Journalism

COVID-19: the changing science

In WFSJ Briefing—our collection of SARS-CoV2 science, ideas and analysis—we have published a link to a page of retractions of SARS-CoV2 science from the useful online resource Retraction Watch. Today, we publish a letter calling for the retraction of a much-shared paper on asymptomatic transmission.

It’s really worth keeping an eye on the status of the science as it evolves. We have never seen such a flood of science (both preprints and research that has been through the peer-review and editing process), and things are shifting and evolving in real time. It’s wonderful to see things moving so fast and to see clinicians and researchers talking to each other and throwing ideas around in the quest to find interdisciplinary answers and solutions.

But at the same time, for journalists, it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Something that looks like a truly juicy finding just begging for a headline can become an embarrassment tomorrow – one of those stories that make you wince when you are reminded of it.

All too often the haste to publish, to get the clicks, leads to irresponsible reporting. We hope that our readers will remember to report with caution and care, with qualifications and with thoughtful commentary that shares what could be useful info but makes clear that it may not be the be-all and end-all in the field.

Tread carefully, be thoughtful and remember the awesome responsibility you bear. As we say in South Africa, hamba kahle: go well.

Please let us know about any good articles you find or have written chasing down facts about fake news – or any particularly interesting research or analysis of science that you might like to share with science journalists across the world. Send links to covid19editor@wfsj-briefing.org – we’d like to share the best coverage and analysis with our readership.

This page is organised so that you can find information on different topics (from the drop-down COVID-19 menu at the top of the page), and then see that information separated into different types (see the tabs in the articles list, left).

If you would like to do a more advanced search of the content, start by putting a term in the search box. This will take you to our search page, which allows you to search by keyword, date, topic, type of information, and (where applicable) location.

We put up this site very quickly (it was eight days from the idea being originally mooted to the site going live) because we saw an urgent need and wanted to help. This means the site is far from perfect as it stands. Rest assured that we will be actively working to improve it.

… and, if you’d like to help:

  • If you cover this subject and would like to regularly contribute links to the site, or would like to contribute tips about best (and worst) practice in writing about this subject, contact: covid19editor@wfsj-briefing.org.
  • If you have a few links you’d like to contribute but do not want to do so on a regular basis, just send the links to: covid19@wfsj-briefing.org.
  • If you think the interface could be easier to use, we are missing out important areas of content, or would like to suggest other changes (or if you think there is another looming crisis we should create a briefing for), please contact: editorialdirector@wfsj-briefing.org.
  • Finally, if you have any day-to-day issues, notice mislabelled or bad material, or see any technical glitches, please contact: editorial@wfsj-briefing.org.
How to Spot COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories
29th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

The COVID-19 pandemic is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. When people suffer a loss of control or feel threatened, they become more vulnerable to believing conspiracies. For example, the Black Death in the 14th century inspired anti-Semitic hysteria...

Many people suspect they’ve been infected with COVID-19 by now, despite the fact that only 0.5% of the UK’s population has actually been diagnosed with it. Similar numbers have been reported in other countries. Exactly how many people have actually...

The Pandemic’s Worst-Case Scenario Is Unfolding in Brazil
24th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

On a recent afternoon in São Luís, the capital of Maranhão state in northeastern Brazil, Hosana Lima Castro sat on a flimsy plastic chair in front of her house as stray dogs sniffed potholes in the narrow street and a...

A Simple Way to Save Lives as Covid-19 Hits Poorer Nations
23rd June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

As the coronavirus pandemic hits more impoverished countries with fragile health care systems, global health authorities are scrambling for supplies of a simple treatment that saves lives: oxygen. Many patients severely ill with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus,...

‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ Is Really a Thing
23rd June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

LaToya Jordan and her family have no green space by their Brooklyn apartment. So she, like many other New Yorkers, relies on the city’s playgrounds and parks to give her two children, ages 2 and 8, some exposure to nature....

A clinical trial has shown that an inexpensive steroid called dexamethasone could prevent death in one out of eight ventilated COVID-19 patients and one out of 25 patients receiving oxygen only. A trial launched in March 2020 has released its...

As lockdowns are lifted, procedures are being put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Along with physical distancing, hand sanitisation and wearing of masks, fever screening is increasingly being set up as a requirement before entry is allowed...

New analysis from Scripps Research has found that anywhere from 30 to 40% of people with coronavirus are asymptomatic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted by the disease. Scripps Research cardiologist Eric Topol and his colleagues looked at research...

On January 10, when Chinese researchers published the genome of a mysterious, fast-spreading, virus, it confirmed Dan Barouch’s greatest worry. The genome was similar to that of the coronavirus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak, yet it also had striking...

Larry Pike has already survived one pandemic. The 76-year-old Seattle retiree has been living with HIV for 22 years. When Covid-19 hit Seattle, he grew worried. “Just like HIV,” he said, “there’s that ‘Who’s next?’ sort of thing.” Sure enough,...

Good News and Bad News about COVID-19 Misinformation
10th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Recently, a video called “Plandemic” went viral on social media. PolitiFact flagged eight fake or misleading claims it made about COVID-19. YouTube and Facebook removed the video; Twitter issued “unsafe” warnings and blocked relevant hashtags. All of the platforms couched...

COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months
4th June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

For Vonny LeClerc, day one was March 16. Hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instated stringent social-distancing measures to halt the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, LeClerc, a Glasgow-based journalist, arrived home feeling shivery and flushed. Over the next few days, she...

First Human Trial for COVID-19 Antibody Drug Begins
2nd June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Just three months after the start of the pandemic, drugmaker Eli Lilly has announced the first human test of an antibody treatment designed to fight the novel coronavirus. The potential drug, developed by Lilly, Vancouver-based biotech company AbCellera, and the...

How You Should Read Coronavirus Studies, or Any Science Paper
1st June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

A lot of people are reading scientific papers for the first time these days, hoping to make sense of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re one of them, be advised the scientific paper is a peculiar literary genre that can take...

After 6 Months, Important Mysteries About Coronavirus Endure
1st June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

In the time since the world’s scientists and public health officials first became widely aware of the new coronavirus in January, they’ve had six months to learn about it. They’ve reached many conclusions about the virus and the illness it...

Meet ACE2, the Enzyme at the Center of the Covid-19 Mystery
1st June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

DURING THE FIRST chaotic months of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was already clear that the novel coronavirus spreading around the world didn’t affect everyone equally. The earliest clinical data out of China showed that some people consistently fared worse than...

Covid-19 hot spots appear across Latin America
1st June 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Central and South America are fast becoming major centres of the covid-19 pandemic as cases surge in Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Chile, and, to an unknown extent, Venezuela and Nicaragua. With 514 849 reported cases, Brazil is now second in the world...

After his roughest days in a New York City emergency room, physician Matthew Bai feels his whole body relax when he sees his wife and 17-month-old daughter. “My light at the end of the tunnel is going home to family,”...

Deaths resulting from covid-19 infection account for only half of the number of excess deaths taking place in private homes, expert analysis of latest data suggests. Figures from the Office for National Statistics from the seven weeks to 15 May...

Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2
27th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Respiratory infections occur through the transmission of virus-containing droplets (>5 to 10 μm) and aerosols (≤5 μm) exhaled from infected individuals during breathing, speaking, coughing, and sneezing. Traditional respiratory disease control measures are designed to reduce transmission by droplets produced...

In the first few months of 2020, wild conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and the new coronavirus began sprouting online. Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist who has funded efforts to control the virus with treatments, vaccines and technology,...

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that Dutch workers apparently infected with the coronavirus by minks could be the first known cases of animal-to-human transmission. The WHO told AFP that it was in close contact with Dutch researchers investigating three...

A crisis is silently brewing in hospitals around the world, and it may not be exactly what you think. While the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to swell, the very treatments used to battle this deadly disease are...

The current COVID-19 crisis raises many questions for economists and policymakers (e.g. Baldwin and Weder di Mauro 2020a, 2020b). Past pandemics such as the 1918 influenza offer an interesting opportunity to evaluate the potential impact of pandemics on economic activity...

Nitric oxide has played many starring biochemical roles. In 1998, researchers received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that the gas acts as a crucial signaling molecule in living cells. A few years later it was approved...

When 61 people met for a choir practice in a church in Mount Vernon, Washington, on 10 March, everything seemed normal. For 2.5 hours the chorists sang, snacked on cookies and oranges, and sang some more. But one of them...

The president and his secretary of state made a startling claim last week: that there is enough evidence to suggest with a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the source of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. That...

Get Ready for a Vaccine Information War
13th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

The other night, midway through watching a clip from “Plandemic” — a documentary that went viral on social media last week, spreading baseless lies and debunked nonsense about the coronavirus to millions of Americans overnight — I had a terrifying...

A third of COVID-19 patients have reported neurological symptoms
12th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Some studies have reported that up to a third of coronavirus patients have shown neurological symptoms. COVID-19 can result in Guillain-Barré syndrome, where the immune system attacks nerve cells; encephalitis, which causes brain inflammation and swelling; and stroke. The discovery...

People from Asian and black ethnic backgrounds are at increased risk of dying from covid-19 and, contrary to speculation, this can only be partly explained by comorbidity, deprivation, or other risk factors, according to data from the largest study to...

Coronavirus blood-clot mystery intensifies
10th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Purple rashes, swollen legs, clogged catheters and sudden death — blood clots, large and small, are a frequent complication of COVID-19, and researchers are just beginning to untangle why. For weeks, reports have poured in of the disease’s effects throughout...

Writing in The Atlantic late last month, the political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Adam M. Enders observed that the coronavirus has created an environment dangerously conducive to conspiracy theories. “We have a global pandemic, a crashing economy, social isolation,...

In a video that has exploded on social media in the past few days, virologist Judy Mikovits claims the new coronavirus is being wrongly blamed for many deaths. She makes head-scratching assertions about the virus—for instance, that it is “activated”...

Access to lifesaving medical resources for African countries:
7th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has revealed how strikingly unprepared the world is for a pandemic and how easily viruses spread in our interconnected world. A governance crisis is unfolding alongside the pandemic as health officials around the world compete for...

The Problem With Stories About Dangerous Coronavirus Mutations
6th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

As if the pandemic weren’t bad enough, on April 30, a team led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory released a paper that purportedly described “the emergence of a more transmissible form” of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This new...

As the UK’s coronavirus patients begin to leave ICUs, Jacqui Thornton examines how the NHS plans to meet a “tsunami of need”. Covid-19 has shone a bright light on the impressive work of NHS intensive care units (ICUs) around the...

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in immediate effects on urological practice, in particular the vast reduction in elective surgeries. These changes are likely to have long-term effects for both patients and for urologists, which will persist even after the pandemic...

Sugars on Coronavirus Spike Protein Offer Vaccine Clues
5th May 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Cells are furry. That might come as a surprise, since textbook illustrations so often represent a cell as smooth — “something like a balloon full of water,” said Elisa Fadda, a computational chemist at Maynooth University in Ireland. “But that...

As we look at exit strategies from lockdown, these authors discuss how we can measure the spread of covid-19 and whether mathematical modelling helps The covid-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, continues to spread worldwide [1]. To slow down...

Since mid-March, the World Health Organization has urged countries to scale up the testing, isolation and contact tracing of COVID-19 patients in order to combat the pandemic. The reason for this advice is that if you can find infected cases,...

Seniors with COVID-19 show unusual symptoms
28th April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Older adults with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, have several “atypical” symptoms, complicating efforts to ensure they get timely and appropriate treatment, according to physicians. COVID-19 is typically signaled by three symptoms: a fever, an insistent cough and...

A new study by epidemiologists at the University of Notre Dame suggests social distancing measures at current levels in many states may need to be maintained until the summer to avoid a potentially deadly resurgence of the coronavirus. Results were...

Post-lockdown life in Wuhan is a warning to the world
24th April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Though restaurants have reopened, Wang Lan, who works for a Wuhan-based media company, hasn’t eaten out since the city’s 76-day lockdown was lifted on April 8. “People generally choose to get food delivered,” she says. Back when the epidemic was...

Experts demolish studies suggesting COVID-19 is no worse than flu
24th April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Frustrated statisticians and epidemiologists took to social media this week to call out substantial flaws in two widely publicized studies trying to estimate the true spread of COVID-19 in two California counties, Santa Clara and Los Angeles. The studies suggested...

Exclusive: deaths of NHS staff from covid-19 analysed
22nd April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

The deaths of 119 NHS staff have been analysed by three leading clinicians. We present their findings here. Coronavirus disease 19 — or covid-19 — is a pandemic illness currently causing the deaths of thousands of patients across the globe....

Americans have been told daily that researchers are urgently working on COVID-19 vaccines, and that one might be available in 12 to 18 months. That timeline has made its way to high levels of government and through national media coverage....

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far had the greatest impact in developed economies with strong health systems. And the results have been terrifying. But the epicentre of the pandemic could soon shift again – to low and middle-income countries, including...

Conspiracy Theory Disorder: Understanding Why People Believe
20th April 2020, Curated by Mandi Smallhorne

Whenever something new happens — whether it’s a pandemic that grips the world, a rise in a disorder’s diagnosis, or a new technology being rolled out — people have theories. Specifically, conspiracy theories. More often than not, such theories are...

It’s a rumour that just won’t die. When asked whether the COVID-19 virus was genetically engineered in a lab, scientists have already said “no” rather firmly, but the matter of the new coronavirus’ origin is unlikely to be put to...

Neurologists who are battling COVID-19 in Italy are seeing an increase in neurologic complications. It is not clear whether these neurologic syndromes are a direct cause of the virus entering their central nervous system or an indirect response to the...