Icarus ProjectIn a recent webinar organized by the Icarus Project, Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, MA, IBCLC, assistant professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, recently presented on the topic of understanding basic research interpretation using mixed method approaches to address data analysis of COVID-19. The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness.

Information about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is unique from previous pandemics simply because of the internet and the rapid evolution of data. This highly adaptive virus, SARS-CoV-2, has drastically altered our reality in a very short period of time. The most obvious and immediate threat is preventing the spread of infection by using the recommended Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines (see www.coronavirus.gov). However, as the CDC has come under increasing scrutiny in unfolding events, healthcare professionals and the general public are turning to reports and data from other countries. The World Health Organization, or perhaps even other countries who have reported a measure of success with addressing the crisis offer alternatives.

THE INTERNET AND REAL-TIME SCIENCE. The internet carries its own mutations of information and as we sit comfortably in our homes, we have nothing but time on our hands to be inundated with stories, accounts, theories, and data regarding COVID-19. Highly adaptive and intelligent information that carries absolutely no substance or value can set root and grow a consensus founded on altered perceptions, behaviors, and reactions. Much like corona virus, misinformation and misuse of information has a rapid and compounding growth.

How do we know which information we can responsibly share according to our area of focus and influence?

Dr. Palmquist relates that it is important to understand that as epidemiologic data is posted publicly in real-time - an individual not trained in that discipline cannot be expected to analyze or make predictions on that data. The epidemiology around this is a fast-moving, projected science. Dr. Palmquist follows a handful of reputable and culturally diverse epidemiologists to establish a well-rounded epidemiologic understanding among the scientists. Palmquist will review who they’re paid by, what they have published, how often they publish, and where they publish.

Epidemiologists speak a language of statistics and math with advanced education. This is their area of discipline. The complexity of data sharing requires that all professionals direct their focus and discipline during a crisis of this magnitude. Nurses and healthcare professionals with the lived experience of treating cases of COVID-19 depend on the preparedness of their facility to supply them with the needed resources to carry out proper infection control practices and safety guidelines. They apply best practice as best can be done under the circumstances, and advocate following safety guidelines set forth by the CDC.

Here are a few layers of critical thinking to consider as you scan through an abundance of internet information:

  • What do I need to know?
  • What is the quality of the information?
  • How do I trust this information?
  • Is this information I can confidently share or relate?
  • Can I plan programs with this information?
  • Can I support my community with this information?

LOOK OUT for emotionally charged headlines, also known as “Clickbait”. They tend to sell a story for a particular type of platform. Journal articles should indicate their sponsorship, in which case, the agenda of the author and the type of emotional response they are trying to elicit is easily traceable.

LOOK OUT for something I call talking heads or mega trolls. They can be identified as characters with an attention-grabbing, yet subversive message. The disruption of critical thinking and public engagement to interfere with public life has been a longstanding and documented tool in the United States. This intentionally antagonist presence taps into public distrust and charged passions of well-meaning community groups and organizations. The intent is to sway discourse and consensus in a way that interferes with healthy, public engagement.

DISCERN QUALITY DATA, brush up on your research skills of the peer review process. If an article is peer reviewed, the general process is that it has been submitted to 3 (sometimes more) unrelated reviewers who oversee the draft submission. It may go through several rounds of revisions. Look at the impact factor to see how many times the journal was cited. Does it have a high impact factor? If so, it is probably a more reputable source. Google the people listed on the editorial board to see who pays them. Biomedical research should have clearly gone through an ethics review by an institutional review board, and that should be clear in the article. Furthermore, there should be a disclosure statement saying they received funds from a particular donor. If the author has received money from a corporate donor, then that may raise some red flags.


  • Make information digestible. Mixed method approaches and fast-moving science permit for some use of case studies and examples.
  • Design education and coaching programs around supportive, holistic approaches because they don’t require strict, empirical science.
  • Give yourself permission to explore and create within your realm of expertise and community focus while making the message as powerful as possible.
  • Use "Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication" (CERC): be right, be credible, express empathy, promote action and show respect.
  • Consider: Who are you talking to? What is your goal? What is the impact that you want to have?

INNOVATION AND RESILIENCY ARE DRIVEN BY ATTENTION TO SPECIFIC COMMUNITY NEEDS. Enough studies have been done in disaster responses to indicate that as well-intentioned and helpful as outsiders want to be, there are more examples than not of establishing a dependency dynamic and wasting resources. Hoarding behaviors are instinctive and common at the onset of a crisis (i.e. toilet paper, or a gas station rush.) Affected communities know exactly what they need as more of the complexity of the lived circumstance begins to take shape. Pay attention to what the actual needs are and keep them in mind in the development of programs and to elevate the healthcare environment. Much like 9-11, this is a “Tower Moment” that is cracking our already stressed healthcare infrastructure. Right now our mission is damage control while we locate solid ground on which to set a firmer, more dependable foundation.

Reference: Vidal, A., & Aunchalee, P. (2020, March 25). The Icarus Project. Retrieved March 25, 2020, from https://theicarusproject.net