LIFE OF A COVID19 RESEARCHER
Recording history as the crisis unfolds
Posted 14-05-2020 --- Updated 20-05-2020
I recall a moment in Hiroshima, 2019. During the moment, I immediately had the intuition it was special - which mobilized my hands to my phone to record it. I wrote a piece about it shortly after, since I'm a writer after all who loves to record poetic scenes. A bat flew out of the Atomic Bomb Dome. I found it special, since I mentioned a bat in my forthcoming book, when describing a guy who was obsessed with Hiroshima - and who has infected me with that interest in that place. Now, after the COVID outbreak, I see another poetic resonance. The symbol of the new apocalypse flew out of the symbol of the previous one. Very Japanese, it is not an instance of sequence across a linear time line: one apocalyptic event belonging to the past and the next one follows. The nuclear apocalypse is still alive, active, relevant. And a nuclear attack could cause epidemics and pandemics. Vice versa, a global pandemic combined with self-interested nationalist leaders and unstable international relations, could increase nuclear tensions.
Although it is still debated whether COVID19 really originated from a bat, the animal nevertheless has become the symbol of COVID19. Misinformation create social realities, such as symbols. I was not infected with COVID19 there, nor was I exposed to any residual radiation. Yes, I found that many ignorant people in the West believe that there is still dangerous residual radiation in Hiroshima. This is a surprisingly influential presupposition, and one that is false.
I left Hiroshima with the urge to tell stories, or more specifically: to diffuse stories that need to be told. During my time there, I received some feedback on my ready-for-press book. The feedback indicated that being exposed to my texts was followed by a substantive 'wake the F%#K up' after-effect. So I felt an urge to utilize this ability, to
save the world help the world saving itself. I knew, from that time on, that I wanted to record history.
The more I knew about nuclear (dis)armament, the more surprised I woke up each morning that we were all still there, as well as our houses, our theatres and our pubs. Yet, despite this apocalyptic mindset, I was completely surprised when a smaller - but still substantial - apocalyptic event attacked me and everything I cared about from the back. Totally didn't see that one coming. I had been infected with other people's optimism.
This year I learnt the word 'pandemic speed' - anxiously browsing articles speculating on the likely release date of the liberating vaccine. All procedural steps were passed at 'pandemic speed', in contrast to the normal pace of things. Meanwhile, my own life was crawling at minus pandemic speed. By midnight, I had lost all of my work, sitting idle while eager to use my academic background to join the battle against COVID. I had been tackling another global threat for a while now, and felt that this one now required my apocalyptic attention. Then, also by midnight, I got a new job. Recording history.
So what's this new job?
Mid-May 2020, I am working at pandemic speed. Did that before, when finishing a book. Yet, this feels unique. I have become a #COVID19 researcher! Glad to join the University of Amsterdam (@UvA_Amsterdam) and Dr. Giovanni Colavizza (@giovanni1085) on an urgent project. Many capable researchers are currently looking at the virus, vaccine and/ or cure. But how is it done? #COVID19 shapes not only health, but also science. [Update 20-05 You can see my staff page here]. I work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC) and the Faculty of Humanities (Media Studies) of the University of Amsterdam. Also, I will be a visiting scholar at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CSTS), University Leiden.
So what's this research project about?
Information is paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO has called for action towards the “infodemic”: an overabundance of often unreliable information which creates uncertainty and anxiety. Responses from governments and the public are based on access to reliable information from experts. This project proposes to systematically survey the adapting information-seeking and information-spreading behaviours of scientists working on COVID-19 as the pandemic unfolds, in order to deliver actionable insights and make available otherwise-lost data for future study and preparedness. (Project description is from this website). The official project's name is "Collecting systematic survey data on scientists’ information-seeking and information-spreading behaviour in a time of crisis". #RecordingHistory is the name I designed for this blog.
So, yes, I am going to collect data on one of the biggest scientific endeavours in recent history, real-time! An unique opportunity with long-lasting results for all of us!
That is why I am going to keep you up to date on the process on this webpage, of course within the boundaries of confidentiality/ privacy and my professional and moral duties.
After this project is finished, there are still many challenges ahead, and many stories to be told. And there is still the impetus to write on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But now the current global crisis requires my attention, at pandemic speed.