An update from lockdown

At first I refrained from writing about “the situation we currently find ourselves in”, as it has come to be so coyly referred to. I am lucky in that, while I was driven to leave Madrid and return to the UK, the pandemic has not affected my life in any great measure. Only one person in my extended family has been confirmed to have the virus, my uncle’s 90 year old dad, who was in hospital for unrelated reasons and caught it while there. Fortunately, he has made a full recovery. In fact, I have found the adjustment to working from home relatively easy, but I have no distractions from my work except for the lure of a sunny garden — something that I didn’t have in Madrid, so all things considered, I’m glad to be back.

Obviously the uncertainty surrounding travel at the moment means I don’t know when I’ll be returning to Madrid (and return I must, because in my haste to escape the lockdown, I left the majority of my belongings behind) and so my Madrid blog series is on an indefinite hiatus. However, in the interests of keeping my writing muscles lubricated, I’ll be posting sporadically about my life under lockdown. In particular, I want to increase the science content that I write about, so stay tuned if you’re interested in my hot takes on various bits of cosmology research.

I’m in a good place with my own science at the moment. After a bit of a delay due to extraneous factors (likely the subject of an upcoming post), I’ve finished making the referee-requested changes to my latest paper, 2002.10449, so once my co-authors are happy we’ll be sending it back to the journal. The forecasting project I’m involved with is also progressing very well, and we’re starting to get some very promising results (again, I’ll share more details of this when I can, but for Euclid-related reasons it’s under wraps at the moment). I’m also thinking about the not-so-distant future and what I need to do before submitting my PhD thesis, which I am aiming to do early next year. I have a couple of small projects in mind, each of which would nicely tie up the thesis, so I need to decide which of them to pursue and get to work on it soon, to ensure I can get some results within the next six months or so.

One thing that has baffled me about the progression of the pandemic and the social response to it is the number of cosmologists who have volunteered their numerical, statistical and programming skills for the cause. While the majority of this has been in good faith (and doubtless unconsciously motivated by a desire to try and control a very frightening situation), there seems to be a general unwillingness to let the experts guide the modelling and data analysis. Yes, we can make nice looking graphs, but as a community that receives more than its fair share of crackpot theories we should acknowledge when to step back and let the doctors, epidemiologists and other assorted medical professionals take the reins.

I strongly agree that many governments have responded very ineffectively to the pandemic at the cost of many thousands of lives, but having arguments on Twitter that, due to the very nature of the format are terse and undeveloped does not help matters either. Nor does posting the latest exponential death curve graph you just made. To paraphrase something I once read, your science communication is useless if you’re only doing it on Twitter to an audience of other science communicators. It’s a terrible time for everyone and understandably we are all trying to exert what little control we can on the situation, but I believe Milton had it right: they also serve who only stand and wait.

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