Citizen Science vs. Media Manipulation | Ian Martiszus
Learning to Make Sense In an Age of Fake News
WHO IS IAN?
Ian Martiszus is a data-scientist and medical researcher. He started his career doing clinical and pre-clinical cancer research.
After becoming disenfranchised with the academic science world he taught himself to code and became a data analyst in private industry.
Shortly after beginning that new career the COVID Pandemic began. In March 2020 he became a "citizen scientist" and founded the organization Cure-Hub.
Since then he has helped analyze and visualize data relating to COVID, impacted the 45th White House' policy relating to serum (based on his survey, the first publicly available one in April 2020), and is helping people gain access to antibody testing.
What interests me most about Ian is his initiative to help the public at such a trying time. He has done multiple media appearances and worked with universities like MIT to get the word out about his work.
What I appreciate about him is that he is able to take his work impacting public health seriously and advance understanding of the COVID-19 virus without playing into hysteria and media hype.
So much of the government and academic/medical establishment response to the pandemic has been confusing, non-transparent (despite daily briefings), overly political, and more like a marketing "hype-cycle" than a briefing on medical science.
Ian has advanced research on this disease in a way that's made people safer, healthier and directly impacted their lives while also providing the public with much needed clarity (not panic or manipulated data).
I find him to be a rather honorable man, and quite a joy to speak with. I hope you'll enjoy the show as much as I enjoyed recording it.
Share it with a friend or family member who has been watching panic-inducing content relating to the pandemic.
Now seems like a good time to say: This conversation was recorded in November of 2020. Some of the factual statements made were true in the context of the recording, though facts have changed since then. I'll discuss one notable example of that, with citation. Perhaps I'll have Ian back on again soon to discuss the evolving situation. If you enjoyed hearing from him, I can have him back on with regularity.
You can learn more about Ian's work as a citizen scientist at Cure-Hub.
UNDERSTANDING DATA AND WORDS
We've discussed on the show before how marketers, news pundits, politicians, creators and more can manipulate information to make people ideological. They pretend their job is to inform, but it is actually to persuade. The COVID pandemic has been no different.
Journalists go to journalism school. Politicians study law or political science. Marketers study business, finance or marketing.
They are not experts in public health, the environment, urban planning, logistics, agriculture, energy production or any other number of important subjects.
Politicians DO get to hire experts in those fields to consult with them on executive and legislative policy, but often these appointments are political.
Politicians have their stances and find the expert who will advocate for their cause.
Journalists are quite similar. Cable News companies and big Newspapers have a demographic.
Often that demographic is of a voting bloc (Republicans watch FOX News and OAN and Democrats watch CNN and MSNBC).
Journalists only make money if advertisement slots on their shows, sites or papers are purchased.
If an audience becomes infuriated with a news source and leaves that source, then the journalists' income will go down.
Journalists are incentivized to act similarly to politicians and put experts on air who re-enforce the belief system of the audience.
Often times that belief system is transmitted or amplified to the audience by the media company because it is politically/financially expedient for the owners of the media company for that to happen.
To that end, every single topic that makes it's way to national or international news is lied about, politicized and manipulated.
This is what many people call the "post-truth" or "post-fact" era.
It is the root of the "Fake News" phenomenon. And it's been terrible for journalism and sense-making relating to science and medicine.
People who went to school for journalism can interview as many doctors and medical researchers as they like - they don't understand human physiology, epidemiology or biology.
Even if they were making honest attempts to relay accurate sources of data related to public health, they would simply be too uneducated to properly do so.
This is why big media companies often default to an average of what is marketable to their audience and what large institutions like the WHO and CDC say, whether or not statements from those institutions are consistent with data (or even prior statements from those same institutions).
In the process, journalists will identify a "narrative" (A set of beliefs that trigger behaviors) around an issue. Statistics will be manipulated, over-emphasized, misinterpreted or excluded to fit the narrative, as will selection of sources, as will the definition of words.
I am not here to tell you what to think about COVID-19. First off, I would like to remain in the good graces of the institutions I work with, and so I am obligated to say my official medical advice is to follow the instructions of local authorities and your personal medical doctor.
What I am here to say is this: Everything the media or politicians say in relation to complex subjects is not said of their own understanding of the subject matter. It is said from a place of (best-case scenario) benevolent mouth-piecing and ass-covering, or (worst-case) outright manipulation for the sake of profit or power.
I hope this interview with Ian encourages those of you with scientific training to seek your own understandings and conduct your own research (more research is better than less, after all).
I hope those of you are not scientifically trained might learn to identify when words and numbers are manipulated or taken out of context to fit a persuasion campaign. For more on this read the previous entry from my interview with Kiara Bickers.
EDIT: Fact check from the episode.
- Testing and development of a vaccine has been based around isolating sequences that are presumed to be part of the COVID virus. The problem is, this disease was not isolated until December 29th 2020 according to the CDC website. This interview was recorded in November 2020 so in the interview I spoke as if the virus has not been isolated at all. At the time of speaking, that was true, but the facts have since changed. However, while the virus HAS been isolated, that was not a factor in the development of the vaccines at the time, as many vaccines were rolled out before the virus was isolated.