Zeynep Tufekci discusses the WHO, pandemic planning, and epidemiological models in recent Atlantic columns

April 21, 2020

In recent columns for The Atlantic, UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Associate Professor Zeynep Tufekci examines the World Health Organization’s problems and plight, the need to adopt policies that will help people cope with the pandemic for its duration, and the importance of utilizing epidemiological models, even if their forecasts prove inaccurate.

In “The WHO Shouldn’t Be a Plaything for Great Powers” (April 16), Tufekci explains the danger of defunding the organization despite its slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic

“We must save the WHO, but not by reflexively pretending that nothing’s wrong with it,” Tufekci writes. “We should be realistic and honest about the corruption and shortcomings that have engulfed the leadership of an organization that is deeply flawed, but that is still the jewel of the international health community.”

In “Keep the Parks Open” (April 7), Tufekci describes the immediate and long-term dangers of closing public spaces.

“This pandemic likely isn’t going away in a few weeks,” she writes. “Exercise, the outdoors, and sunshine are essential, not just as luxuries but as ways to sustain population health and resilience. That makes it important to set the right policies now.”

Experts and policy makers are looking to epidemiological models to predict the progression of COVID-19, but in “Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models. That’s not what they’re for” (April 2), Tufekci argues that these tools should be used for planning, not prognostication.  

“The most important function of epidemiological models is as a simulation, a way to see our potential futures ahead of time, and how that interacts with the choices we make today,” she writes. “With COVID-19 models, we have one simple, urgent goal: to ignore all the optimistic branches... Instead, we need to focus on the branches representing the worst outcomes.”

Since COVID-19 emerged, Tufekci has published multiple articles examining responses to the virus and making recommendations on how to move forward, including:

It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got It Wrong” (March 24) The Atlantic

 “Why Telling People They Didn’t Need Masks Backfired” (March 17) New York Times

Preparing for Coronavirus to Strike the U.S.” (Feb. 27) Scientific American.

 “How the Coronavirus Revealed Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw” (Feb. 22) The Atlantic