While this is not Lord Vader's new Death Star, it sometimes feels like it could be. The Earth is very old and so are pandemics. They have been with us for a very long time.
At a time when social distancing was not possible...
"The most terrible thing was the despair into which people fell when they realized that they had caught the plague; for they would immediately adopt an attitude of utter hopelessness, and by giving in in this way, would lose their powers of resistance."
- Thucydides, Book Two, History of the Peloponnesian War (The plague came to Athens during the war with Sparta.)
This guide will find ways to help us think critically about information as we make our way through the pandemic moment. I could begin by providing a list of links, but how would that help with your own research process and curiosity? Instead, I will begin by redirecting your attention to a different kind of guide. (see below)
With a bit of luck you will emerge from this guided tour well-positioned in your own research process, having sharpened your eye for information, and the sources of information.
This guide takes the modern assassination of a top Iranian general as the critical moment of using your interior curiosity to better inform your research journey. Itoffers useful ways of navigating the information landscape, helping you sort out things that are true. By following the process, your curiosity will lead the way to the health and well-being of becoming intelligently informed.
All social media should be set aside, and replaced by taking the time to find and read reliable sources of information.
Although I said I would not provide links, I have decided to make an exception in the case of the World Health Organization (WHO).
But why should I provide you with a link to this organization, simply because it has a familiar sounding name? We should always keep in mind that there is a human(s) behind the words that we encounter, and it is our responsibility to verify the reliability of what we internalize. We can utilize a simple question and answer approach to this process of verification by asking one question.
1. Is the author(s) of the words we are internalizing knowledgeable about what they are saying?
This question also applies to information made available by organizations. The question can be asked in a modified way. Are the human voices behind the organization knowledgeable about what they are saying?
The WHO appears to be a highly transparent organization (details found under the About Us tab), outlining the governance structure, financial reports, partnerships, program of work, along with a profile of the Director General.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the WHO, has been serving a 5 year term since 2017. Prior to his appointment, he was Ethiopia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, 2012-2016, and Minister of Health, 2005-2012. He has extensive experience and global leadership working in the areas of malaria, HIV/AIDS, and maternal and child health, and he has a PhD in community health from the University of Nottingham.
The WHO began on April 7th, 1948, a date celebrated annually as World Health Day. The organization employs more than 7000 people, taken from over 150 countries, and is administered by capable leadership.
Having completed this short exercise of verifying this organization's trustworthiness, we can confidently add it to our list of reliable resources that will help us in our research process as we walk through the pandemic moment to the best of our ability.
This link goes to a page with the heading: Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus. What should we do? As I mentioned earlier, all of the words that we encounter have a human hand or human inventiveness behind them. Therefore there is also an implied accountability that comes with them. However, not every set of words we encounter will have a named author, someone willing or able to sign their name to what they have written. In these cases we should exercise an extra measure of skepticism and caution.
On the other hand, in this URL example, the trusted name of the organization is imbedded in the url: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public. Furthermore, the page, along with all of the included audio and visual material is stamped with the WHO's seal of approval.
Should I get tested?
This may be a question on the minds of many people as we make our way through the pandemic emergency. Like most of us, turning to the Internet is a common practice. By asking for help from Google, (should I get tested) the following headline emerges: (search conducted: March 18)
Want to Get Tested? | Find a Nearby Canadian Clinic
We must always keep in mind that the Internet is a machine, trying to make sense of the letters, symbols, and words that we give to it. The machine does not give attention to the meaning behind our question.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, this heading is a placed advertisement for Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, dispensing testing information for sexually transmitted infections! In fact, the majority of links on Google's first page relate to STIs.
This is a good reminder to be precise when dealing with the machine. A better approach is: should I get tested for covid-19.
Having said this, the second heading, appearing as a top-story item has the following headline: Where can I get tested for covid-19, and should I? Advice from BC's public health...
This resource is useful in two respects. It draws on the BC public health authority and the report is issued by a recognized news source, CTV News Vancouver.
On the other hand, it is better to go directly to the health authority in our own political-geographic jurisdiction, Public Health Ontario.
Furthermore, as I mention on the next tabbed page, news organizations report information and sometimes shape a story in a different way. In this headline example, CTV News Vancouver is putting the question of where to get tested ahead of the basic and first question of: to get tested or not to get tested.
CTV news has reversed the priority.
I therefore advise first trying to seek out the health authorities such as the WHO and Public Health Ontario as trusted sources of information, rather than or in addition to reputable news sources.