“An embarrassment for science and journalism” – L’Argonaut

Science journalist Carl Zimmer spoke at the University of Idaho’s Oppenheimer Ethics Symposium on Wednesday. Zimmer is a regular columnist for The New York Times and has won numerous awards for his writing.

At the dawn of the pandemic, much of Zimmer’s recent work has focused on COVID-19.

“I am in awe of viruses,” Zimmer said. “Hijacking a cell and making it your own virus factory is incredible.”

Zimmer recalls his first notification of COVID-19 from when reports emerged from China. Wuhan saw a new species of coronavirus that was spreading rapidly.

“We were reporting on the science as it happened,” he explained.

According to Zimmer, the earliest origins of COVID-19 in the United States are from a European flight that landed in New York. In response to her post, former President Donald Trump called her post fake news in a now-deleted tweet.

“So now the Fake News @nytimes traces the origins of CoronaVirus to Europe, NOT China,” Trump tweeted.

Although this comment resulted in negative reactions to her article, Zimmer was still able to use the attention to her advantage. To counter, Zimmer clarified on Twitter to Trump’s claims.

In the past two years of the pandemic, Zimmer has faced strong suspicions and responses to his research.

“I got a lot of emails like this,” he said, referring to a screenshot that read “YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT FOR SCIENCE AND JOURNALISM.”

Zimmer said people felt like scientists just told them how things work, and that was it. But in the case of the unexpected pandemic, scientists didn’t know it and people began to doubt it.

“(They say) ‘I can’t trust scientists anymore,’ or ‘I’m going to do my own research,’ which is Facebook,” Zimmer said.

As information came out and misconceptions were dismissed, Zimmer explained that writers should be careful.

“We had to be careful to convey what the research was about and not just give people a feeling of, ‘Oh, it’s going to be okay,’ because we didn’t know it,” he said.

One thing the Trump administration has done well, according to Zimmer, is vaccines. Operation Warp Speed ​​has established funding and support for vaccine research that is not normally available. It made it faster than ever.

With COVID-19 having a monumental impact on all aspects of the news, the topic has brought Zimmer to work with people he doesn’t typically collaborate with.

“It was a situation where everyone was on deck,” he said.

He began working with Johnathan Corum and used his specialty in designs to create scientific diagrams and 3D renderings to help readers imagine the biology behind viruses.

As the pandemic has the public questioning scientists, Zimmer has found that some people are taking the opportunity to learn. For example, Zimmer no longer finds himself explaining things like RNA.

“Because of these vaccines, suddenly everyone felt like they needed to know more about RNA,” Zimmer said.

Messenger RNA helps the body make proteins by providing blueprint, creating antibodies to fight disease, which was the basis of COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any seen in recent decades. SARS has been compared to COIVD-19, but the SARS outbreak had comparatively less impact, resulting in nearly 800 deaths.

The difference, Zimmer noted, was that SARS could only be spread by symptomatic patients. This allowed doctors to better isolate the disease and stop the spread.

The COVID-19 BA.2 variant has spread in China, according to Zimmer. He described the situation in Wuhan as worse than at the start of the pandemic.

“It’s really tragic that this country is going back to something that’s actually much worse,” Zimmer said.

While he can’t predict the future, Zimmer predicts that we have yet to see the full ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a story that’s not going to end anytime soon,” he said. “We will probably hit a million deaths in the United States alone.”

Haadiya Tariq can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @haadiyatariq