Many sources, one an exaggerated amount of information, a story that define a complex is an understatement. This is the scenario that appears to those who, willingly or unwillingly, is located in the center of the infodemia from Covid-19. You search for updates compulsively – and if you’re not looking for, however, we reach -, you try to decipher the daily data and to keep track of the epidemic curve, and in all this the user place search anchors before losing the compass. Some are solid, others less so. Some sources are not the most reliable but they are very popular, others are more but they may not be as popular.
Where to start?
- Official or not official?
- Myths proven wrong, scientific studies and news about vaccines
- The case Worldometer
- From the wrong data in the case of political
- Selection and critical spirit
It may seem trivial, but the watershed is one of the official sources that disseminate information on the evolution of the pandemic and those are not official, and that they can return in whole or in part, also the data of the first. You may ask why use a “by-product” (source mediated) when you can draw from the raw material. The answer lies in the fact that the so-called data aggregators sometimes they present them in a more appealing way, other times are more easily reached because, quite simply, better indexed in search engines.
Starting from these premises, in order to stay updated on the progress of diffusion at the world level and at the Italian level, the starting points can be:
- The site of the World Health Organization
- The official page of the Civil Protection
- The website of the national Institute of Health (Epicenter)
Just, everything here? In order not to lose the compass yes. Who wants to have an overview of the evolution of the pandemic at global level can log on to the website of the WHO, all the relevant data are there and are also made of more easy reference, with maps, graphs, ability to compare the information related to the various continents. Are listed all the total cases and deaths are recorded (both on a daily basis, either from the start of the pandemic). The data are acquired and organized by WHO and can be downloaded in the format .csv for later processing.
- The official page of the WHO
We enter more in detail of Italy: the Italian Civil Protection every day between 17:00 and 18:00 update the dashboard on Covid-19 , and publishes a press release on the official website. The data on the total of the positive, the healed, the deaths and the total cases (cumulative) that encloses all the positive, the healed and the deceased) are in the foreground of the main screen. And’ possible to consult the charts on the performance of the national, new positive (and on the variations of the number of positive on a daily basis). The data are downloadable in PDF and .csv and also in this case the source is above suspicion: the data are provided by the Ministry of Health and processed by the Department of Civil Protection.
With a minimum of effort (just click on the “Card summary” in the bottom right corner of the dashboard) you have access to two folders with the same number of lists of files relating to the data on the provinces and the regions are organized in chronological order, so the most up-to-date is what is at the bottom. It is likely that you have seen around the web, these tables reported by the major newspapers, here’s where they come from, anyone can access it:
The Civil Protection also provides sections to see the number of materials distributed – starting from the time talks templates -, the number of contacts that are activated to manage the emergency, a section containing all the links with updates on the actions.
- Covid-19 in Italy: the dashboard of the Civil Protection: the desktop version, mobile version
- Cards summary: provinces, regions
- FAQ – questions and answers
- Map materials: desktop version, mobile version
- Contracts activated
The database of the Civil Protection already offers a detailed look on the regional situations, but those who wish to deepen further details can be found in the official websites of the individual Regions. For example, the Lombardy Region – the most affected by the pandemic – spreads a bulletin daily between 17:00 and 18:00 on the site of the Lombardy News Online:
It is equally as information-rich Epicenter, which is the official website of the Higher Institute of Health that the public in the first place:
- Infographic of the integrated surveillance Covid-19 three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday)
- Extended Report once a week (Thursday)
- Analysis of the deaths with infographic weekly
The site is a must for those looking for other information about the virus and the evolution of the pandemic at the global level.
- Section Coronavirus at the Epicenter of the site of the ISS
The level of understanding of a complex topic, is entrusted in large measure to the ability and willingness to examine and understand the sources. This is a path that can be approached in multiple steps: for example, you can go from simple raw data, or more or less elaborated from official sources (see fig. above) to elaborate on the myths on the Coronavirus, the fake news go viral.
A good starting point to accomplish this further step forward is represented by the section of the official site of the World Health Organization that exposes and refutes news without foundation on the virus, with a series of infographics easy-to-read: at present there are no drugs authorized for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19, add hot pepper to food will not prevent or cure the disease, mobile networks and 5G do not spread the virus… and so on.
- The false myths about the disease – the section curated by the World Health Organization
The next step is not objectively within the reach of all because there are stalls in the ground of the sources and tools to find it that require the right preparation. Who has the means and desire to compete should not overlook two reference sites, one that allows you to identify the publications to biomedical literature, the other the clinical studies in the course.
- PubMed. To make the idea can be considered the Google of the scientific and biomedical literature published from the years ’50 of the last century to the present. The platform is developed by the National Center of Biotechlogy Information (NCBI) at the National Library of Medicine (NLM). If there is a study worthy of note on the Coronavirus brought to the attention of the scientific community, is likely to have left a trace on PubMed. Trivially, the site can also be used to verify what, if anything, the self-styled virologist of the turn has published in the past (just enter the name in the search field). Being basically a search engine, it is not said that all the results are in the same plane, there will be studies more or less reliable sources and more or less relevant – an account is whether the study has been published in the Lancet, so if it was not hosted by a journal with an impact factor (IF) lower (note: the IF measures the average number of citations received in the year of given reference, from the articles published by a scientific journal in the two previous years).
- Clinicaltrials. To get to the vaccine or, better yet, define a protocol of care for the people infected from the Sars-Cov-2 implies having conducted clinical trials to evaluate its reliability. Clinicaltrials is a very useful platform to keep track of all the initiatives in the act: it is supported by the Government of the United States and allows you to locate clinical trials in progress by type of disease (not only for Covid-19) and for the Country. The list of all the clinical studies on Covid-19 is quite clear on the homepage: at the moment there are over 1,700 of those listed in the database of Clinicaltrials, for each one it is possible to verify, among other things, the current status, who the door next, and on what is based. Also this tool can be very useful to avoid to give unconditionally credit to the entities that offer miracle cures without scientific foundation
- AIFA: not To be overlooked, finally, the information provided by the Italian Drug Agency. One of its tasks is the regulation of the placing on the market, use and surveillance of pharmaceutical products. From the beginning of the pandemic in the official website has been activated, a section with all the news and releases as the most relevant related to medications used to combat the virus authorised in Italy, both in the field of studies and clinical trials, as well as outside of them
The data coming from official sources or otherwise trusted so there is no lack, and yet even in the face of such a wealth of information produced from valid sources, it can happen to lose the compass: a drop in error are not only ordinary citizens, but also equally valid information centres and the same Governments.
Emblematic is the case of Worldometer recently brought to the forefront with an investigation from CNN. The central point of the report concerns the reliability of the data provided by Worldometer, a site much later, and gained further popularity during the pandemic. The site deals with keeping track of the various data at the global level, such as the number of inhabitants or cars, and from the beginning of the medical emergency and also statistics on the coronavirus (as new cases, deaths, healed, etc.).
The long excursus on the activities of the Worldometer made by CNN highlights how Worldometer is not a site created with the specific purpose of managing medical data, as there are doubts on the fact that it has actually been a team prepared, qualified and specialised in the analysis of the data and what is the purpose of the company that manages to draw a profit from the earnings resulting from banner advertising and the licensing of the counters that has developed over the years. Worldometer, it is in fact an aggregator of information from multiple sources, some institutional, some not. His modus operandi has been questioned by those who highlight aspects that can be improved
- Several updates of the data are missing of the source, the other updates do not match the source cited, or contain errors. Do not Use Worldometer as the source of all the pages linked to COVID-19. Are the considerations that you read in the Wikipedia page dedicated to the project Covid-19
- Their goal is to have the latest data from wherever they come, that they are trustworthy or not. We believe that people should be cautious, in particular the media, the politicians. These data are not as accurate as they seem, Says Edouard Mathieu of Our World In Data (OWID) website of statistics independent with headquarters in the University of Oxford
- For Virginia Pitzer, epidemiologist at the University of Yale, the site is legitimate, many of its sources are government entities to credible, but there are inconsistencies in the data and little value added produced by the work of the experts: the interpretation of the data is lacking, in particular the active cases are problematic because the data on the healings are not reported systematically. There are also errors quite relevant (e.g. on the 24th of April, the number of the healed in Spain at the Worldometer was 18,000, but the Spanish government had indicated only 3.105)
In short, are not without foundation, and the legitimate doubts on a site that is not the direct expression of the authority that manages health data. Should arise in relation to any other site that operates in the same way, but Worldometer is discussed more than others because its statistics are taken from authoritative newspapers (the Financial Times, the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN) and also by the Governments – the United Kingdom has used the data of Worldometer before turning to the Johns Hopkins University, the Spanish government has them deployed in what has become a media event.
The data on the coronavirus will not affect only the life of each one, they may be delicate political equilibrium. We are the State that has executed the most number of pads, is a phrase that not only has a value in the field of health care, but serves to give power to a ruling class is overwhelmed by the pandemic that seeks to strengthen its role in the eyes of other States, and to reassure his people. All of the above, provided that use data from sources that can be trusted and not to make mistakes in the back, otherwise adverse effects on the level of communication outweigh the positive ones.
In the practical example recurs again Worldometer and representatives of the government (the Spanish one in particular). To summarise:
- On April 27 the OECD (Organization for economic cooperation and development) publishes data on the number of diagnostic tests for Covid-19 carried out by the member Countries: Spain is in fifth place. To compile the ranking used data from platform-Our World in Data (OWID) plus other data provided by the institutions themselves, national
- On 28 April, the OECD adjustment to the data because it makes realize that they have been taken into account both the molecular tests, PCR (the so-called buffer), both the serological tests. With the exception of Spain, only a limited number of Countries for performing serological tests in that period, and the OECD, and OWID has deemed it appropriate to separate out this data to allow a comparison on equal terms between all the Countries. Spain move on to the seventeenth place, ascend to the sixth on the 17th of may
- On April 28, the counter Worldometer (does not exclude based on OECD statistics) still carries the data of the fifth of Spain.
- On 28 April, prime minister Pedro Sanchez first mentions in the press conference of the OECD statistics are not updated, then another source, the Johns Hopkins University according to which Spain is in fifth place for number of buffers – a position confirmed subsequently (on 9 may) by the Minister of Health Salvador Illa. The Johns Hopkins University, however, has never published a study on the number of buffers
In short: the Spanish government has cited the data of the institutional sources with lightness – see the case of the OECD data reported not realizing that it had in the meantime been rectified – and exchanges what is stated by a source that is not official but authoritative, the Johns Hopkins University, and the one that finds one of its sources. Oh yes, because in this game of chinese boxes, you will come to the conclusion that even the jhu is requesting use of the data of the Worldometer. It is not a secret information is stated clearly in the dashboard, curated by the staff of the University:
For the avoidance of doubt , the monitoring system on the coronavirus, edited by the Johns Hopkins University is considered among the most reliable and this may come as a surprise that he decided to include among the sources of a which, though widely followed, is also much talk (see fig. above). The jhu is requesting does not say what type of data Worldometer are employed, but admits that starting in January, when the numbers on the pandemic have increased, manually update all the data turned out to be unsustainable and started to acquire the information from primary sources and from the web sites, data aggregators, as Worldometer.
To limit the errors to the staff, however, has developed a system of detection of anomalies divided into two stages: changes in the data of the moderate entities are added automatically, but provide an a posteriori check carried out by an operator in a meat-and-bone meal; changes in the entity’s most relevant can be added only manually.
To navigate between the information is not official and the official ones is not always simple. It is easier to find the fake news that doesn’t do much to hide his nature, it is more natural to be wary of the ever present news without a source on the virus that bombard the social media, but it is complicated to defend themselves from the news or from the false fact that he manages to make his way in the communication channels, authoritative, or, worse still institutional. The points of departure to try not to lose the right way that can not go to the official sources, without for this send definitely on board the ability of critical reasoning that everyone should use to not get overwhelmed by the infodemia.