Why science takes so long: University’s Ross Upshur on our evolving understanding of COVID-19

Ross Upshur
(photo courtesy of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health)

As COVID-19 swept across the world, scientists scrambled to learn as much as they could about the new disease and share their findings with policy-makers and the public.

Many researchers shared their work on preprint servers before it had the chance to undergo the lengthy peer-review process required before research is published in academic journals.

The practice was intended to quickly make available potentially critical information about a deadly, fast-spreading virus so it could inform public policy decisions.

However, as Ross Upshur, a professor and bioethicist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, points out, preprint articles can sometimes be misleading because they haven’t been thoroughly vetted by other researchers.

He adds that, even in the case of peer-reviewed studies, it’s unrealistic for policy-makers – or the public – to expect scientists to produce definitive information about COVID-19 in the near-term.

“Science is not about the production of certain truths,” he says.

Upshur recently spoke to U of T News writer Geoffrey Vendeville about how our understanding of COVID-19 has evolved since last spring and the process by which researchers make sense of a new disease.

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