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Book cover for “The Outbreak Atlas” by Rebecca Katz and Mackenzie S. Moore on a teal speckled background. The cover has a heat map with a dead mosquito in the corner.

A user’s manual for the next pandemic

How to prepare, respond, and rebuild in the aftermath
Filed Under
Written by
Madeline Roberts
April 29, 2024
Read Time
3 min

Outbreak Atlas is the book you want on your shelf if—or when—the next pandemic comes. Authors Rebecca Katz, who directs the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, and Mackenzie Moore, a scientist at the center, pull back the curtain on the considerations, procedures, and decision-making that go into managing an outbreak—how to prepare, how to respond, how to rebuild in the aftermath. As they write, “[W]e have designed this book to welcome you into the world of outbreaks.”

The handbook they’ve written feels essential, even if it’s for a moment that many people might not want to think about right now. But it should be a source of comfort to know there’s an ambitious but approachable handbook covering everything from basic epidemiology to mitigation measures and biosecurity.

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One of the most refreshing things about this book is the direct and timely treatment of key concerns the pandemic revealed. These are presented in cogent, clear, and approachable prose suitable for those with little or no epidemiologic background. The authors examine public health communication, community-based disease surveillance, disease mitigation measures, and biosecurity, which focuses on procedures for protection from and control of pathogens. They organize the work as a user’s manual, further underlining the utility they hope “armchair epidemiologists” can find in its pages.

The very idea of armchair epidemiologists was, of course, controversial during the pandemic, and the controversy puts some principles of public health front and center. For example, it is true that public health cannot function as intended apart from an engaged public, but not all engagement is equal. Epistemic trespassing, also referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect, describes a cognitive bias wherein people overestimate their own capabilities or make a foray into a field outside of their expertise, offering exposition without competence. As Dunning himself warned in June 2020: “Roaming into a field without expert-level insight, trespassers easily slip up.”

At the same time, Katz and Moore underscore the helpful role of the public in rooting out misinformation through questioning and fact checking—helpful, that is, if public discourse can stay mindful of sharing only accurate information and remaining flexible as understanding of the disease and response may change over time.

Nevertheless, this book initiates a needed conversation between public health and the public, bridging the worlds between research and everyday life. As America’s collective trust in public entities and scientists begins to border on abysmal, while the probability of extreme outbreaks is projected to increase, Outbreak Atlas is a timely outreach.

Book cover: Vanderbilt University Press

Filed Under
Madeline Roberts
Madeline Roberts is research director at The Epidemiology Monitor.

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