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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Sep 30, 2021

This week Razib is joined by evolutionary psychiatrist Dr. Emily Deans to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. The conversation begins with the importance of winning and retaining hearts and minds when managing a pandemic, where nations have succeeded and failed in their public health messaging – and how numerous institutional failings – like sloppy contact tracing and poor communication - have eroded a portion of the public’s trust in the pandemic response.  

They also discuss the psychology of individuals and populations in response to the coronavirus and how failures to understand group psychology have hindered and, in some cases, adversely affected the population’s willingness to cooperate with public health measures like mask-wearing and vaccination. Emily suggests that moving forward an understanding of people’s inherent motivations, anxieties, and recalcitrance towards authority should inform how institutions communicate with the public. This would mean we maximize public health efforts to minimize hospitalizations and deaths without further alienation or balkanizing of the population into adversarial tribes at the expense of general welfare. Messaging matters.

The conversation continues, touching on the emergence of variants, whether these variants are potentially more virulent, and what our goals and priorities should be now that “Zero COVID” is beyond reach due in part to widespread animal reservoirs. 

Razib and Emily wrap up by noting the difficulty of teasing out causation from data sets with multiple confounding factors - including comorbidities and seasonal human lifestyle patterns - which makes high infection and lethality rates in the American Southeast this summer difficult to attribute solely to lagging vaccination rates. The conversation concludes with a discussion of burnout, fatigue, and frustration of medical personnel with the continuing overwhelming of hospital infrastructure and a few practical common-sense changes that could be implemented to help decrease transmission and increase public safety.