houston voices

University of Houston: 3 problems with the 'covidization' of science and research

The "covidization" of science and research refers to the distortion of impact the pandemic has had on the way science is funded, produced, published and reported on. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

It has been – and for a while, will be – everywhere. The words: COVID-19, coronavirus and pandemic. According to an article by Holly Else in Nature, "coined in April by Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, 'covidization' describes the distorting impact of the pandemic on the way science is funded, produced, published and reported on."

Pai identifies three problem areas within "covidization."

Where'd the money go?

"The first is funders diverting or delaying money from curiosity-driven research and handing it to pandemic-related proposals." This can make researchers feel like their work is no longer critical if it doesn't have anything to do with the coronavirus. For instance, Lis Evered, a researcher who studies peri-operative cognitive disorders in older people, said in the same Nature article: "I was carrying around this burden of thinking that I'm a complete failure because I'm not leading the charge on curing COVID. It felt like my work was not important anymore."

Qualified or not?

"The second problem is scientists from different fields now researching and publishing on epidemiology, infectious diseases and immunology — areas in which they might be poorly qualified." As irritating as it is dangerous, the host of self-proclaimed experts discipline-hop and suddenly are experts on a virus without the credentials to back them up. "Irritating" is right: we've all read the Huffington Post articles that proclaim smugly they are "scientists" or "researchers," only to discover with some simple googling that the person has a Ph.D. in Victorian literature or something else unrelated.

An aside — this is not to say the soft sciences can't weigh in on COVID-19. For example, Ezemenari Obasi in the Department of Psychological, Health, & Learning Sciences at University of Houston is doing research to combat vaccine hesitancy in Black and Latinx communities in the city, by listening to their fears.

It's raining...COVID research?

"The third is that, given the deluge of research done under the umbrella of COVID-19 often published as unreviewed preprints, it's increasingly hard for the public, media and policymakers to distinguish reliable evidence from the rest." This is the burden which comes from an excess of information at our fingertips.

In Science magazine, Kai Kupferschmidt writes: "New England Journal of Medicine Editor-in-Chief Eric Rubin concedes there is a tension between rigor and speed. The journal's review process for COVID-19 papers, he notes, is basically the same as always but much faster. 'We and authors could do a more careful job if we had more time,' he wrote in an email. 'But, for now, physicians are dealing with a crisis and the best quality information available quickly is better than perfect information that can't be accessed until it's not helpful.'"

"Blogs and preprint servers mean that half-baked ideas and poor-quality research do not have to pass peer review, [Pai] says. For instance, studies from non-experts have appeared on how eating cucumber and cabbage can protect against the coronavirus."

The big idea

Know and believe that your research is important, whether it is COVID-related or not. Stay away from dubious "research findings" that might not be in a person's wheelhouse. And whatever you do, stay healthy – mentally and physically. History shows that every other health crisis has run its course from Spanish Influenza to Zika to the swine flu. The "covidization" of our culture will one day come to an end.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Betsy Furler, co-founder and CEO of For All Abilities, joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

Much of the workforce — and humanity in general – is neurodiverse, and the business world doesn't factor in cognitive differences into the workplace like it should in order to support employees of all learning abilities.

Betsy Furler wanted to change that. As the founder and CEO of Houston-based For All Abilities, she wanted to provide a tech platform to enhance the relationships between individuals with cognitive differences and their employers.

"We're an organization that helps employers get the best out of all their employees — make them more productive and efficient in the workplace — and help with ADA accommodations issues," Furler says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'm a speech pathology by training, and I've worked with all abilities of all ages and settings over many years."

The platform begins with an employee self-assessment. Furler says on the show that employers believe that around 1 percent of their employees are not neurotypical, but, per the reports from For All Abilities, up to 50 percent of employees are reporting as neurodiverse.

After its initial assessment, For All Abilities, which operates as a subscription software model for businesses, provides employees with curated low or no-cost apps and efficiency tools. While her work is mission-driven, Furler says on the show she was very intentional on starting her organization as a for-profit tech startup.

"It really makes sense from a business perspective to support your employees this way," she says.

The company launched its prototype in December of 2019 and its beta in 2020. Furler says she had to pivot to do consulting work amid the pandemic while finalizing out the second version of her platform. She onboarded her first customer in January of 2021 and has only scaled from there.

Now, the company is looking for more mid-sized companies as customers, as well as universities. Furler launched a collegiate version of the For All Abilities platform based off an opportunity that came about in Austin.

Along with the new product launch, Furler also announced a new co-founder and COO. Montie Krumnow, a Houston-based investor who recently retired from the energy industry, will help further grow the platform as it heads toward a funding round in early next year.

Furler shares more about the work she's doing with For All Abilities on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



Montie Krumnow (left) recently joined Betsy Furler as co-founder and COO of For All Abilities. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

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