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Reblogged:Popular Misunderstandings, Expert Questions, and How to Learn

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I ran across a couple of interesting pandemic-related items yesterday, both thought-provoking for different reasons.

The first describes polling data (via Don Boudreaux) on how the public views the risk of catching the coronavirus. This is important information since it ultimately drives policy decisions and can inform or misinform voting. Note that the percentages below are percentages of total deaths by age cohort, and not the risk to an individual of death from catching the disease.

Six months into this pandemic, Americans still dramatically misunderstand the risk of dying from COVID-19:
  1. On average, Americans believe that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total COVID-19 deaths; the actual figure is 92%.
  2. Americans believe that people aged 44 and younger account for about 30% of total deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%.
  3. Americans overestimate the risk of death from COVID-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50; and they think the risk for people aged 65 and older is half of what it actually is (40% vs 80%).
These results are nothing short of stunning. Mortality data have shown from the very beginning that the COVID-19 virus age-discriminates, with deaths overwhelmingly concentrated in people who are older and suffer comorbidities. This is perhaps the only uncontroversial piece of evidence we have about this virus. Nearly all US fatalities have been among people older than 55; and yet a large number of Americans are still convinced that the risk to those younger than 55 is almost the same as to those who are older. [bold added]
D.A. Henderson (l) was part of the CDC's smallpox eradication team. (Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Interestingly, the survey broke these results down by such factors as party affiliation and showed that the problem was worse among "those who identify as Democrats, and for those who rely more on social media for information."

Moving on to the second piece, and shifting gears from what we ought to know, to what we could stand to know: We have a piece by infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja, who marks the anniversary of the death of his mentor, D.A. Henderson, with a series of questions he would have for the man if he were alive today.

While these are worth reading, I liked Adalja's summary of the approach to thinking about the pandemic he credits Henderson with passing along:
That method, as I practice it, involves thinking long-range, looking for historical clues, integrating every piece of new knowledge, keeping the full context, providing actionable guidance, and prioritizing the most important tasks in multifaceted complex problems. [links in original]
I have found Adalja's commentary as an expert quite valuable during the pandemic in large part because his explanations reflect that he follows such an approach. Furthermore, although Adalja presents that approach as his own ideal, the attentive reader will know that anyone can practice it within the limits of his knowledge and ability -- and profit by doing so.

-- CAV

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