Unify sociology and biology to fight the virus

We will remember the year 2020 for a virus and the viral fighting abilities of the scientists. The COVID virus is highly mysterious. It acts in unusual ways. In some, it causes mild symptoms, while in some critical illness. Respiratory viruses generally cause minor ailments. But this respiratory virus seems to attack the heart, brain, kidneys, and other organs. The scientists jumped into the bandwagon of the pandemic. They have been able to tame the virus in the COVIDized world. What they have done in less than a year, used to take several years. SARS‑CoV‑2 has beaten polio, measles, cholera, dengue, or other diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries. Such a shift in scientific priorities is unheard in the history of medicine. There is a large shift in the research focus of scientists. It is a case of collective intelligence to blunt the presence of a virus. Scientists dealt with the pandemic on a war footing. The result is that we have diagnostic tests that can detect the virus within minutes. We have known the evolution of infection. We have developed vaccines in a record time. We have prepared ourselves to face the next pandemic. We have understood how misguided policies can ruin us. It is a collective endeavour. Laboratories turned their focus on the COVID science. “We need to make our expertise relevant to whatever is happening right now.” Clinical trials of this magnitude created a shortage of another kind, the subjects of the trials. Scientists faced unfamiliar questions regarding the efficacy and usefulness of the trials. Scientists are moving from “one bug, one drug” approach to platform technologies, customized for different payloads to target new viruses. Journalists became scientists overnight. This emergency took emergent measures, such as investing in manufacturing before the trials are completed, taking care of safety needs. “And the next time a mystery pathogen emerges, scientists hope to quickly slot its genetic material into proven platforms, and move the resulting vaccines through the same speedy pipelines that were developed during this pandemic.” It is a triumph of scientific genius and organizational purpose. “I can’t imagine we’ll go back to doing clinical research in the future the way we did in the past,” Francis Collins said.

These viruses have changed the perception of scientists about viruses. These viruses have reinforced the concept of ‘premortem’ over ‘postmortem’. Some are calling COVID research as “black hole sucking us all in.” Seeing the inherent opportunities in viral research, many ‘unqualified’ scientists have entered into the fray. They have created more commotion in their unqualified territory. Such “epistemic trespassing” creates a mess. “People who don’t know how to spell tuberculosis have told me they can solve the link between BCG and COVID‑19,” says an Indian scientist based in the US. Ill-suited simulations create ecological fallacy. The surfaced tsunami of experts creates more havoc than they give solace to the scientific community. There will always be people to lap up break-up stories. There will always be some gate crashers. We have known that social reforms are essential to prevent diseases. We must recognize that many neglected diseases are no longer being neglected. We need to balance our priorities. There is a need to unify sociology and biology more coherently. The pandemic has given us an opportunity for self-correction.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh