Monday, November 22, 2021

A Tale Of Research And Social Distancing

A recent article in Wired is both fascinating and scary if you are in a school with lousy ventilation and a modicum of social distancing.

The fascinating part may be fascinating only to those of us who find research stuff fascinating. But "The sixty-year-old scientific screwup that helped COVID kill" is about one of those little things that worms its way into acceptance as conventional wisdom in a particular field, but nobody really knows why, exactly. 

In this case, the item in question was "5 microns," the supposed dividing line that marks the difference between an airborne illness (one that can float about for large distances) and droplets, which are supposed to succumb rapidly to gravity. The 6 feet of social distance are in our pandemic repertoire because COVID is supposed to be droplet-spread.

I'll give you the bad news here-- that dividing line doesn't actually hold up upon inspection, and therefor  in a place that's not aggressively ventilated, six feet of social distancing aren't necessarily enough. Of course, if you've got your vaccination and your booster shot, you're in good shape. Go get your shots, if you can.

The story of how a couple of researchers worked out where "5 microns" comes for is a great tale of how research can be a challenge, unpeeling not just layers of research and writing, but shifting attitudes about the scholars who created them. 

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