Don't Believe the Pipe

Coronahype: Activity Trackers to Spot the Virus Early

Hope and fear. These are powerful, related motivators readily available during the coronavirus pandemic. The motivations are not always clear, but many people are shoveling out claims about “game changers” for dealing with the virus that haunts us. Some of these supposed game changers turn out to be disastrous duds. So caution about coronahype is wise. The latest suspect? A claim by the Washington Post that “Wearable tech can spot coronavirus symptoms before you even realize you’re sick.”

Clues to the Hype

You can find a hint that this might be coronahype right up front. Presumably, someone at the Post knew that the headline claim was not provably true. So they labeled this article as “perspective.” In other words, this is not factual reporting. It’s a statement of belief. Facts not needed.

Deeper in the body of the article, the author confesses to the truth of the matter, albeit with a qualification:

None of the studies have yet published peer-reviewed results, but we’re getting the first evidence that the idea works.

The evidence? A West Virginia University press release, completely free of any data. Ali Rezai, director of the institute that developed this idea, said:

The holistic and integrated neuroscience platform developed by the RNI continuously monitors the human operating system, which allows for the accurate prediction of the onset of viral infection symptoms associated with COVID-19.

We feel this platform will be integral to protecting our healthcare workers, first responders, and communities as we adjust to life in the COVID-19 era.

The clue that his statement is not data-driven is “we feel.” Though feelings are important, they are not evidence.

Hype Can Kill a Good Idea

This is indeed a good idea. But that’s all it is right now – something worth studying. Hype can kill a good idea because with enough hype, anything less than spectacular results will be disappointing.

More important, coronahype is especially harmful because hope and fear are operating in tandem to make us all vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals who know they can exploit it.

Even more than we crave hope, we crave truth in these circumstances. Because truth is the foundation for genuine hope that will not disappoint.

Click here for the “perspective” piece from the Post and here for the press release that prompted it. For more factual reporting, click here. And finally, for a scientific report suggesting this concept might have merit, click here and here.

Don’t Believe the Pipe, illustration © marcos c. / flickr

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May 29, 2020

One Response to “Coronahype: Activity Trackers to Spot the Virus Early”

  1. May 29, 2020 at 9:25 am, Allen Browne said:

    “Hype can kill a good idea…” – great statement. And a good example is the adjustable gastric band (AGB). The AGB is a safe system that has great evidence of responses between metabolic bariatric surgery (MBS) and pharmacotherapy. If the goal is to help more people with the disease of obesity, it is a great option for those who don’t want/need MBS. But the AGB suffers when compared to MBS. Obesity is not a “one size fits all” disease ( pun intended). To help more people, we need to look at all the options available – luckily an increasing number.