Sunday, April 26, 2020

What's the gravity of the situation?

I've got some nerd in me.

There are four fundamental forces in the physical world: electromagnetism, strong force, weak force, and gravity. It's effects on big objects, such as planets or stars, are relatively easy to see, but things get complicated when one tries to understand gravity in the small world of elementary particles.

So basically, the smartest people on the planet still don't know why I just broke my favorite coffee cup. And, they also don't know where my wife keeps the broom and dustpan.

I bring up gravity (get the pun?) because I think it is the scientific principle that 99.999% of the people on the planet would agree actually exists - even if they cannot explain it. Only the most obtuse person would say that gravity does not exist. And if you ever do find such a person, ask them to hold a bowling ball for an hour.

For centuries, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit was said to be the average, normal body temperature. It's not. More recently, researchers have known that normal body temperature is actually lower than 98.6 and can vary by gender, size, age, time of day and other factors. So, today most healthcare providers consider a fever to be 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

A German physician came up with 98.6 Fahrenheit as "average" human temperature in the 1800s. And it stuck. Until it got unstuck.

In science and math, there are some things we KNOW to be true. And then there are some things that we know to be true - but we still don't fully understand. We know the coffee cup will hit the ground if we knock it off the table with our elbow. But we don't exactly know WHY. It will be hard to find someone who will predict that the coffee cup will hover in midair and not fall to the ground.

OK, let's do Pandemics. For 100 years:

  1. Phase 1 is the period during which no animal viruses are reported to cause infection in humans.
  2. Phase 2 is the first level of threat wherein a virus is confirmed to have jumped from animal to humans. 
  3. Phase 3 is when sporadic cases or small clusters of disease are confirmed, but human-to-human transmission has not occured.
  4. Phase 4 is the point where human-to-human transmission has caused a community-wide outbreak.
  5. Phase 5 is when human-to-human transmission of the virus has caused spread of the disease to at least two countries.
  6. Phase 6 is the point at which the disease is declared a pandemic, having spread to at least one other country.
Got it? OK, now forget all that. 

As of February of this year, the WHO (World Health Organization) said there is no official category for a pandemic. The 6 phases listed above are no longer valid. Just like 98.6 is no longer normal, we don't exactly know how to define a pandemic. The smartest people in the world are not exactly sure when an epidemic becomes a pandemic. 

Where are you going with this Tom?

There is a time and a place to embrace science, to embrace truth, and to live our lives in a way that incorporates science into our behavior. We turn to the experts: scientists, doctors, nurses, public health specialists, and the wide range of medical professionals whom we trust. We all want answers. We want guidance on how to keep ourselves and our families safe. We want to understand how to combat COVID-19: to beat it together, and to beat it quickly. 

Land the plane, Tommy..... bring it home for us......

We don't know exactly WHY the coffee cup falls to the floor, but we are certain it will fall. Just because science cannot exactly explain GRAVITY does not mean we don't believe gravity exists. A lay person is not qualified to compare, contrast or define the general theory of relativity or Newton's law of universal gravitation. 

Just because we don't fully understand ALL of it, does not mean as a global community we should not fully embrace the parts that we DO understand. When fighting a pandemic, do not say "we are not certain, we are not sure, we don't know" because in the world of science, we never know for sure. That is the beauty of science.  

Normal body temperature is no longer exactly 98.6 degrees. The WHO says the 6 Phases of a pandemic is no longer useful or accurate. We still don't know EXACTLY how gravity works, but we know the coffee cup will fall. Every time. 

Science and medicine will get us through this pandemic - and the next one. Yes, there will be another one, just as there were pandemics in the past. 

Don't let the weakness of human nature slow down the healing process. Allow the experts: the scientists, doctors, nurses, public health specialists, and the wide range of medical professionals to do their jobs. We must let the smartest people on the planet to do their jobs - for all of us. We must support them. We must listen to the experts, and take their advice - even if their advice changes from time to time. That's how science works.

Now is not the time for "opinions" from emotional, well-intentioned but ill-informed people. I get it, we are all worried, we are all scared. But we must be mentally AND physically strong, and we must trust the experts. The experts and the scientists are not the enemy, the virus is the enemy. 

One day in the future, I am sure we shall indeed fully understand gravity. And our full understanding gravity will certainly change our global society and our world forever.

But for now, until we DO know exactly how gravity actually works - you should move that coffee cup away from the edge of the table.

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