh: ABC The Armchair Epidemiologist.