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Monday, February 17, 2020
Information and Epidemic Policy Choices Under Epic Changes
Chan Kung

Faced with various major events at different levels in China, "self-confidently expressed nonsense" is an objective phenomenon. From the grassroots to certain high-levels, we can see the widespread distribution of this "self-confidently expressed nonsense". As shown by the reports given by grassroots to superiors, various official explanations and general talks of officials. Wherever there are conflicts and contradictions, from their "striving for reason", they can more or less see this "self-confidently expressed nonsense" imprint. They really emotionally believe in what they know now, so they really "dare to speak" and "dare to do it". This is the source of "self-confidently expressed nonsense".

As a result, a variety of artificial exaggerations, reductions, obfuscations, confusion, messing-up, speciousness and disorderly practices are constantly emerging with tragedy being repeatedly played out. We can see a large number of these social phenomena during novel coronavirus epidemic. All of these are actually part of the tragedy of the epidemic.

In fact, if we are to look at a goodwill angle, all "self-confidently expressed nonsense" are the result of asymmetry in information transmission.

China has never been a society made up of professional people. There is a true difference between Chinese and other countries. Many people think that WHO is made up of a group of intelligent "doctors". In fact, this is an information agency dedicated to public health. The whole world believes that the novel coronavirus epidemic is a public health crisis, while China believes that it is a disease. China thinks that it should solely depend on doctors and the right medicine to cure the disease. In the face of epidemic, professional analysts believe that the focus should be on management. It should avoid major confusion and more incidental deaths caused by management. Officials believe that the focus is on treating the disease and when the disease is cured, everything will be fine. Therefore, on the issue of the novel coronavirus, the "doctor's speech" is as if God's will, even though they said different things on different days and were unable to reach an agreement.

Even so, China, which has been lacking in medication and medicine for hundreds of years, still regards the "doctor" as a godlike figure and believe in everything said without doubt. What they don't know is that there are many types of "doctors". Modern medicine is a large and sophisticated system. Most doctors are only responsible for "treatment" at certain field and they are 99% "laymen" in the face of other problems, even if they know a little bit.

This is a tragic fact, because most people in China do not understand it, including officials of course. It is like the expression of grievances of Wuhan officials when explaining the Wuhan tragedy: "I'm not a doctor, I can only report to the superiors!” This is a true portrayal of the current situation of Chinese officials. They need help on public health issues, they need an efficient "external brain", but they do not always realize it. Only when major incidents move from hypothesis to reality, huge issues will then really happen. In the midst of chaos and mistakes, the role and value of the "external brain" can only be seen after the tragedy has happened.

Almost everyone now knows the term "external brain". But in a real public hygiene and health crisis, how does the external brain participate in decision-making of major events? This should start from the decision itself and there exist some understanding of the nature of knowledge and inside knowledge. What is decision-making? Decision-making is to make a decision with a clap. What should be done? How should it be done to be considered the best choice? What must be done et cetera. These decisions are usually unobtrusive but once faced with a crisis or a major event, faced with a test of time and beyond conventional routines, they can be clearly seen. These decisions are not so easy to make. They have to be made correctly, orderly and in such a way that it can be verified by subsequent development. Making the correct choice and correct decision more often than not have its own prerequisites.

The first prerequisite is to ensure correct understanding and cognition, which is quite difficult. Do we really understand the words of the doctors? Are they correct? How many doctors claimed to have "miracle cure or panaceas". How many academicians can accurately determine the animal source? How many doctors are frightened by the mortality of the novel coronavirus epidemic? In fact doctors are laymen in area related to medical research and development. They only know one basic part of the virus and most of them do not actually understand this professional subject at all.

The problem is that if we do not understand the information and without a certain information base, how can we be sure that we understand and recognize it correctly ? In face of information explosion caused by major events, the simplest questions are, do we understand, and have us figured it out, can we manage it smoothly? This is the principle of using information to study information. This is the basic principle of information analysis and a book on information analysis had made clear of this in the last century. There is no doubt that there is a direct relationship between what a person believes and what he knows. To ensure correct understanding and recognition, we need an amazing workload of information and information capability, which is one of the reasons why professionals such as "external brain" are needed.

The second prerequisite is that there must be a clear definition of the problem. This definition comes from the analysis and characterization of the problem and from the overall grasp of the information. If analysis and characterization are wrong it is impossible to have a clear definition. It sounds like the government is able to solve this problem because the government has its own organization, its special department or information center with experts specialized in various fields. In fact it is impossible for the government team to replace the professional team. The strength, ability and analytical level of government team is far behind that of professional team.

Professional information analysts can browse through dozens of unread epidemiological papers in the past. They can observe more than tens of hours of information from various channels, making correct analytical reasoning for various sources at any time. Facing this type of information explosion, which team of the government organization is capable to do it ? This is only an aspect of information ability. As for the reasoning of information analysis, this hunter-like job is even more unique.

Obviously, making the right decision is not so simple. First of all, there is the need to understand and secondly one has to ensure the accuracy. It is very difficult for ordinary people to achieve these two tasks. Therefore, solving a major problem must require the support of the "external brain". Choosing a professional information analysis team is actually the only option. Perhaps some people may ask, what should the information analysis team do if they do not understand the problem? For treatment we ask doctors, for viruses we ask biologists, interdisciplinary consultation and cooperation are things that information analysis agencies around the world are doing. This includes WHO (World Health Organization), the key to whether this kind of cooperation is effective depends on those two prerequisites. The first prerequisite is whether this is understandable. The second prerequisite is whether this can be defined.

For comparison, we can look at the reality. After the emergence of the novel coronavirus epidemic. Many are questioning the government, and many actions are thought unable to be taken. Experts in the economic field have no idea when the epidemic will end but they are all buzzing about how much loss will it be. The question is whether the epidemic will end in one month and half a year. Can this loss be as great? Obviously, the substantial significance of these conjectures is not great. Therefore, this can be regarded as an alternative "intellectual skill need specialized study”. At least we can see the difference and value between information analysis and common social disciplines.

As early as January, ANBOUND had clearly defined this as a "flu-like" disease rather than a "terrible incurable disease." The definitions are different, of course, the policy practices are completely different and the costs are also greatly different. This is the importance of definitions. That is to say, there are different opinions, but going back and forth, turning around and finally return to this definition, this is the depth of professional research. Compared to professional analysis and amateur research, there are too many phenomena. Now many people are asking, why is the mortality rate so high in Wuhan? When will the epidemic end? From the answers to these questions, you can see at a glance whether they are professional or not. Epidemiological experience is that mortality is a very complicated and large problem. It can sometimes take years or even hundreds of years to answer it.

When will the epidemic end? It is also a big and complicated question, far from being so simple and not so easy to get clear answers. In fact, only the "layman" will choose to answer directly, telling you a plausible answer. What ANBOUND can tell you is only the moment of dawn, only the peak, only a long decline and the total number of confirmed cases with restrictions. All we can tell you is, "this is a self-limiting and reproducible epidemic", a long-projection public crisis. However, with these professional and objective answers coupled with public policy responses and decision-making, there will be showing solid foundation and results.

In fact, any major event needs the help of information analysis. The information analysis agency actually plays a "department +" role. It can be attached to the government department at any time when a major event occurs, and it becomes an extension of the department, serving the public and health decision-making of a country and the world. To eliminate the grievances of officials and the confusion in understanding and cognition, and to find reliable policy solutions, we can only rely on this, and ANBOUND has always been doing this.

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