Speed Reads


Infectious disease expert warns people are treating coronavirus models 'too seriously'

You've probably noticed that graphs and charts are having a moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Governments are using them to make informed decisions about when to re-open economies, and they pop up daily to present people around the world with a look at how the pandemic is trending. But some would argue people are putting a little too much stock in models without accounting for their potential pitfalls.

Carl Bergstrom, an expert on both emerging infectious diseases and networked misinformation from the University of Washington, told The Guardian in an interview he doesn't think people have done a good job of "thinking about what the purpose of models are, how the purposes of different models vary, and then what the scope of their value is." That's led people to over-rely on them and "treat them too seriously," and when reality eventually differs from the projections, models tend to get criticized "for not being perfect at everything."

Bergstrom's point is that science, especially in fast moving scenarios like the pandemic, is "provisional" and "can be corrected." He believes researchers can improve at communicating that point by "deliberately stressing the possible weaknesses of our interpretations." A really good paper, he said, will lay out all the reasons why it could be wrong. Read more at The Guardian.