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Science Lessons from COVID-19

The woman just in front of me (at a safe social distance of course) was turned away from entering the grocery store since she had a small purse that was part leather and part cloth. “Cloth purses are not permitted” she was told by the security guard dressed in his cloth uniform. I wondered if I needed to purchase a motorcyclist’s leather pants and jacket. Not to worry, the guard allowed me in with my regular cloth attire.

Who wants to be a politician?

The way I see it, right now most politicians of both the left and the right are faced with large segments of the public and the media criticizing them for both locking down the public and yet allowing major outbreaks of COVID-19 in seniors’ complexes and meat packing plants.

Science – Technology – Society

Many years ago, the Alberta science curriculum was modernized by science educators. Under the previous model science was a collection of facts that most students would likely forget after graduation. Now, students develop critical thinking skills allowing for analysis of the science, the technology and the societal impact. The COVID-19 pandemic becomes an event which demands us to consider the problem through all three problem solving approaches. In previous blog posts, I suggested using issues like the spread of the Pine Beetle to give high school students a real-world problem to investigate. Now, there is no relevant or pressing topic than COVID-19.

Consider the Science

Can we even keep up with the science? I did a Google Scholar search on COVID-19 and discovered that in the date range since January 2020 to now, there have been 21,800 publications. Even a fast reader would have difficulty managing. A regular Google search indicated 3,310,000,000 results. Working scientists would narrow their background research using parameters more suited to their individual research projects.

When it comes to genomics in Canada, Genome Canada announced the launching of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), a newly formed initiative backed by $40 million in federal funding. It is a “partnership with the six regional Genome Centres, national and provincial public health labs, genome sequencing centres through CGEn, hospitals, universities and the private sector, CanCOGeN will coordinate and scale up existing genomics-based COVID-19 research in Canada and internationally in order to accelerate public impact.” You can read more by following the link below to posts on our Genome Alberta blogs.

The technological problems.
When we consider technological problem solving, we need to consider purpose and specifications. We also look at all the alternatives and then carry out testing and troubleshooting. Perhaps the most troubling technological problem associated with COVID-19 is the testing. We may remember that a month ago we read the headlines 'Test, test, test': WHO chief's coronavirus message to world. Yet, this week we learn that a recent study of 14 antibody tests on the market showed that only three delivered reliable results. Additional troubleshooting is required before a valid test can be used to create some sort of ‘passport’ system for people to exit lockdown.

Societal Issues

At the beginning of the post, I asked the question ‘who wants to be a politician?’. In a previous blog post (link below), I listed some potential perspectives to be examined when resolving societal issues:
  • Economic
  • Ethical/Moral
  • Health
  • Political
  • Scientific
  • Technological
I have listed below some stakeholders who may have different perspectives about the COVID-19 pandemic:
  • Politicians
  • Employers/employees
  • Renters/landlords/mortgage companies
  • Persons with known risk factors
  • Persons with no known risk factors
  • Essential workers

I am certain that you or your students could brainstorm additions to this list.

To improve my understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am taking a short online course in pandemic modelling and policy. I will pass on any additional information that may help you help your students to understand and be able to discuss this crisis using critical thinking rather than pure emotion.

Links of Interest:
   COVID on Genome Alberta
   Canadian COVID Genomics Network
   Test, test, test
   Coronavirus Antibody Tests: Can You Trust the Results?
   Science vs Technology vs Societal Issues
   Here is an opportunity for a Societal Impact discussion
   Gerry Ward on Twitter @GWardis

Science Lessons from COVID-19

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