Friday, May 8, 2020

SHOW ME THE SCIENCE!!!:public understanding of Covid

 In one of the many information-filled updates given by the White House Task Force on Covid Dr. Deborah Birx was discussing the importance of antibody testing and she said:

The antibody piece is critical, as you described, because at this time, we can't - if we have - let's say asymptomatic status is inversely - symptomatic status is inversely related to age, and so the younger you are, the more likely you are to be asymptomatic: We have to know that because we have to know how many people have actually become infected.

Got it!
We need to do antibody testing, not only test people who are symptomatic, because some populations, like younger people, may have been exposed to the virus. Younger people often had the virus but didn’t but didn’t have symptoms.  This would make them dangerous transmitters and that would really make it hard for us to contain the virus. (my “translation”)

I almost picked this topic and this remark at random.  Most of what she and Dr. Anthony Fauci have spoken about over these weeks has required the lay person to listen carefully and translate.

Now, just think of some of the terms that have become part of your daily listening environment, if not your daily small talk over the last 3 months:
  •  novel virus
  •  emerging infectious disease
  •  chain of transmission
  •  modeling
  •  rate of infection
  •  flattening the curve
  •  social distancing
  •  high throughput vaccine development
  •  antibody testing immunity passports

Each word, not just a vocabulary word – but coded language signifying (pointing to) an important and complex science, health or behavioral concept.

Now just think about this fact.

Over 40 years of large-scale study data tells us that less than 1/3 of the US population is science literate.  Ask adults in the US if antibiotics kill viruses or bacteria and about half will respond incorrectly.  As for naming the steps in the scientific method, half are in the dark.  And probe the purpose of a control group in a new drug’s development and you’re likely to get blank stares from half the population.  Less than 25% understand what it means to study something using the scientific method. (Science & Engineering Indicators 2018)

What people attend to and the effects of any message on a person’s attitudes and behaviors is a thorny business - it involves a multitude of complex and interacting mediators – knowledge, cognition, culture, intramedia effects, etc.  But at the very least we cannot expect people to adopt and stick with hard to do things like staying home indefinitely, social distancing and wearing masks if they’re not somewhat in on the discussion– in on the “why” of all this.

Just not going to happen. 

The millions who are not very science savvy, for whom basic health concepts are shaky, need :

1.  Better messages that go beyond basic hygiene and explain the  "why" of things.

2.  Better messaging about transmission and spread

3. Consistent well-modeled behavior that builds trust.

4.  And lots of this... 

Covid  minus the Science = Fear and Outrage*

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