The whiplash of the “infodemic” blasting through the media has been an unsettling initiation into the messiness of the scientific method. The fire hose of COVID-19 related data, studies, anecdotes and information has been impossible to fully digest even for those who are professionally trained scientists.
I offer two suggestions to help separate the wheat from the chaff.
First, look for scientific conclusions that have been peer-reviewed — whether by way of major scientific journal publications (e.g., Nature, Science, The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, The BMJ, etc.) or by way of the amazing scientists conducting this process in real time on Twitter (e.g., Carl T. Bergstrom, Natalie E. Dean and many others). Be cautious of “preprint” studies, which are only just posted online without peer-review. The peer-review process is the cornerstone of objectively evaluating the methods, results and conclusions of a given study. Notably, many of the flashing findings ricocheting through the news and social media have not yet been peer-reviewed.
Second, look for studies that are appropriately designed, including the gold-standard “randomized controlled trial” (RCT). These studies include “control” treatments, which serve as the baseline to determine whether or not the use of a given experimental treatment (i.e., drug or other factor) has a meaningful effect. In these studies, treatment assignment is done randomly to prevent bias. The RCT experimental design is difficult to properly implement but produces very high-quality results. Notably, many early COVID-19 studies are not properly designed RCTs and have limitations.
We desperately need high-quality evidence to win our fight against COVID-19. This is not the time to neglect the fundamentals of the scientific method.
Brian Bohman, Minneapolis
The writer is pursuing a Ph.D. in water resource science at the University of Minnesota.
Weeks in, and I’m left wondering ...
On March 12, a letter writer wrote, “I was told by a biology professor in college years ago that there are two types of people out there. The first is those who say, ‘If there is a problem, let’s do something about it before there is a body count.’ The second is those who say, ‘If there is a problem, show me a body count and we will do something about it.’ ” Those words have haunted me since, and I was proud of our nation for doing something proactive about the virus. But now, seven weeks and 61,000 deaths later, and with the pushback from many eager to get back to normal, I wonder if there is a third type: If there is a problem, show me the body of someone I love, and then I’ll believe that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.
Melody Heide, Minneapolis
Fix housing before more bills due
Challenges facing renters and landlords outlined in a recent article (“As rent comes due, landlords reach out to struggling tenants,” May 1) tell just a sliver of the story.
While renters and landlords talk, other working families across Minnesota need to figure out how to pay the mortgage. Many won’t be able to, and we’ll have another foreclosure crisis. We are just now barely recovering from the last one, where communities saw abandoned homes, boarded up windows and families forced to move.
Policymakers can prevent this devastation. Here’s how: Ramp up housing services programs to assist families negotiating with mortgage companies, and expand use of housing infrastructure bonds to build entry-level homes and acquire foreclosed properties. Currently 96% of the state’s housing budget goes to rental properties.
These steps do two things: 1) Help families remain in houses they have worked hard to afford, and 2) allow nonprofits to quickly buy foreclosed properties before investors swoop in. Nonprofits keep houses affordable. Some, like community land trusts, keep the homes affordable forever.
Jeff Washburne, Minneapolis
The writer is the executive director of the City of Lakes Community Land Trust.
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I was reading about local restaurants shutting down and thinking of my own brother, who had to shut his down as well. Let’s get this straight: Government came in and told people they could not operate their businesses, completely against their will. In other words, without government intervention, these businesses probably would have still been around, and doing well. The only reason they are shut down now has nothing to do with the choices they made. All of this is because government shut them down.
Does anyone see a problem with this? The fact is, no business anywhere should have shut down. A thriving business should not have to worry about government swooping in and just abruptly ending the business. The owners of these restaurants would accept failure if it was their fault, but they are being forced to accept failure when it was someone else’s fault.
If a person’s restaurant burns down, they can be paid for that through insurance. There is no insurance for shutting down due to a pandemic. What should have happened is the government should have offered immediate reprieve of taxes and fees, and then offered financial help for them to restart once this is over. I’m not saying that shutting these places down didn’t help to stop the spread of COVID-19, but the obvious unfairness of this situation needs to be spoken out loud and discussed.
Nobody should have lost their business due to the actions of people who have nothing to do with that business. Gov. Tim Walz owes these people an explanation.
Dan Watts, Northfield, Minn.
We can’t just give the meat away
In principle, I agree with a recent letter writer’s noble idea to either feed us or the rest of the world instead of needlessly slaughtering thousands of pigs and chickens and burying them. However, these animals aren’t being needlessly euthanized. Our country does not have the capacity to process those hogs and chickens at all, even for noble purposes. One of the reasons hogs and chickens are being disposed of is because hog slaughterhouses and chicken processing plants have been devastated by the coronavirus and had to close their facilities. Therefore, the capacity to process these animals is greatly diminished from just a few weeks ago. The farmers have no place to sell or to process their hogs and chickens and must dispose of them.
Steve Katz, Minnetonka
We can do this. We already have.
I’m not in the habit of promoting upcoming television programs — even if they’re on public television — but I urge everyone who can to watch the sixth part of the seven-part series “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” to be shown at 7 p.m. on May 10. This series documents some of our most difficult history and the leadership that brought to pass so many of the good things we now take for granted.
To use a word I use sparingly, these programs have been inspirational. What a wonderful reminder of the good we can do for ourselves, for others, for everybody if we put to work our collective minds, hearts and hopes.
Nancy B. Miller, Minneapolis