19.03.2020 change 19.03.2020
Ludwika Tomala
Ludwika Tomala

Coronavirus Reveals Gaps in our Knowledge but Provides Fertile Ground for Research and Analysis Across the Board

Credit: Fotolia Credit: Fotolia

While the coronavirus and subsequent mass quarantines reveal gaping holes in our knowledge, the pandemic also provides scientists with a huge chunk of research material in fields as wide ranging as epidemiology, sociology, psychology, biology, engineering and economics.

It is a truth well-known that in order for science to develop, a gap in current knowledge needs to be located. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows how many such holes there are across numerous disciplines. 

We are, in short, witnessing of a global, unplanned experiment. And the possibility of collecting data on its course is both enormous and unique in history. It is likely that after the pandemic a lot will change in society, and the changes will be lasting. It is, therefore, worth considering what data to collect to document this change and draw conclusions for the future.

The most obvious and anticipated research is aimed at saving the maximum number of human lives during a pandemic. Therefore, virologists, chemists, biologists and representatives of medical sciences are looking for a cure for a new virus, a vaccine or a way to accelerate diagnostic tests (Polish researchers also contribute: Professor Drąg from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology or the team of Prof. Krzysztof Pyrć from the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology of the Jagiellonian University).

Epidemiologists, in turn, are looking for ways to most effectively stop the expansion of the virus. The speed of its spread has been somewhat influenced by politicians whose actions are based on the opinions and analyses of their experts. One day it will be interesting to review the analyses of political scientists and determine which strategy was best and which should not be repeated.

Another large and interesting area of ​​research is the so-called social quarantine, or social isolation. In the coming weeks, restrictions introduced by individual countries concerning interactions with other people will greatly change the way people spend time.

How will people feel when they are quarantined and fear for their health? Will limiting the possibility of meeting others and spending time with a large group of people affect mental health? Will there be long-term changes in well-being? This will be investigated by psychiatrists and psychologists.

Another issue for sociologists and psychologists is how the obedience of citizens and their discipline related to quarantine will change over time. Will citizens get bored with sitting at home and return to the initially deserted streets at some point?

Scientists from various fields of knowledge are also looking at the panic that accompanies the epidemic. A sign of this phenomenon was raiding stores for certain products, especially antibacterial agents and, quite strangely, toilet paper (there were even memes that if 2020 were to have a logo, the zeros should be replaced by toilet paper rolls). Other products also disappeared from the shelves. Perhaps, for example, economists will analyse what exactly people buy when they are preparing for the unknown. And what products they lose interest in. Maybe some of these purchases may carry information about social moods?

It is also worth finding out how quarantine will affect the economy. Which companies will benefit from the pandemic and which will take a hit. And how we can protect ourselves against similar events by drawing conclusions from the current situation.

People studying atmospheric processes will in turn be interested in how the pandemic affects air pollution and greenhouse gases. Some time ago, sensational illustrations appeared showing a huge drop in nitrogen dioxide concentration over China. Analysis on this and the decrease of carbon dioxide emissions globally will be an interesting area of study. 

Another topic that is already beginning to be discussed is how social quarantine will affect demographics. There are those who predict a baby-boom in nine months. Others think that the number of divorces will increase ('married couples working from home will be put to the test: forced to spend a lot of time together. And this can be difficult for some couples'). Will any of these predictions be confirmed? We will only find out if someone collects data on this subject and analyses it.

And how will quarantine affect crime and the number of offences? How will the profile of these incidents change? Can isolation prevent crime? It is also interesting how quarantine will affect the number of accidents and illnesses other than COVID-19. Will influenza and other contagious diseases be in retreat thanks to the forced isolation of citizens?

Perhaps physicists will use the data collected during the epidemic to model how SARS-COV-2 viruses spread between friends (and strangers). And analysts can analyse how fake news concerning the virus spread on social networks.

Language and social communication specialists should not complain about the lack of topics either. They can, for example, carefully analyse social discourse about the epidemic, the changes in social moods and attitudes of politicians or celebrities towards the problem.

Naturalists and environmentalists may be interested in whether the epidemic will affect the population of different species of animals, plants, fungi... Maybe the deserted cities will begin to attract species which there was no place for before? Or perhaps the decrease in the number of tourists will hurt some species (like in the video from Thailand that shows hungry monkeys on the streets of a city abandoned by tourists). 

The current epidemic may prove to be the starting point for thousands of other studies. Architects may want to design buildings or public spaces to prevent the spread of pathogens... Urban planners could check in which parts of cities it is relatively pleasant to spend quarantine... Engineers may design new bactericidal materials for covering door handles, buttons or handrails...

PAP - Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala

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