Falsehoods, Facts, Fears, Courage and Dealing with Uncertainty

PANDA Disinformation Oct 27, 2021

Pandemic Data Analytics (PANDA) has recently shared a series of "infobites" that aim to "spread facts not fear".  In a series of posts I show that most of these posts are misleading, wrong and/or unsubstantiated and that these are spreading falsehoods not facts.  It feels useful to address the more subjective theme of the series around "courage" and "fear" as a way to summarise the series of posts I created.

In the series, they quote Nelson Mandela and I give the full quote as shared by the Nelson Mandela Foundation:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

This is a great quote of a person that exposed himself to real personal danger in the search of equality for all people in South Africa.

PANDA in this series of "infobites" but also more generally:

  1. Incorrectly downplay the risks associated with COVID-19 by understating the infection fatality rates, asymptomatic spread and stating that few are susceptible.  
  2. Incorrectly downplay the effectiveness of the interventions such as lockdowns, masks and vaccines and state that only the "vulnerable" need to be protected without clearly identifying how these vulnerable can be identified and protected.
  3. Incorrectly question the safety of some of these interventions.

PANDA is suggesting that the "fear" of COVID-19 is worse than the risks of the actual disease.  And that "courage" and "facts" can overcome this.

This is problematic on a number of levels:

  • It's grounded in falsehoods and misleading information.  I've created a series of posts on this website to show this and link to some of them above.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has killed many people around the globe.  It is nearly 5m by official counts but likely multiples more based on excess deaths.  So this is not about managing "fear" but about trying to save people from illness and death.
  • Emotional words such as "fear" and "courage" is not the right way to frame discussion around the facts of COVID-19 and how to best manage the risks around that, either on an individual, organisational or country level.

A better, and certainly more objective, word for "fear" in this context is really uncertainty.  COVID-19 has significant uncertainty attached to it.  There is the uncertainty related to the disease on a personal level around our personal risk and how we manage that but also at a higher level around what is the risk to others in our community and countries and how we manage that.  

My view is that PANDA is doing exactly the opposite to what Mandela encouraged us to do.  They are dismissing others that are being mindful of very real risks of COVID-19 as being filled with "fear" and "panic". Mandela does not go into exactly how we "conquer" these uncertainties, in this quote, but I am reasonably sure dismissing these based on falsehoods was not on his mind.

A better way may be to:

  1. Objectively reviewing the data and facts as much as possible.
  2. Clarifying the extent of any remaining uncertainty and considering the potential outcomes given the uncertainty.
  3. Making decisions based on the facts as well as attempt to mitigate the worse potential outcomes given the uncertainty.

In my view the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group's goals were really to focus on points 1 and 2 with an aim to assist all of us to make the right decisions.

The above approach does mean that some decisions may appear over-cautious in retrospect, when clarity emerges, but we should realise that such cautious approaches were adopted to manage the uncertainty we faced at earlier times.  It should also be noted that, given the millions that have died already, we likely have not been cautious enough.

For me an approach that is based on objective assessment of data and facts, and sensitive to the risks of getting it wrong, would be conquering the uncertain in a constructive way.  This may also assist managing some of our fears by giving us a courage to continue with our lives while not exposing ourselves and our communities to undue risk.


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