Career Scientists Research COVID-19
“I do my own research. “
Although I worked at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation for almost two decades, it was only recently that I heard this phrase. And I haven’t heard it from any of the many OMRF scientists who actually do their own research.
Rather, I first picked it (or a slight variation) from a public figure – can’t remember if it was Aaron Rodgers, LeBron James, or Nicki Minaj – discussing their decision to get the shot. against COVID-19.
I didn’t think much about it at first. But as the phrase gained traction, some raised eyebrows at how, exactly, celebrities and professional athletes put their information together.
“What does it look like?” NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy said during a slow moment in a game between the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat. “Are you studying yourself?” Are you in the lab every night? “
At first glance, the concept of doing your own research seems appealing, even intellectually honest. “It promotes an individualistic and free-thinking approach to understanding the world,” two academics recently wrote in The New York Times. “Don’t be gullible, go find out for yourself what the truth is.”
I must admit that occasionally I do my own “research”. However, as Coach Van Gundy suggested, my process lacks scientific rigor.
Typically, this involves two phases: (1) coming up with a hypothesis based on a hunch I have; and (2) confirm this hypothesis using secondary sources selected from the first or second page of a Google search. This type of confirmation bias, I guess, is not unique to me.
And, unsurprisingly, once we ‘prove’ ourselves right, we become less open to new information, even when it comes from sources we need to trust. For example, a 2018 study on attitudes toward vaccines found that when people take authority on the subject, they tend to give their own ideas the same weight as those of doctors and practitioners. scientists who focus on the field.
In our increasingly specialized world, once we venture outside our respective silos of expertise, one might think that we will tend to rely on the experts. However, the opposite has happened. Thanks to the Internet and its information bomb, we would all be able to become experts. We just need to drink a lot and quickly.
At OMRF, I translate science for a lay audience. Although I often rely on secondary sources or interviews with the scientists themselves, I do occasionally lean on the source material. At times like these, it doesn’t take me long to remind myself that even after almost 20 years in a medical research institute, I am no expert.
Take, as an example, the opening sentence of the results and discussion section of a recent study conducted by one of our scientists: Immunofluorescence staining with an antibody specific for the N protein of the virus in 5 samples of COVID-19 showed viral and TF expression of RNA and proteins in the lungs of COVID-19.
Afterwards, it got more complicated.
I recognize that in today’s world any call to “listen to the experts” will be derided by a section of the population. So instead, I’ll end with a few more words from Coach Van Gundy: “And this? We have some really smart people… who have done the research before.
Adam Cohen is senior vice president and legal counsel for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]