Note: This thread is related to #COVID19.

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John Burn-Murdoch
+ Your AuthorsArchive @jburnmurdoch Stories, stats & scatterplots for @FinancialTimes | Daily updates of the coronavirus trajectory tracker | [email protected] | #dataviz May. 15, 2020 1 min read


Critical assessment of scientific papers by the media has never been more important than during the pandemic

That new Manchester study saying 25% of UK has HD Covid *was* peer reviewed, but has already been comprehensively debunked by many leading epidemiologists.

A site I'm finding increasingly useful is the Science Media Centre (@SMC_London), where domain experts present feedback to papers circulating in the media.

Here are @AdamJKucharski and others pointing out the flaws in that Manchester paper 

And here's a detailed, point-by-point take-down of the same paper by @CT_Bergstrom, including an explanation that even peer review isn't enough to ensure a study's findings are watertight:

Few weeks ago media reported studies saying air pollution levels had big impact on Covid death rates.

Problem 1: studies hadn't been peer reviewed.

Problem 2: air pollution & pop dens are correlated.

Over at SMC, experts pointed out flaws: 

It's absolutely vital that as journalists we do all the necessary checks before reporting on highly sensitive issues like this.

Yesterday's Manchester paper is a particularly acute case, as the claims in that study concern a critical issue that people will use to justify policy — how many people in the UK may have already had Covid.

My tip for anyone, fellow journalist or otherwise: weigh any surprising new claims against the balance of evidence already out there on the issue in question.

We already know from comprehensive research in other countries that the share of people who've had Covid in even hard hit countries, is around 5%.

Claims that differ significantly from that require extraordinary evidence

My other tip: follow lots of experts.

For me, that means @CT_Bergstrom, @AdamJKucharski, @nataliexdean, @EricTopol, @cmyeaton, @globalhlthtwit, @ActuaryByDay and others.

They don’t always agree! And that’s *good*. This stuff is complicated.

Right on cue, this drops into my inbox


• Antibody testing suggests ~15% of NYers (~20% in NYC) have had Covid 


• "I did some back of the envelope extrapolations and found that 83% of NYers have had Covid. Here are my charts from Google Sheets."

I know which one I’m going with...

You can follow @jburnmurdoch.


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