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Pandemic Information Exhaustion & Eric Topol’s Ground Truths

Let’s just say — hypothetically — that you’re over the pandemic.

Being “over the pandemic” also means that you’re over being meticulously and incrementally informed about the pandemic. Over being sideswiped by public health agency proclamations. Over the drip torture of knowledge-by-Twitter. And over the firehose of contradictory headlines.

You’re information-exhausted as well as pandemic-exhausted. You don’t want incremental updates that require you to meticulously assemble them into a big picture. You just want the big picture.

People deep into an evolving crisis have very different information needs than they had at the beginning of the crisis. We now want public experts who are able to curate the most important information and compress that information’s meaning into language that tells us immediately where we stand and gives us clear options for action.

This is why I like so much what Eric Topol, founder and director of The Scripps Research Institute, is doing on his Substack Ground Truths. Topol is turning out some of the clearest, most compelling public expertise on the pandemic through curation and compression.

Example: “Humans 2, Omicron 1,” with the subhead “Our smart immune system with multiple layers of defense and a virus with less intrinsic pathogenicity will help us win the latest variant battle.” It’s all right there, folks. No cloak and dagger; no incrementalism. Just what’s important, curated and compressed for rapid uptake and use.

Topol is a molecular medicine researcher and a cardiologist, not an epidemiologist or a virologist. But he’s taken it upon himself over the last two years to wade into the ceaseless waves of studies and content on the virus and tweet tirelessly, separating signal from noise.

With “Ground Truths,” Topol has elevated this approach, producing short essays that crisply summarize the state of evidence and/or play on critical pandemic questions (e.g., how close we are to a “supervaccine” to work against all beta coronaviruses“) and take no prisoners in critiquing government policy and messaging for pandemic interventions (e.g., why Biden’s December plan to fight COVID fell far short of what was needed in “What the President Could Have Done Today to Counter the Pandemic.”)

Substack brought Topol aboard to do Ground Truths as a “writer-in-residence” — meaning it was only supposed to last a month. Let’s hope both writer and publisher have reconsidered. The market for big-picture public expertise on the pandemic is…big. Conventional, incremental research communications doesn’t begin to fill it.