How to use the funds/Unfair fight against the virus without the weapon of the database

The importance of the data to have any hope to overcome the COVID19 pandemic.

Article by Francesco Grillo for Il Messaggero

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Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

It was Thomas Stearns Eliot, one hundred years ago, who provided the most astonishingly exact explanation of the paradox that Italy and the West are experiencing in these months of out-of-control epidemic:

not necessarily an increase in information increases our knowledge; and it is not inevitable that more knowledge translates itself into the wisdom that is needed to govern complex societies.

In the world of "big data", the failure that we will deliver to History is that while the amount of information doubles every eighteen months, we are - after eight months from the beginning of the pandemic - without even a shred of data base, both at Italian and European level, that would allow a politician or a scholar to understand how to solve - city by city - the difficult equation that the virus imposes on us.

The scandal is that, in a context in which "privacy" was sacrificed on the altar of omnipotent digital monopolies, we gave up the most powerful weapon we had at our disposal to fight the virus to defend its simulacrum.

Number of deaths for COVID19 per million inhabitants (until 25th October)

Decessi covid milion

Source: Vision on WHO data

And sometimes it seems powerless the same science of the European universities, fragmented in micro specializations increasingly irrelevant given the complexity that requires the ability to combine data instead to arrive at a solution. It is extremely urgent that governments - the Italian one but also the European Commission - take decisions on three “black holes” in a world where data is even more important than money (the so-called "Recovery Fund").

First of all, the investment to create in a very short time (many of the data are already there) a single national public information system on the epidemic that feeds a database must be considered an absolutely priority.

We can no longer afford solutions that are too general to be efficient (why, for example, is it established that on the entire national territory at least 75% of high school teaching must be at a distance, if the differences between an high school and a technical school are enormous and the differences between an high school in the province of Oristano and one in Milan are just as great?). Having more data is a matter of democracy and efficiency and we cannot continue to pretend to decide by waiting for epidemiological studies made resorting scattered anecdotes.

Indeed, this must also be an opportunity to unify at the national level the data of twenty-one regional computer systems that, until now, have almost always served only to feed useless advice. The role of the European Union can be fundamental (given the impotence of a World Health Organization that claims to govern a global epidemic with a budget lower than that spent on health care by the Molise Region).

Currently, the resources of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) dedicated to hospitals are almost cannibalized by the intervention of the European Central Bank, which guarantees to heavily indebted States to further continue to do so at almost negative rates. The health care must instead become a priority of the non-repayable part of the Commission's intervention and must be attached to a single condition, which must be to ensure an understanding of the epidemic at a continental level.

There is a small European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, but clearly much more needs to be done because Covid-19 marks the crisis of a health and welfare model that we believed to be superior to any other (the graph accompanying this article shows how the countries of the Union are paying a higher price than others that spend much less in health and welfare); and we cannot continue to ask Europe to treat disasters that Europe cannot even count on.

Secondly, we are losing the "war" on the tracking front.

Quite incomprehensible was the decision create twenty-seven new national applications in the name of a protection of personal data. Much simpler would have been and still is the option - practiced in Israel and South Korea - to provide every citizen with the tools to be able to ask their tracking service providers (from Google to Garmin) to transmit information about their position.

This would have given us the weapon that is making Asia win and would have, finally, made people aware of their rights that Europe is trying to defend with regulations (such as the GDPR) that will remain scarcely effective until they meet the energy of individual citizens who discover their strength. Immuni, in this sense, is a good application, born however from a political choice - Italian and European - that so much resembles those who decide to go to war armed with an elegant and useless sharpener.

Finally, the relationship between science and politics. Faced with the uncertainties of a century that imposes radical and new questions, using the "experts" becomes a logical contradiction. Even semantics. The expert cannot see innovation as non-incremental and even has a conflict of interest in it (in the sense that he is in danger of being overwhelmed by it).

 

. And this need should be seized to reform the same universities articulated - in Rome as at Oxford - in hundreds of self-referential academic communities that live of publications that nobody reads and that are less and less relevant. It is to the spirit of the generation of great intellectuals of the twentieth century like Eliot that, after all, we should return. And this is the occasion that such a dark hour presents us. To begin again to resolve fundamental questions such as how to bring machines back to the service of man and the information at the basis of a collective intelligence that we need in order to rediscover balances that we have lost.

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