OK, boys and girls, let’s play a game. I am going to describe something to you and let’s see how long it takes for everyone to figure out what that object is. 

I found an object laying in my yard. It isn’t mine, and I have no clue where it came from, but there it lies. What is it? Well, that wasn’t much information, so I’ll give you a few more clues. It is cylindrical and hollow. Still need more clues? OK, it is also about a 16th of an inch thick. Still not enough?

Let’s recap; the object has been found, is cylindrical, is hollow, and about a 16th of an inch thick. Any guesses? No? Let’s continue then. This found object that is cylindrical, hollow and about a 16th of an inch thick is also around 24 inches from one end to the other — but the same type of object has been known to be longer or shorter. If no one has guessed yet what it is, I will also add that there have been grooves cut into each end of this object. Still nothing? Okay, let’s continue.

I have found an object in my yard that doesn’t belong to me. This object is cylindrical, hollow, about a 16th of an inch thick, 24 inches from one end to the other (though similar objects have been longer and shorter), and has grooves cut into each end of it. Still need more? Well, the grooves are circular beginning at the end and traveling around the circumference of this object and cover perhaps one and a half inches of its length. Still need more?

After further inspection, the object seems to be made of an exceptionally hard substance. The substance is very dark in color and also appears to be coated with some sort of greasy film. Have you figured it out yet? No? Well, let’s go over the clues one more time. The object has been found, is cylindrical, hollow, about a 16th of an inch thick, is 24 inches from one end to the other — but the same type of object has been known to be both longer and shorter — there are grooves cut in each end, those grooves travel along the circumference, it is made of an exceptionally hard substance, and is coated in some sort of greasy film. Give up yet?

Well, I do, if only because I am tired (and you are probably annoyed) of repeating the clues; so, I am just going to tell you what it is. The object I have been describing is a metal pipe, the kind used for a variety of things from water and air supply lines to guard rails and other home and industrial uses. A simple metal pipe that is as common and recognizable as concrete or the pavement we drive hundreds of miles over each week. And honestly, if I had just said that I found a pipe in my yard you most likely would have known exactly what I was talking about. At least you would think that you did.

The problem is, we really don’t know. Sure, we have a basic concept of what a pipe is, but there are a lot of different pipes in the world.  And similarities are often more confusing than helpful because each different type of pipe has a different use, or purpose if you will. Certain characteristics of these different pipes also need to be considered, such as how much pressure they can safely withstand and which type of pipe is most suitable for drinking water as opposed to, say, sewage. So, it isn’t really acceptable to just say “pipe” after all.

Now this little game has been a silly (and possibly irritating) diversion, but the concept is solid. Without examination we cannot truly understand something. We can’t simply play a game of association and hope we are correct in our determinations. No, we have to follow the steps — sometimes retracing those steps again and again until our patience is strained to the breaking point and beyond. That, my friends, is how scientific method works. Spoiler: I’m not talking about pipes anymore.

The scientific community has been working at a feverish pitch to discover a vaccine for COVID-19. All of the data that has been collected over the years (there is more than one coronavirus, after all) is useful, but it is also limited because the virus that causes COVID-19 is a new strain of virus that really isn’t as much like the old coronaviruses as it is different. And researchers have to first determine all of the new characteristics before they can discover a means of fighting the virus.

It is a daunting task, made more so by the fact that more than 130,000 Americans have died. America, and the world, is desperate for an answer that will eliminate the threat, but it is an answer that has not been found. And when you compare it to the above example, there isn’t anyone who can be persuaded to simply give them the answer. No, researchers have to work with what they have and compare, test and retest to find the answer. Every day brings new data and new answers, but the ultimate answer hasn’t been discovered yet.

What answers we do have are often complicated, convoluted and seemingly undecipherable because of the technical jargon involved in such a highly technical process. Reviewing the findings can sometimes be as confusing as the problem itself because it often requires more research to understand the research we want to give us the answers. It takes work — a lot of work — but it isn’t impossible. And in subsequent articles The Daily Independent will try to explain the what, the where, the who, when and why.

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