Navigating the Ever-Changing COVID Landscape

In the early days of COVID-19, we often were frustrated by a lack of information and conflicting evidence. Now the problem can seem to be too much information, and it’s hard to know whether conflicts in evidence stem from science or politics.

The World Health Organization was so struck by this dilemma that it coined a new word: “infodemic.”

How should you navigate this kind of landscape?

First of all, Marquette University Visiting Assistant Professor Kyle Whitaker says, “We have to
accept what the experts say.” Then he quickly adds, “All the critical thinking and tech-savviness in the world won’t help us if the ‘experts’ we trust aren’t actually experts.”

To check out your “experts,” Whitaker suggests looking into their credentials to ensure they come from reputable institutions. Having a degree isn’t enough; it should be a degree from a respected school. Then make sure your expert actually has experience in the right areas. The fact that someone has “M.D.” after his or her name, for instance, doesn’t mean they understand a complex problem like COVID. They could be a great family physician, maybe, but know little about viruses.

Also, make sure your expert doesn’t make money based on what he or she tells you. Someone who encourages wearing a certain kind of mask, for example, loses credibility if they own the company making those masks. Finally, Whitaker says, check your expert’s reputation with other experts. If reliable sources have discredited your expert’s assertions, then you probably should reconsider them.

Of course, you also need to consider those “reliable sources.” How do you check them? Scientific America offers guidance:

Make sure your source is an authoritative COVID-19 source. Political organizations and partisan media outlets are NOT authoritative sources.

Check that the information is recent. Things move fast on COVID. Something published at the beginning of the pandemic might be out-of-date now. Make sure it’s current. For example, this GoodRx website article has been online for months, but it carries a tag that says, “Last reviewed … May 27, 2021.” In other words, it’s been updated.

Think local. Local sources likely will have the best guidance specific to your locality.

Avoid emotion-driven information. Some sources are geared to generate emotion and controversy. Avoid those if what you want are facts.

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