Letters: confusing COVID-19 expert advice

Reader Barb Riordan writes about the confusing plethora of COVID-19 “experts,” and how to assess their sometimes conflicting advice.

When it comes to understanding COVID-19, it’s hard to know sometimes who to believe, especially on internet sites. For that reason, it’s important to be aware of the sources of our information to determine its validity and whether it’s applicable to Canadians. A lot of views about COVID-19 are coming through the internet from the U.S. As Canadians, our [Chief Public] Health Officer is Dr. [Theresa] Tam not Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. It would make no sense for Canada to take direction from Dr. Fauci instead of Dr. Tam since our population size and social fabric are very different from the US. For the same reason, it’s not useful for Canadians to apply some of these views from the U.S. to our own situation.

Some of the information is coming from lawyers, financial experts, and economists. Would you ask your doctor for financial or legal advice? Or would you go to an investor or lawyer for that advice? Then why would you accept information on COVID-19 and its medical implications from a lawyer, financial expert, or economist over that from medical practitioners?

Some information on the internet is coming from doctors. These doctors are only responsible for the health of their patients which represent a tiny fraction of the total populations of the U.S. and Canada. If their views on COVID-19 are mistaken, the consequences of their mistake are miniscule compared to the burden sitting on Dr. Tam’s and Dr. Fauci’s shoulders who are responsible for the health of the residents of two nations. Mistakes they make could cost tens of thousands of lives and the wrath of a nation (not to mention ruining their reputations and careers). There is relatively little risk to doctors who express their own opinions on internet sites, so they need not concern themselves with the accuracy of their information.

Let’s think about where and from whom we get our information, and if it stands up to our own standards of credibility. It’s not easy because no system or person is infallible and there have already been some confusing changes in strategy (from masks won’t help, to wearing a mask will help). One way of doing this could be to ask ourselves: who does the person providing information on the internet about COVID-19 answer to, is the subject matter in their area of expertise, and what is the consequence to them if they are mistaken.

Barb Riordan