(Xinhua/Chu Chen)

Opinion – Taking a break

It is easy to feel a bit confused and anxious nowadays. Newspapers, web, radio, and TV carry all manners of statements on the epidemic. Data, theories, explanations, declarations, facts, findings, forecasts are everywhere. They are brought forward by all types of experts, real or professed. 

Not all reliable, they cannot all be true; many can’t even be known. Some are so fantastic one almost admires the minds that came up with them (not so much the minds of those who seem to believe and propagate them – but that’s just an aside.)

The problem is not only that darling of the times, “fake news.” Indeed, many are fake, and that’s bad enough. They are either deliberately, for some malicious determination, or the result of well-meaning but uninformed yet credulous purpose – does not matter. We must keep our critical minds, even more than in less unsettled times.

Others are not ‘fake’ as such but produce similar outcomes – confusion, suspicion, deception. Ultimately, bad or unreliable information. Right actions and policies need reliable information. The existing state of affairs fails us all too often.

Statistics, research findings, policy orientations should be instrumental in reducing such uncertainty and provide for more confidence in our daily life and our hopes for the future. That is not always (often?) the case.

Take the world epidemic statistics, for instance. Many are using the data to probe the future or judge the success of policies. Few seem aware that they are often equating figures collected with different criteria and under diverse circumstances, which may not be entirely comparable. Without proper context and coherence in their collection and processing, what they can tell us is likely to be limited, if not misleading. 

We listen continuously research findings purporting to prove this and that, if not promising either damnation or salvation. Many seem contradictory, but what can we, ordinary readers, know? We get (how many times?) the soundbite, the vague speculation, the untested result. The background and the uncertainty inherent to those matters are often just left behind. 

Policy measures and implementation, which are usually complex combinations of measures, actions, and circumstances, are hastily judged in ways that a sober mind will identify as flawed after even the most cursory probe. We’d better take the “info” overload with a pinch of salt, at times ignore it altogether – lest we lose our lucidity when we need it most.