What the pandemic should have taught Americans but sometimes didn’t: Admit ignorance, study hard, learn.

by Bob Schwartz

It is an unspoken motto of good schools and teachers: admit ignorance, study hard, learn. In real life one or more of those elements might be missing. It is an ideal. During the pandemic, when it matters most, this is not always followed.

We should still be admitting our relative ignorance, as even the smartest experts do. At the beginning, Covid was referred to as a “novel coronavirus” because it was new. And to a great extent still is. What we don’t know—how long natural immunity lasts or how long vaccine immunity lasts, for example—continues, because, for example, outside of trials, the population has been vaccinated for six months or less.

Even if people were willing to admit ignorance, which some weren’t and aren’t, the pandemic provided a confusing array of information, some of it tentative (see novelty), some of it simply wrong. The only way through that jungle was studying, which many people didn’t have time or inclination for, and some people couldn’t understand.

This is a reminder to remain fully and continuously informed by reliable sources. Keep learning. It matters because 924,000 Americans* have died from Covid so far, millions more Americans have been infected so far, some of whom are suffering chronic serious consequences. And while the pandemic has slowed for now in America, it is roaring in other parts of the world—the world we live in, among the people who are our human brothers and sisters.

Admit ignorance, study hard, learn.

* This number is from the respected Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which says “To fully account for the impact of COVID-19, our estimates now include the total number of COVID-19 deaths, which is greater than what has been reported.”