How To Tell Fact From Fiction During A Pandemic

Fact From Fiction During A Pandemic

In the midst of a global pandemic, we’re all needing to beef up our science skills so we can stay up to date and make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. We’re reading articles and watching videos, but it’s not enough just to take the information in, we’ve got to process it and then put it into practice. Even when you think you get a handle on best practices, it can change in a day.

Right now we’re all being asked to build our discernment muscles, and that is not easy do. After all, it’s hard enough to think critically when everything is quote unquote normal, but at a time when everything can feel very life or death, it can feel downright impossible.

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Today I’m talking to Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., a writer, researcher, and editor who is also the author of YOUR BABY, YOUR WAY and co-author of the book The Vaccine Friendly Plan. Dr. Margulis is hard at work on her 9th book, which is about growing up as the daughter of the microbiologist Lynn Margulis. Her father is an X-ray crystallographer and her uncle won a Nobel Prize in Physics.

On Facebook and Twitter, where you should totally follow her, Jennifer is frequently offering up another side to popular debates that involve science. She makes her living figuring out not only what’s true but also using science and research to help people–most often parents–make daily decisions, and I’m excited to have her her to help guide us through the daily onslaught of headlines.

So when you’re broaching any topic, whether it’s the pandemic or vaccines or what’s the best mattress to buy, what’s your first step? How do you start the information gathering process?

That’s an excellent question. You know, I think the first thing that people need to do is find out what the mainstream recommendations are. So I always start my research in the obvious places. Like I go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because the CDC has an excellent website. I look at information from the FDA. I read information from the government and that might be something that our president is saying or something that we’re getting from the surgeon general. All of those places are wonderful places to begin.

And that’s where you’re going to get sort of the mainstream recommendations. And as you said in your intro, you’re going to get the flavor of the day. Because as you know, during this crisis, especially, recommendations have been consistently changing.

So the mainstream is your first stop. And then your second stop is to look critically at that information. So that’s what the mainstream is saying. What are people on the other side saying? And how valid is the other information?

So let’s talk about masks. That’s a difficult one, right? So we’ve heard from the U S government two recommendations. We’ve been told to wear masks and we’ve been told not to wear masks. And then we have information from other countries such as Sweden, where people don’t wear masks. And then we have information from Asian countries where people do wear masks.

So how do you figure out if it’s safer for you to be in public in a mask? You’ve got to look at the mainstream recommendation and then you’ve got to look at all of the other information. So for example, if you’re driving by yourself in a car and you’re wearing an N 95 mask, you’re severely limiting your oxygen intake, you’re breathing your own recycled carbon dioxide. And we saw in New Jersey, a case where a person was wearing a mask by himself in the car who crashed the car. So obviously in that instance, wearing a mask was not such a good idea.

If you go into a store, do you need to wear a mask? Well, you do. If you’re sick, that’s what you’re going to find out is that if you are sick, you’re not feeling well. Or you’ve had a possibility of exposure to really any kind of virus or bacteria or infectious disease. It might make sense to wear a mask in a store. It turns out that you’re not going to be protected from other people who were in that store, who might be sick.

So now you have to decide something. If you feel a high level of fear about going out in public, it makes sense for you and your family to stay home, to get somebody else to shop for you, or to do curbside pickup. If you know that you are healthy and that you haven’t had a chance of exposure, there’s actually no reason for you to be wearing a mask.

So what I’m saying is very nuanced and it’s difficult sometimes to come to nuanced conclusions, we want things to be black or white. We want to say every single time do this, or do that. The reality of the situation with COVID and with basically anything that has to do with parenting is that the science shows us a much more nuanced opinion. Does that make sense?

It does make sense. It is such a thoughtful process, right? And we do want the easy answers. I’m curious what you can tell us what you can share with us that’ll help us do the thinking. You say do the research on both sides, and think about our own personal risks. Like how do we do that in limited time? And when we’re emotional, I mean, here I am, I’m hiding in my bedroom upstairs. My kids are homeschooling, you know, like I’m homeschooling. Now I’m working and trying to keep up with all the quarantine information. And then also emotions are running high. So, help me. How do I digest in a kind of more efficient way when I feel like my resources are lower?

Yes. Okay. Well, so first of all, some of my advice is that it makes sense to sometimes turn off the television, turn off the TV and turn off the radio. Because if you’re getting information onslaught and you’re absolutely bombarded with fear-mongering information, which is what is coming out right now in the mainstream news, that’s going to lower your immune system. That’s going to make you a less patient person. That’s going to increase and elevate your heart rate. And we don’t want any of that.

So if the news is totally terrifying you right now, Kate turn off the news. That’s the first thing. The second thing is when you’re doing anything you’re deciding, and this has to do with the toothpaste that you use, whether or not you’re going to do all of the vaccines on the childhood schedule, if you should be out in public during coronavirus, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about shampoo or we’re talking about infectious disease. You’re always doing a risk-benefit analysis for your own family. And what it ultimately boils down to is making an individual assessment that feels right for you.

So for example, if you are not an intravenous drug user and you are not a prostitute and you have no way of having a child, your child being exposed to hepatitis B, for example, several states in the United States, don’t recommend hepatitis B for children, for newborns, and then other states do recommend it. So you make that risk benefit analysis. If you’re in a high risk group, you’re absolutely going to get that shot for your child, and that includes if you’re an immigrant from Southeast Asia where there’s a lot of hepatitis B. If you’re not, and you have confidence that your child isn’t going to be having any of those exposures, you can take that step and go away from the mainstream recommendation, which the CDC recommends that children do hepatitis B.

And you can say, actually that doesn’t make sense for my child because I’ve read the research on both sides. So I’m not going to do that. Now when my child is a teenager, I will reassess. That’s making a risk benefit analysis. That’s individualized for your family. And I know you said, simplify it for me. And I know that I’m making it simpler, but I’m just saying that you are the ultimate authority. You have to trust your judgment. You have to trust your instincts, and you have to be aware of your own level of comfort.

For some people, the level of comfort going against a mainstream recommendation is going to skyrocket their panic. We don’t want to be hitting the panic button about anything. So if it makes you feel better just to go along with what the government is telling you, then that’s what you should do. If it makes you feel better to really think through these things for yourself and make a decision that might be a little bit outside of what the government is recommending, that’s what you should do. What I’m trying to say is that the right answer is the right answer for you at that moment, doing a risk benefit analysis in the context of your own family.

It sounds to me like it’s a little bit of rational information gathering, a little bit of maybe outside your comfort zone, considering perspectives that you aren’t necessarily thinking about, you know, you’re seeking out outside perspectives, and then you have to filter that all through like kind of your own gut check.

Absolutely. Yeah. A hundred percent. And I’d also say that it really helps to talk to other people. So I know right now we’re in social isolation. You and I can see each other over an interface, a computer interface. We’re not in the same room. But when you have a question, whether it’s, how should I have my baby at the hospital, or should I go to a birthing clinic or should I consider a home birth? Or, you know, what kind of toothpaste should I buy? I got to go back to the toothpaste. You know, whenever you’re making a decision that also can be incredibly helpful to talk to people who, you know and respect.

So you have someone who got, who decided to turn away from toothpaste and now is only using baking soda. If that makes you mad, because you’re like, well, I use Crest and I’ve always used Crest, it’s the best for cavities. Take a second to listen to your anger and then call your hippy friend who only uses baking soda and say, “Hey, tell me about why you use baking soda on your teeth. And you’re not brushing your teeth with Crest.” And then just be open and willing to listen to what the person has to say. Use that information. You might not stop using your toothpaste, but at least you’ll have a better understanding of why some people aren’t using Crest anymore.

Awesome, Jennifer, thanks for coming on and sharing your expertise and your perspective with us. Tell us where people can go find you if they want to know more.

I would love for your listeners to visit me at my website, which is And if they head over to, they can read recent articles and they can also sign up for my newsletter. Which I don’t send very often, but I’m trying to be better about that.

Daily Tiny Assignment

So after talking with Jennifer and hearing what she had to say, here’s what I want you to do. Think about one piece about the pandemic and quarantine that’s giving you agita. You don’t know what to do about. And go look up the mainstream sources for information on it. Go to the CDC website, go to the FDA website. Find some place that’s very middle of the road about what their recommendations are. And then go seek out an alternative opinion.

See what other perspectives you might want to consider when you’re factoring in what you want to do about it. And then take what you’ve learned and find someone that you can have a conversation with about it. Someone who’s like-minded, but not too like-minded, right? Who’s still going to be able to be comfortable and say, Whoa, I don’t know about that.

And if the pandemic is making you too stressed and you just really need to take a break from thinking about it, then do it with toothpaste. Go look up some recommendations, mainstream recommendations about what you’re looking for in a toothpaste. Maybe then go look up some alternative information. There’s plenty of alternative information out there about fluoride, I can tell you that. So probably a mainstream recommendation would be to get a toothpaste with fluoride. And then I’m sure you could go find plenty of scientific articles about why you might not want it to have fluoride and then have a conversation with somebody about it.

Calm The Eff Down

And if you’re really stressed out about the coronavirus pandemic, I spent the previous three weeks of this podcast going over 21 simple ways yu can calm the eff down so that you can cope better, live better and love more. I put the best of those episodes into a mini ebook that you can go download for FREE.  I hope it will help you in the weeks and months to come.


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