As a scientist, you will raise your eyebrows about this approach – and rightly so. Scientific rigour requires us to make measurable, comparable, reproducible statements that can be confirmed and checked in any place. Yet, we are working remotely, and the usual paths of scientific analyses are not open for us.
Back to the ivory tower then?
Not necessarily: Information validity is in this case not only an issue of being reproducible, but will, to a large extent depend on the credibility of the source. Following Boghossian (Fear of Knowledge, 2007), credibility depends on the methods used to derive information. We would like to add the knowledge about the source as a good proxy to methods.
Information is credible if we can access information about how it was derived. This should be true for official information provided by governments. Governmental information is quite often not credible in humanitarian disasters; governments have their own agendas, do not want to admit failure, or hide their mistakes or lack of preparations or response capacity… To get a better understanding about the problems on site, ideally, we would line up a series of interviews, conduct experiments, and so forth. This is, however, not possible for us right now and we need to work with information that is of a different quality.
I have seen it on TV!
Another potential filter is using expertise of aid agencies, or professional journalists. Particularly visuals, such as videos, are so appealing because they make an event more tangible for us.
We work with experts, ideally those we know, because we assume that they will apply appropriate methods to derive their statements; or we can derive information from the crowd, each individual being an expert qua exposure to a specific situation. In this sense, knowing the source can be interpreted as a proxy for the methods that will have been applied.
Instead of not making any statements, because we cannot justify them by following the usual paradigms, we rather try to explain, analyse, assess the situation as we go, communicating also the limits of our investigations, and updating information as we know more - trying to find the delicate balance between rigor and relevance in this blog.