I had a mentor in college who frequently said, “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.” The joke was about INCOMPLETE understanding of a subject. Beginners like to weigh in with opinions before they grasp the mechanisms of a system. This can be remedied with just a little more patience and learning.
I see it a lot in health and fitness. A once-heard meme about heart disease has a greater likelihood of influencing people’s beliefs than the known biology. An ad on TV dictates people’s opinion about food and exercise more than the actual science. Frequently, I find that a non-controversial chemistry fact I say to clients or friends is met with a response like, “but don’t THEY say that milk does a body good?” What? Who is they? How do we define good? What kind of milk? Wasn’t that a television marketing campaign in the 80s? I’m talking about chemical laws.
And so we see it in magical thinking, superstition, or more recently with denial and conspiracy theories. People who’ve never even thought about the nature of viruses believe whole-heartedly that Covid isn’t dangerous AND/OR that it’s a lab-concocted Rothschild assault on our liberties. If they would take the time to learn anything about infectious disease or virology, they’d discover there is absolutely nothing surprising about the present pandemic.
People in the field have been writing about this exact possibility in the 70s:
Coronavirus making the jump to humans in the 80s:
The inevitable likelihood of viral pandemic in the 90s:
How people with underlying health conditions will get crushed with a respiratory flu in the 90s:
Hundreds of papers on the SARS Coronavirus in 2003.
And essentially predicting our current situation in 2007 (reference photo) and the emerging zoonotic threats in 2008:
What we're all observing in the world is just how viral mutation has always worked and must work. If you imagine an x-axis to plot infectiousness and a y-axis to plot deadliness, any mutation must shift one or both. But one tends to upend the other, which is why we see an Avian flu high and to the left and Measles low and to the right. If it’s deadly, it tends to kill off before developing high infection rates, and vice versa.
We could also imagine a z-axis representing other traits (animal-to-human viability, pandemic preparedness, etc.). Viral mutation dictates that these must happen, and have. We lucked out for 102 years; and, frankly, even Covid isn’t high and to the right (which will also happen one day). It has a middle mix of both, with a depth in the z-axis.
We cannot control the x and y axes. We can only limit part of the z-axis depth. That was always the case. Covid and all viruses will mutate again. Some of these mutations will move them higher, some lower, some rightward, some leftward, some deeper, some shallower. This is a natural consequence of replication. It requires no conspirators. Maybe we won't get a virus that is high and to the right for another 102 years; but we WILL get one eventually. And hopefully, by then, we will have emergency measures in place that limit its depth.
You don’t need to invoke magic, superstition, panic, denial, or conspiracy if you remain patient and learn. It’s not to say that conspiracies aren’t ever real. In health and fitness, there are well-documented cases of conspiratorial suppression of science around cholesterol and pharmaceuticals. But we don’t have to default to these fear coping mechanisms when we face something new to us. We can remain calm. Stay patient. And withhold far-flung opinions until we gain a little more understanding.