Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Answer: What research questions are YOU searching out these days? (The COVID-19 edition of SRS)

Complex questions... 

... abound in these days of COVID-19 / coronavirus.  

P/C CDC.gov

This week's Challenge was: 

1.  During the past 2 weeks, what SearchResearch Challenges have you confronted about COVID-19 / Coronavirus?  

2.  What did you do to try and answer those Research Questions?  

Let me summarize the comments (and emails) from SRS readers.  

Arthur is concerned about how to tamp down fake news about false (or downright dangerous) "cures" and "treatments" for COVID.  

He asks a great question: How do we assess the accuracy of the various treatments that we read about (e.g. terrible ideas like hair dryers pointed down the throat; Vitamin C; vodka; garlic; oregano; colloidal silver... or even, God forbid, drinking bleach).  

How to assess treatments:  Here's a link to my short YouTube video about this.  The TL;DR version of that is (1) do at least two searches (for the treatment, and another that searches for a contraindication).  (2) Search for the treatment and a context search term like "hoax" "credible" or "fraud."  (One could write a book on this topic alone.  But you should watch the video.)  

Arthur points out that there are several excellent Fact Checking sites that have set up special COVID pages.  He pointed us to It's a high quality European site that debunks many of the rumors and crazy stories you hear. 

Another such site worth monitoring is Snopes, especially with the search [ covid OR coronavirus ] -- here's the link to Snopes for you to use to search just in Snopes for fact check articles that they've written.   

Other well-known fact-checking sites are running special COVID pages (or searches over their fact checks): COVID fact checking
   USAToday COVID fact checking COVID  fact checking COVID fact checking

Of course, you can check with your favorite trusted news source with this pattern: 

     [ site:X.Y  factcheck COVID OR coronavirus ] 

In particular, as you read about COVID, beware of stories that don't have clear attributions.  If you can't figure out who wrote the original story, read it cautiously.   

Clayton points out that the overall data about COVID is terrible, so stop obsessing over it.  I hear you!  

I agree with him--the data is terrible.  The sampling has been abysmal and worst of all, it's heavily biased in ways that we don't know.  I can de-bias some data, but if we don't know much about the testing protocols (who gets tested, when, and why) and the accuracy of the tests, then it's hard to draw accurate conclusions.  (To be honest, I don't really look at "people tested" or "positive" or "negative."  I look just at deaths--that's probably the most accurate number of all, and even it is biased.)  

Clayton also points out the best summary of the situation that he's found.  Coronavirus: Why you must act now (by Tomas Pueyo)   Also read his follow-up article, The Hammer and the Dance which summarizes a lot of implications along with reasonable predictions about what will happen over the next several months.    

Ramón has been asking good questions in his research: Will weather slow the virus?  What medicines work? Is chloroquine really is helping?  

He did a nice query about cholorquine: 

     [chloroquine Marseille coronavirus] 

Why "Marseille" in that query?  Because some of the earliest work on  the effectiveness of choloroquine was done by Didier Raoult at La Timone hospital in Marseille, France--or at least he rose to prominence with a YouTube video promising a "way out of the crisis" with choloroquine.   

But as this kind of early-pandemic study shows, you can't trust the  data so far... too small.   It's promising, it's possible--and we have to wait for the real data analysis to be done.  We don't want a repeat of the thalidomide tragedy, where a drug was released into the population without careful work showing devastating side-effects.  (Thalidomide was sold as a sleep-aid, but only after a year did the terrible side-effects of birth defects show up.)  

Information is changing rapidly.  What we know now might well shift in a few days or weeks.  There's a lot of ongoing research these days--you have to keep your information channels up to date!   

Remmij points to the Library of Congress "Corona Resource Guide," which is great, although very policy-wonk friendly.  Note that the publication date is March 20, 2020.  Things are changing rapidly, and this (along with every other COVID site) needs to be updated frequently if it's going to stay accurate and relevant.  They did promise to update it (but as of today, it's still more than a week stale).     

Search Lessons 

There are really two big lessons from this post: 

1.  Stay up to date!  News about COVID changes moment by moment.  Is Ibuprofen good or bad?  The data changes, and might change again.  Will chloroquine or redemsivir prove to be the magic drug?  It's a bit too early to tell. 

2. Use SITE: as a way to drill into websites that you trust.  There's SO much news these days that it's difficult to see the forest for the trees.  Using SITE: lets you search for the information you seek from a place you trust. 

3. Use the time restriction filter to get the latest updates.  It's part of the "Tools" option.  Like this: 

Stay healthy, wash your hands... and...  Search on! 

Another note...  I put out two "One-Minute Morceaux" this week. Each is a short video between 1 and 5 minutes long with a brief SRS strategy or tactic for you.  
1.  How to find high quality information about treatments 

2.  How to assess the credibility of a web site


Let me know how you like them!  


  1. I like a lot the videos and also the way you share the information. The tools, examples and the Howto.

    As you mentioned, so much information, bad news, panic and obsession. And that, apparently, creates more cortisol in everyone weakening our immune system.

    I'm sure soon we will have something that helps us (the world) millions of minds are working on that. Even tobacco companies are trying to create a vaccine using tobacco leaf.

    So thank you, Dr. Russell for helping us to be more prepared to find and understand everything that is coming to us.

    1. Just to share with everyone your also new 1MM

      1MM #10: Browse Virtual Bookshelf

      In case they are like me. I almost missed it since it's not possible get notifications. Good thing that visited your channel and found the video.

    2. Some interesting links.

      Google: Community Mobility Reports

      Yesterday, I was reading the news and among them was: Ivermectin. And Antiviral Research. As Dr. Russell taught us, did my searches [Antiviral Research] and [ Ivermectin Antiviral Research] and noticed one of the sources Dr. Russell mentioned in 1MM #12 Elsevier (the video was the first time I knew about site)
      The FDA-approved Drug Ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro

      Also new for me, I noticed that when you search [country coronavirus] Google gives lots of information, data, maps, and much more. Loved it.

      Finally, also about Google

      Google 3D animals: Which ones are available and how to use them They are awesome! I really hope soon we can have 3D Hummingbird. Which one you like the most?

    3. Hi Dr. Russell.

      Thanks for the 13 1MM : Credible author

      I like that you always give us something new. I didn't know about the score and what number is better.

      Yesterday, was reading about cats getting infected one to another with Covid19. That is sad. And also reading about felines in NY Zoo. I thought, yesterday, that even when the source is credible (PBS) the peer review lack could mean it was or is random. Then read the Zoo news.

      My question, articles or documents change significantly after peer review? I didn't read the article because we already have so many bad news. And now, people will think cats could give the virus to them and it's not like that. I hope felines are the only species that also have the virus

  2. Hi Dan,

    I missed the submission cutoff for this post, but have been working on a project for my middle school students about fake news and COVID-19, and wanted to see if it's possible to find the original source for this meme that was spread around on social media sites like Facebook:

    Since it was first circulated on social media, it has since been proven false---but I wanted to be able to use it as an example to show how to (try to) find out more about the actual image itself.

    Besides doing a Google reverse image search, do you have any other ideas?


    1. Remmij - You beat me to the punch. I just read the NYTimes piece by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about early and significant searches in the COVID story. Might have to write a little thing about this.

    2. look forward to what you have to say from an 'insider's perspective'…
      a search & research & apply nexus? - the expanding use or big data…
      there may be corollaries in this type of search too?
      CTV News
      Human Longevity
      HL Inc.
      …and it's not even April 1st anymore…