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Coronavirus cancellations show evidence-based decisions are rare during epidemics

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Mobile World Congress Stands Dismantled After Fair Cancellation Photo by David Zorrakino/Europa Press via Getty Images

Giant corporations, governments, and individuals are all making decisions that they hope will reduce the risk of spreading the new coronavirus — but not all of those tough calls are solely based on the latest health information. The factors that led people to enact two-week travel restrictions, or stock up on face masks, or cancel the Mobile World Congress are far more complex, and are based just as much on what scientists don’t know as what they do know.

Reactions to public health problems are mediated by more than just public health evidence or recommendations from public health experts. “It also depends on what other social and cultural influences are out there,” says Megan Jehn, who studies global health in the School of Human...

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