In a time when an online search for “COVID-19 information” produces an astonishing 38 million hits, deciding where to get your facts from can feel overwhelming. Researchers at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) and around the globe are working at an unrelenting pace to understand the novel coronavirus, and news of these activities is being communicated in a tsunami of information. Bottom line: there is a staggering amount of commentary out there, but whose news can you trust?
When you factor in misinformation, it gets harder to wade through and know what resources you can rely on. For BRI Affiliate Investigator and Virginia Mason Infectious Disease Physician Uma Malhotra, MD, that means it’s even more critical to know what we’re reading is credible.
“This is the time when we are seeing a lot of fake information emerge, or information that is not being totally vetted,” Dr. Malhotra says. “And some of this information can impact how we live our lives. That makes it important to go through reliable sources.”
All this information overload can leave us with some big questions: How can you tell whether a source is trustworthy? What resources should you use to stay informed, based on your level of scientific understanding? And should you just pick one good source, or use several?
So we asked Dr. Malhotra, an expert on infectious diseases like COVID-19, to share her recommendations. Read on for a list of credible information resources on the pandemic, organized by level of scientific interest.
If you want to stay informed but haven’t studied science since high school biology, check out:
National Public Radio (NPR) – independent, non-profit media organization based in Washington, DC, covering breaking national and world news and leading a network of 1000+ member stations.
The New York Times – daily newspaper based in New York City, offering breaking news, multimedia, reviews and opinions on a wide range of topics, from politics to health to travel. They now offer free access for COVID-19-related coverage.
For a basic, day-to-day understanding of the pandemic, Dr. Malhotra suggests these powerhouse news sources. Both communicate the news using a lay-friendly approach that makes it highly understandable for those without a science background.
But as Dr. Malhotra has pointed out, they are also valuable, data-rich resources for those with science backgrounds. And for some researchers and doctors like herself, it may be the first time they are relying on sources like these for science news specifically.
“Due to the nature of the peer review publication process, in ordinary times there is usually a delay of weeks to months before we hear about what’s happened to a vaccine study, for example” she says. “But now, since the field is moving so fast, we rely a lot on our news media to provide us that information long before it is published in a scientific journal.”
If you’re looking for general guidance or regional information, check out:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – the leading, national public health institute of the United States, located within the Department of Health and Human Services.
The department of health in your state and county – the Washington State Department of Health and King County for the Seattle area provides information on where outbreaks are occurring in your community, as well as general guidelines to follow.
“The CDC has good information for both the public and healthcare professionals,” says Dr. Malhotra. “It is an important resource for information on actions that individuals and communities can take to stay safe and slow the spread of the virus.”
Seattle Times – daily newspaper covering local news, sports, business, politics, entertainment, travel, restaurants and opinion for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
“The newspaper and the website are of course a wonderful resource on the status of the outbreak and its effects on the region. The website provides real-time information for each county with interactive maps showing the reopening phases for the region,” according to Dr. Malhotra.
If you want to wade deeper into data, check out:
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) – peer-reviewed medical journal that publishes original research, reviews and editorials covering all aspects of biomedicine, on a near weekly basis.
Lancet – A peer-reviewed, independent, international weekly medical journal that publishes original research articles, review articles (seminars and reviews), editorials, book reviews, correspondence, news features and case reports.
New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) – peer-reviewed medical journal that publishes new medical research, review articles and editorials weekly.
“For people who are interested in looking at data, research, clinical observations and detail, these are outstanding publications,” Dr. Malhotra says. “While many articles are technical, others such as opinion pieces, news, perspective, and editorials, are quite accessible and easy to understand for people with some scientific background.”
All three journals offer free access for COVID-19-related coverage, and the NEJM also has a free weekly podcast where the journal editors discuss current news-worthy topics.
If you want hardcore science and are a self-proclaimed “journal junky,” check out:
Elsevier – a Dutch publishing and analytics company specializing in scientific, technical and medical content.
NextStrain – an open-source project that uses publicly available data, powerful analytics and visualization tools to track changes in the coronavirus’ genetic code as it spreads.
“On Elsevier, you can find links to a number of other scientific websites based on whatever your interest is, like microbiology or molecular sciences. You can also track virus genotypes,” Dr. Malhotra says.
NextStrain uses visual dashboards and data to track the movement of the virus strain at the molecular level, in real time.
For additional curated articles and publications on COVID-19, visit LitCOVID by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, under the National Library of Medicine and within the Institutes of Health.
If you want to learn about how the pandemic is impacting society and our psyche, check out:
The Atlantic – multi-platform publisher that covers news, politics, culture, technology, health and more, through its articles, podcasts, videos and monthly flagship magazine (10 issues per year).
“I think their coverage is brilliant,” Dr. Malhotra says. “At this point we have so much information, and some of their journalism can help us process it, while also showing us many different viewpoints.”
Dr. Malhotra cites a number of articles that expertly do this, such as one about the marking of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the US, a story about how we grieve, as well as articles about the psychological impacts of the pandemic. “The coverage is less news day-by-day, and more of diving into a topic and exploring the depths of it,” she says.
And for Dr. Malhotra’s favorite resource…
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center – an initiative led by Johns Hopkins, the prestigious private research university in Baltimore, MD.
With humble beginnings, this project began as a conversation between a professor and a student and has evolved into a robust resource for the global community and governments. The highly visual, data-rich dashboard tracks global cases and trends, while the website features a testing trends tool, a free virtual course on contact tracing and much more. “It continues to evolve to meet the needs of the community,” Dr. Malhotra says.
So how many sources should you use?
For Dr. Malhotra, this is one case where quality does not outweigh quantity.
“For many reasons, this pandemic has become especially politicized,” Dr. Malhotra says. “So it’s important to utilize a variety of reliable resources, to get a breadth of information from multiple viewpoints.”
How can you tell if a source is credible?
By no means is the list above exhaustive. So if you come across a new resource, it can be difficult to know whether or not it’s trustworthy. Dr. Malhotra recommends vetting the information by comparing it to other sources that have been proven credible, like the ones listed above.
June 22, 2020
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This blog does not provide medical advice, nor is it a substitute
for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.