Can scientists speak truth to power when they aren’t in the business of “truth”?

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Can Science Speak Truth to Power?

For SIAM News:

Since the onset of COVID-19, government messaging has been scattershot at best. In the meantime, epidemiologists, public health experts, and other members of the scientific community have struggled to communicate accurate information to the public — sometimes without adequate data (see Figure 1). To further complicate matters, many of these same scientists are paid with public money in the form of grants or beholden to corporate funding. Additionally, the priorities of civil leaders do not always align with those of public health efforts, and scientists themselves are not apolitical machines and thus have their own biases.

These conflicts and confusions are particularly problematic during a global pandemic, but it doesn’t take a virus to reveal the presence of fissures in a world where people perform both science and public policy. Climate change, nuclear weapons, space exploration, deep-sea mining, endangered species protections, and garbage disposal are only a small sample of areas in which scientific issues overlap—or conflict—with governmental priorities.

“More scientists these days acknowledge that we are not those who are elected by the public,” Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey said. “We understand that the policy decisions that politicians and governments make depend on more than just the scientific evidence that we present.”

Read the rest at SIAM News

The cost of “herd immunity” for COVID-19 is too high

My latest comic with Maki Naro is up at The Nib, the award-winning nonfiction comics site! This time we tackle the question of “herd immunity” for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been suggested by a number of politicians as a strategy for beating the disease. As Maki and I describe, without a vaccine, this is less a strategy than a cynical throwing up of hands. Read on for an explanation of what “herd immunity” is and why it’s basically giving up.

[ This blog is dedicated to tracking my most recent publications. Subscribe to the feed to keep up with all the science stories I write! ]

Waiting For Herd Immunity is Not the Answer

Panel from “Waiting for Herd Immunity is Not the Answer” at The Nib. Click to read the rest. [Credit: Maki Naro (art)/moi (words)]

P.S. Do you like this comic? If so, please pledge to Maki’s and my forthcoming comics collection Who Owns an Asteroid? (from Unbound), which will include many such nonfiction science comics in full color!

R0, mortality rate, and all that: the science of how disease spreads

[ This blog is dedicated to tracking my most recent publications. Subscribe to the feed to keep up with all the science stories I write! ]

The science of how diseases spread

How epidemiology puts the COVID-19 virus in perspective.

For Popular Science:

Scientists, medical professionals, and governments around the world are working to understand how the new respiratory disease ravaging Hubei province spreads—and how bad it could be for the rest of the world. Part of this effort is epidemiology: the study of how infections move through populations and how to control them.

Epidemiology incorporates everything from geography to complex mathematics in its effort to understand the spread of disease. Here are some basic epidemiological concepts that can help you get past the panic, misinformation, and xenophobia that tend to drive conversations around a newly emerging illness.

[read the rest at Popular Science]