This Past Year Has Humbled Me
I’m a bit of a know-it-all. It comes with the territory of the job — I literally find out interesting things and then explain them to other people for a living. Depending on your view, I’m either the most fun at parties or the least fun at parties. At one event a few years ago, a good friend made the rule that if anyone had a fact-based question, they had to ask me first because I invariably (thought I) had the answer. It was the best night of my life.
With Covid-19, all of that came crashing down. I knew nothing. No one did. In late February, some co-workers at Medium asked me how concerned I was about the new virus. I gave a middle-of-the-road, noncommittal answer, probably comparing it to the flu and urging people to wash their hands — as if I knew anything about what lay ahead. Team Elemental were some of the last people to still go into the office in early March, trying to put on a reassuring act for the rest of the company that everything was still okay (everything was not okay).
My only consolation about how incredibly wrong I was about the situation is that a highly regarded epidemiologist who has been a prominent voice throughout the pandemic told me on March 4 that he had happily just put his 95-year-old mother on an airplane. A lot of experts got things wrong in the early days.
People have trotted out tweets and comments by scientists and science journalists from a year ago stating that we shouldn’t wear masks or that Covid-19 is like the flu as proof that we’re all idiots. And maybe they’re right. There’s so much we didn’t know then and so much we still don’t know now, perhaps it is foolish to ever make declarative statements.
But that doesn’t mean we know nothing. In fact, we’ve learned quite a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how to protect ourselves from it over the past year. This is a beautiful demonstration of science in action — it is a process, an evolution, a journey of discovery. It is progress itself.
I understand, though, that it can be hard to trust “an expert” who confidently declares something today that is the opposite of what they confidently declared a year ago. I wrote about this problem early on in…