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Don't be fooled by Covid-19 carpet excavators

Last week, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight teased his latest project about Covid-19 with its 3.2 million Twitter followers: "Working on something where you have the number of recognized cases of a disease model depending on the number of actual cases and various assumptions about how / how many tests are performed. "

While his attempt at Twitter epidemiology was largely criticized by academic scientists, he was hardly offensive enough to more than justify an Eyeroll. Despite all the irony of the tweet ̵

1; Silver built his reputation by provoking the naivety of poor interpretations of query data – his attempt was harmless, exploratory, and made no claim to be an expert.


C. Brandon Ogbunu ( @big_data_kane ) is an assistant professor at Brown University who specializes in Computational Biology and Genetics.

The fact that Silver seems to know his place as an outsider on this subject is more than can be said by thousands of people who have rewired their brands, references, industries and research interests to become Covid-19 experts overnight. The growth curve of "experts" reflects the exponential increase in Covid 19 cases and creates a multiverse of thousands of projections, models, ideas, recommendations, therapies, solutions and scenarios. Much of it is ripe for dangerous misinformation and threatens to worsen the pandemic.

There are many reasons for the Big Bang of Covid-19 "Expertise". Those who join the pandemic forum include people who study related topics or who have expertise in scientific areas. Piloti Pennings, an evolutionary computer biologist and assistant professor at San Francisco State University, says that many scientists initially respond to demands from personal and professional circles: “Our students, friends and family members come to us for advice. For example, even though I started working on HIV early on, there were many practical questions in my non-scientific network, such as, "Do you think I can still see my grandchildren?"

For others, many of whom are not professional scientists who Motivation to participate comes from classic do-gooderism: people with resources that include both skills and time want to help in some way. And while the road to hell can be paved with good intentions, a world of epidemiologists overnight consisting of only highly qualified, generous polymaths would be bearable (if still exhausting): it would be nice to know that all of these new experts were at least smart and caring.

Unfortunately, most Covid-19 carpet baggers are at least opportunists and sometimes disgraceful propagators of misinformation. They take the opportunity to use the topic everyone is talking about to make a name for themselves, which is beneficial in every area in which they operate.

A story of a suspected Covid-19 opportunist is about Aaron Ginn, a Silicon Valley technologist whose five minutes of fame arrived in March after he wrote a contrarian essay in which he suggested that evidence was about "hysteria" the aftermath of the pandemic did not support that the problem might be a little bad, but not really, really bad. [19659005] Ginn showcased some unusual references to support his authority on the matter: a talent for making products viral. "I am quite experienced in understanding virality, growth, and data," he wrote. The logic here would only be amusing if it weren't potentially harmful.

Ginn's story became a lightning rod for the specialist debate: After his piece was targeted by Carl (including a particularly damn refutation by Carl Bergstrom, co-author of the upcoming Calling Bullshit ) , was removed from Medium, a decision criticized by the Wall Street Journal as blame. The editorial is of course off-base because Ginn's missteps were not just a matter of preference. Poorly reviewed ideas and misinformation are often disseminated and advertised in digital spaces, which can influence behavior.

Read our full coverage of corona viruses here.

While Silicon Valley has been sharply criticized by the scientific community for this type of aggressive skydiving. In Covid-19, tech brothers are not the only ones guilty of opportunism. Indeed, some of the worst offenders are academic scientists with a strong (even outstanding) reputation in their field who suffer from a severe case of Covid FOMO.

One of the best known examples of prestigious academic jumping The Covid-19-Hai would be the rise and fall of Stephen Quake, armchair epidemiologist. In particular, Quake is a professor at Stanford University and a superstar biophysicist after every professional metric. He is also co-president of the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub, a $ 600 million research initiative that reinforced the influence and backlash of his March 22 essay, "How Bad is the Worst Coronavirus Scenario?"

Based on the popular model developed by Neil Ferguson and colleagues, Quake compared the 500,000 possible Covid-19 cases to other major causes of death, and seemed to indicate that a comparable number of Americans died of cancer from possible Covid-19 deaths not justified. Quake's argument reads like a "All Lives Matter" manifesto inspired by Thanos: people die a lot anyway, and this unusual way of dying will be solved in a short time. So what's the big deal? Quake's attempt at provocation, "I bet they never heard that before" was only successful in telling us that he was either a bad person or was not very clear about the problem (maybe both).

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