the time of Covid
Matthew C. Larsen, STRI Director Emeritus
As NYT columnist Tom Friedman has written, mother nature governs us all; her laws are those of biology, chemistry and physics, and they must be obeyed. The Covid virus appeared because we have upended the balance with mother nature. Paraphrasing the title of the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera” (El amor en los tiempos del cólera), as we live through this time of Covid, science must go on, even under these most difficult circumstances.
Our upended world has become ‘Macondo’, the place in which the surreal replaces our ordinary routine: societal behaviors have shifted, our ability to conduct day-to-day affairs is highly restricted, and many have grown numb to the grim news reported in newspapers and on television. In spite of the trials we face in navigating life in the time of Covid, our STRI science mission continues to advance. The pandemic limits our mobility and social interactions but it presents us with the requirement that we collaborate across scientific disciplines in our family of scientific institutions to demonstrate the value of science to our society and our economy.
We have an obligation, as scientists and scientific institutions, to inform the public with factually-based information about what we know and what we don’t yet know. Science communication is more relevant now than ever in this time of Covid.
The Covid pandemic has challenged us as much as anything that most of us have encountered in our lifetime. Fortunately, we are finding ways to respond and continue our scientific mission, as the stories in this special issue of Tropicos describe. A particularly important task for example, is to carry on with our environmental monitoring program, in which we collect basic data such as air temperature, rainfall, wind speed, streamflow, sea level, and salinity in lakes. Some of these STRI data go back a century and become more valuable, as sentinel data sets, with each passing year by providing insights into the local impacts of climate change. With regard to streamflow, it has been said that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”—these data that help us better understand hydrologic processes. Good management of water resources is vital for Panama, as anyone at the Panama Canal Authority will attest.
None of us can accurately predict the future, but our research allows us to make well-based estimates and projections of what we can expect, here, and across the world. In the end, without basic and applied research to inform government policy decisions, we are ‘flying blind’.