Media&Science in the times of the corona crisis: Why didn’t the alarm bells ring much earlier?

Coronavirus is very dangerous for everybody.

This is not to spread further fears but to create even further awareness. It is also not about speculation or to pretend to know something better as the experts. However, the latest news about the evolution of the pandemic revealed some even more alarming truth. And these facts aren’t exactly new but they weren’t published in a broader way.
Of course, it is not possible for a nonscientist to draw precise conclusions. But with some background in research of projects with a background in science, it is possible to raise critical questions and to identify the potential underlying social and political dynamics.

What are the new revelations? First: We hear about an increasing rate of infected younger people in Italy who get very seriously ill and even die. Well, there is still the big tendency that the most vulnerable people are still persons over 60 and people with pre-existing health conditions. Nevertheless, if we look into the data the message is: everybody is in danger. And this is not a new insight. We only should have read the existing data from China in a different way. Furthermore, there was a lot of information from Chinese doctors about younger patients. Thus, already the data which was available a month ago should have created a much bigger alarm.

Why didn’t this happen? It seems that conformity in Germany (and some other countries) is a factor. Conformity in society, conformity among politicians, conformity among media, conformity in the scientific community. Not any longer then two weeks ago people who warned about the high risk were labeled as alarmists.

The second fact is also not new but had been overseen by most of the media too. Are people really cured when they survive Corona infection? National Geographic published weeks ago science reports from China which indicated that there is lung damage like lung-fibrosis. Today we hear this is also from German doctors (see n+tv). New: This applies also to people who were not seriously ill after they became infected. It is too early to say what this exactly means but it is a problem that needs to be addressed in the public.

The biggest question is why was the situation still ignored even when the catastrophe in Wuhan was evidently developing into a disaster? Why did only a few responsible and courageous scientists like the renowned Professor Kekulé and journalists listen to the warnings and informing the public? Why did not more politicians here understand the gravity of the situation? A lot could have been done. A world-renowned Hong Kong University professor said several weeks ago that he fought many battles against epidemics. He was never afraid, but this time he is afraid, he said.
Why were the images ignored which shockingly resembled doomsday-movies and series like “28 Days later”? There was even an excellently researched movie by Steven Soderbergh, Contagion, which presented the now real scenario in a fictional way. It was clear that something extremely dangerous was going on.

It is important to understand why in order to prevent further mistakes. It might be already five minutes past 12 but it is not too late for deep profound change in the system and change in the regime.
These are discussion points but maybe we will learn more about this over the next weeks:
Is there still an attitude of colonial„superiority“ in Germany, in European society about the rest of the world? „What in China happened couldn’t happen to us“. Perhaps this is what brought us into this situation.

This is the moment where we need to learn from Asian Countries. They are obviously doing much better as we now (Thailand, Vietnam, South-Korea, Taiwan). We’re the learners now.
Why is this extremely important?
We can’t allow getting 60 % – 70 % of the population infected. There was a fatalistic tendency here last week to accept this somehow as kind of fate and this can’t be the way. We see now how dangerous this crisis is for everyone.

There are further attitudes that need to change: We need a better-informed public about scientific topics in the future. We see all variation of crime shows and comedies all the time on Public TV but very few shows which address important issues of our time (these issues have often a background in science). By the same token scientists deserve a much better position in our society. We need to encourage many more young people to pursue a career in science. That’s a big job particularly for our pub broadcasters to do.

The biggest problem of all seems an attitude that intimidated people who raised concerns or announced warnings. Obviously it „wasn’t cool“ to be the admonisher. The conformist thing was not to „create any panic“. Like a mantra, this was said all the time even at a point where nobody had panicked. It sounded like: The ship is sinking but please don’t panic.

However, sometimes it is important to ring the alarm bells even people don’t want to hear that. It needs to be the end of a fun-society and we need less conformity. If somebody does an interpretation of data in a certain way, it should encourage critical thinking. A problem should be looked at from different angles. Normal people, scientists and also journalists should be freer to raise serious concerns at any time not only when it’s too late.

Shows, movies and series can indeed contribute to improving the situation in many ways. They can create both the necessary awareness and preparedness for complex matters like a pandemic. They deliver role models and a deeper understanding. A movie classic like The Andromeda Strain covered all problems about an unpredictable organism a long time ago. Outbreak portrayed in a convincing way the origin of a virus and how it spreads. Most of all, the above-mentioned Contagion was a prophecy and a warning.

Peter Engelmann
#shutdown ‘#flattenthecurve #corona #coronavirus #pandemie