Wear a mask and blame the virus

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On Wednesday I testified publicly to the MN House Committee on the pandemic. My remarks ended with five pieces of advice for the public.

How should we deal with news and confusion and family decision-making?

We feel like we’re told one thing one day, the opposite the next. No masks, wear masks. This medicine works, actually it doesn’t. The virus spreads on surfaces versus it spreads through the air.

People are getting information from pre-prints, observational studies, medical journal articles, opinion pieces, increasingly double blind trials and challenge trials. It’s difficult for the public to know the difference. And gives ripe opportunity for some to cherry pick data.

All the changing information makes people confused, or even, distrustful. Here’s my message. The messy process. This is how it is supposed to work.

We want our clinicians, our political leaders and certainly our scientists to respond to new data. To learn. Normally we don’t witness science while it’s in the lab, the trial and error, the two steps forward-one step back.

Lose faith in experts? Witnessing the discovery process should give us faith in experts. We don’t want these heroes to be infallible and stubborn but adaptable, learning, hypothesizing. We have to operate even with gaps in our knowledge. That means sometimes wrong.

But there are false prophets. Those who will use real experts’ mistakes as proof of their own expertise. Bottom line is any critic can find something to confirm any narrative.

So my first piece of advice of the five:

  1. Select your two to three reliable sources and do a family sit down every two weeks and discuss new learnings and how this bears on decisions you make as things evolve. Like for school, camp, social situations, etc. How to find your best sources? People who say “we don’t know” a lot, people who give the source for their data and the type of study, people who acknowledge their biases and experience. Even then they will be wrong on occasion, and to keep your trust they should acknowledge it.

It’s a tough time. No question. I rely on other people to get through this, and my greatest hope they can rely on me. Once it’s over I want no regrets. Those were my closing comments. If you didn’t find them helpful, know that the rest of my presentation was brilliant.

This is pulled and lightly edited from my July 8 Twitter thread.

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