When crises occur, the best weapon is expertise. Anyone following developments during the coronavirus pandemic (which is to say, everyone) is aware that – while fear is both natural and unavoidable – what’s essential is to know the facts. What’s going on, and how can we reverse the course of this disease?
For that, people turn to science.
The Big Picture Science radio program has produced several shows in the past six months that deal with themes directly and indirectly relevant to the current health crisis – whether discussing viruses, the public’s trust in doctors, quack medicine, or other crises that require a global response, such as climate change.
The links to these shows are given below, along with the show descriptions.
The first, “Pandemic Fear” was our initial program addressing the coronavirus directly
Skeptic Check: Pandemic Fear
Contagion aside, coronavirus is a powerful little virus. It has prompted a global experiment in behavior modification: elbow bumps instead of handshakes, hand sanitizer and mask shortages, a gyrating stock market.
Pragmatism motivates our behavior toward the spread of this virus, but so do fear and panic. In 1918, amplified fear made the Spanish Flu pandemic more deadly.
Can we identify when we’re acting sensibly in the face of COVID-19, or when fear has hijacked our ability to think rationally and protect ourselves?
Skeptic Check: Science Denial
Climate change isn’t happening. Vaccines make you sick. When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence. But it’s not the first time – many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer.
There’s a sense that science denialism is on the rise. It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a debate on the usefulness of the word “denial” itself. Big Picture Science was there. We report from the Science Denial symposium held jointly by the New York Academy of Sciences and Rutgers Global Health Institute.
Find out why so many people dig in their heels and distrust scientific findings. Plus, the techniques wielded by special interest groups to dispute some inconvenient truths. We also hear how simply stating more facts may be the wrong approach to combating scientific resistance.
Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself
Do we still need doctors? There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic. Since we’re urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us?
Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms. Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignoring the findings of medical science.
And, if AI can diagnose better than an MD, will we stop listening to doctors altogether?
Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience
Psychics may not be able to predict the future or sense your thoughts. Nonetheless, they rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But the harm from pseudoscience can go far beyond your wallet – especially when it promotes unscientific treatments for serious disease. Find out what alarming discovery led one naturopath led one to quit her practice and why scientific ignorance is not bliss.
Skeptic Check: Worrier Mentality
Poisonous snakes, lightning strikes, a rogue rock from space. There are plenty of scary things to fret about, but are we burning adrenaline on the right ones? Stepping into the bathtub is more dangerous than flying from a statistical point of view, but no one signs up for “fear of showering” classes.
Find out why we get tripped up by statistics, worry about the wrong things, and how the “intelligence trap” not only leads smart people to make dumb mistakes but actually causes them to make more.
Climate Changed (The New Reality is Here)
Have you adapted to the changing climate? Rising waters, more destructive wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves. Scientists have long predicted these events, but reporting on climate change has moved from prediction to description. There’s no time for dwelling on “we should haves.” Communities and organizations are being forced to adapt. Find out what that means, the role of the new “resilience officers,” and the unique response of Native American cultures. Plus, is the coronavirus outbreak made worse by climate change?
A new vaccine may help turn Ebola into a disease we can prevent, and a new drug may make it one we can cure. But the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has fueled violence against health workers and Ebola treatment centers. Find out why context matters in the efforts to stop Ebola, what new drugs and vaccines are on the horizon, and whether the world is prepared for the next infectious pandemic.
We can’t say we weren’t warned. More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria – and he has been proved prescient. In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we’ll heed history’s lessons in the face of a future pandemic. Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm.
“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out?
The Internet is not the only globally-uniting phenomenon. Viruses and bacteria can circle the globe as fast as we can, and the effects can be devastating. Discover what it takes for an animal disease to become a human pandemic. Also, was hurricane Sandy a man-made disaster? The future of severe storms and climate change.
Plus, the view of our science from abroad: why Brits have no trouble accepting the theory of evolution but Americans do. And what about a new annex for Silicon Valley – 12 miles out to sea?
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News