By Kathrin Heyd
Exponential Thinking is key to understanding the pandemic and its complex implications and repercussions. While more and more people are looking for simple if not simplified answers, we need to equip people with a basic understanding of scientific data and making sense of this data.
Yet, how can we cope with the masses of data, influences, graphics? How can we analyze it properly and take the right conclusions? It requires different disciplines to understand, evaluate and take the right measures.
Looking at it in the binary fashion of right or wrong no longer works. Truth always depends on the context: “Most tests done in the US” could be right if meant as “Today was the day in which the US has done the most COVID-19 tests in its history.” It’s wrong if meant as “US tests more than any other country in relation to its number of inhabitants.”
Each graphic and its underlying data require initial questioning according to the 6 W’s: who, when, what, by whom, why, how? If you wanted an expert opinion on epidemics, would you go to Dr. Phil or to a subject matter expert such as Dr. Fauci? To make sense of data, you need to understand the background of the data. So, the more you understand the political, social, geo-spatial, historical, technological, cultural and economic implications and the dependencies, the likelier you will be able to contextualize the value of the respective data or report.
Above all, it needs education and creativity. Only then we can think ahead and envision a future that is not built on linear progression or learnings from the past.
So what can we learn from the current situation? Could we track “normal flu” in ways we are currently tracking COVID-19 and would vaccination increase? Would investments in medication for tuberculosis or HIV increase if the diseases regained their presence in nice graphics and global death toll rankings? Or will people get sick of rankings as they only portray a tiny glimpse of reality, with many asterisks hiding the complexity of how we got the data in the first place?
My take is this: we will need easy visualizations and even simplifications for 95% of people to understand the gravity or a problem. If only we could track in a consistent, uniform, globally aligned way the effects of climate change! Infographics like the one from A.T. Kearney are mind-opening to many people:
We need to invest in education, in creativity, in institutions such as www.ourworldindata.org, who help us in scientifically proven ways understand the complexity of the world we are. Let’s not jump to conclusions or dramatic actions from a single data set that we see, investigate carefully where it is from and what the context is. We need to keep expecting to be surprised — and be prepared to plan accordingly. And to re-plan. And come up with an even better plan right after that.
Don’t just sit and wait for the world to change. It has already changed.