A crash course in changing the world.
|It’s possible to report on infectious disease outbreaks without being a graduate-trained scientist.
|There’s tremendous uncertainty about a lot of the science of influenza viruses and there’s therefore a lot of disagreement
among scientists, mainly on the topics about which we’re uncertain. For
example, there is legitimate uncertainty about which changes in the
influenza virus are most likely to change its adaptation to humans or
the severity of disease it causes; about why influenza is usually
seasonal (but less so in pandemics); and about why drug resistant
viruses become common in some cases and not in others.
|So there’s a reason to have multiple sources, good and really knowledgeable sources, to make some sense of where consensus lies.
|Many journals (for example, the British Medical Journal and PLoS Medicine) have summaries of their
articles that lay out what was known, what the new study adds, and what
the implications are. These are the first questions that you should want
to know the answers to when a new study or release of data comes out.
Many new studies and data releases add little to our current knowledge.
These should be threshold questions for deciding whether a piece of
information is newsworthy.
|Another perspective on the previous point: few good scientists write paper after paper on unrelated observations; rather,
they understand why and how their observations are relevant to a larger
picture. In my small experience with journalism, that offers a pretty
good description of the best journalists as well.
|There is a lot of information coming out, and the last thing you want to do is contribute to confusion, panic or complacency.
One of those three is hard to avoid in any given case; in good news, bad
news or mixed news, there can be grounds respectively for complacency,
panic, or confusion. Once again this emphasizes the importance of
|The other aspect is prioritization. With so much news and information and limited space to talk about flu, it’s more important
to talk perhaps about the mortuary directors once in a while than to
write about each press release. Prioritizing news stories will help to
make space for the important ones.