Science is the best way to learn about the physical world, but when a hot topic is rapidly evolving… beware. Science depends on studies, replication, peer reviews, and retractions. Popular media don’t follow all these pathways.
Here’s a list of COVID studies that have been retracted: 147 and still counting. Like me, you may find some you saw reported and took to heart. Only researchers in the field are likely to keep track of all of this, which makes it hard on us hoi polloi.
To provide perspective: Over 87,000 COVID papers have been published, and I got that number from last February. “It is an astonishing number of publications – it may be unprecedented in the history of science.” So 147 retractions isn’t very many, but some are on topics you’ve heard of: hydroxychlorquine, effects of vitamin D, and “JAMA Pediatrics has retracted a paper claiming that children’s masks trap high concentrations of carbon dioxide a little more than two weeks after publishing it.”
It’s easy to get an exciting report stuck in your head and never read about subsequent qualifications or outright debunking.
This level of activity is a good thing – the field of COVID research is active and scientists critique each others work. But it can be confusing to the rest of us. We’ll never figure it out by ourselves. It’s totally understandable if we each pick an expert to follow. Just remember that your expert (and mine) is only human, and if they’re proven to be wrong, that’s not your error and not your fault. Don’t let your emotions get wound up in someone else’s credibility.
When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy.How Do You Change Your Mind?
When God changes your mind, that’s faith.
When facts change your mind, that’s science.