Apoorva Mandavilli at the New York Times: “When the coronavirus surfaced last year, no one was prepared for it to invade every aspect of daily life for so long, so insidiously. The pandemic has forced Americans to wrestle with life-or-death choices every day of the past 18 months — and there’s no end in sight.
Scientific understanding of the virus changes by the hour, it seems. The virus spreads only by close contact or on contaminated surfaces, then turns out to be airborne. The virus mutates slowly, but then emerges in a series of dangerous new forms. Americans don’t need to wear masks. Wait, they do.
At no point in this ordeal has the ground beneath our feet seemed so uncertain. In just the past week, federal health officials said they would begin offering booster shots to all Americans in the coming months. Days earlier, those officials had assured the public that the vaccines were holding strong against the Delta variant of the virus, and that boosters would not be necessary.
As early as Monday, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to formally approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been given to scores of millions of Americans. Some holdouts found it suspicious that the vaccine was not formally approved yet somehow widely dispensed. For them, “emergency authorization” has never seemed quite enough.
Americans are living with science as it unfolds in real time. The process has always been fluid, unpredictable. But rarely has it moved at this speed, leaving citizens to confront research findings as soon as they land at the front door, a stream of deliveries that no one ordered and no one wants.
Is a visit to my ailing parent too dangerous? Do the benefits of in-person schooling outweigh the possibility of physical harm to my child? Will our family gathering turn into a superspreader event?
Living with a capricious enemy has been unsettling even for researchers, public health officials and journalists who are used to the mutable nature of science. They, too, have frequently agonized over the best way to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
But to frustrated Americans unfamiliar with the circuitous and often contentious path to scientific discovery, public health officials have seemed at times to be moving the goal posts and flip-flopping, or misleading, even lying to, the country.
Most of the time, scientists are “edging forward in a very incremental way,” said Richard Sever, assistant director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and a co-founder of two popular websites, bioRxiv and medRxiv, where scientists post new research.
“There are blind alleys that people go down, and a lot of the time you kind of don’t know what you don’t know.”
Biology and medicine are particularly demanding fields. Ideas are evaluated for years, sometimes decades, before they are accepted….(More)”.