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The overnight coronavirus expert

August 10, 2020, 3:28 PM UTC

I want to tell you a story about an unusual storyteller. His name is Tomas Pueyo, a 37-year-old Spaniard who went to Stanford, lives in San Francisco, and earns his living running strategy for a company called Course Hero.

Were it not for the pandemic, Pueyo would be just another tech guy, albeit a quirky one. A few years back he wrote a book deconstructing the Star Wars narrative. He gave a TEDx talk about story structure. He posted his views of the world on Facebook.

Then, just as the coronavirus was descending upon the U.S., he published two long articles on Medium. The first warned Americans to take the virus seriously. It has been viewed 40 million times. The second, “The Hammer and the Dance,” coined a term picked up by scientists, public health officials, and veteran journalists. With clear language and clever charts, Pueyo accurately described how the world would react to the pandemic: first with dramatic shutdowns (the hammer) and then with chock-a-block containment efforts (the dance).

Experts were shocked that someone with no health-industry training could be so effective. “Everything felt like it was thoughtfully constructed and fact-based,” says Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, who, like many, doubted Pueyo before reading his work carefully.

I met Pueyo in early June, the first (masked) in-person meeting either of us had since sheltering in place. I asked him what gave him the confidence to write so authoritatively about such a complicated topic. “Credentialism is not as strong as it used to be,” he replied. Pueyo has turned the vogue to dismiss experts on its head by nearly instantaneously becoming one himself. He studies publicly available information until he understands the data well enough to explain to people without scientific backgrounds.

All of a sudden Pueyo was an epidemiological superstar—all while holding down his day job. Donald McNeil, the eminent health writer for The New York Times, referenced “The Hammer and the Dance.” CNN’s Anderson Cooper invited Pueyo to speak on TV. Pueyo followed up with more Medium posts and tweets, repeatedly making accurate predictions about the course of the virus.

Pueyo’s story is a counter-narrative to social-media personalities who are famous for being famous. He is semi-famous because he has done outstanding work and promoted it well. When we first met, he told me he felt he had aged several years because he wasn’t sleeping much, what with the demands of a job and a calling—and a young family.

When we spoke the next month, as infection rates were jumping in California and much of the South, he was somewhat hopeful (and better rested), if only because Americans were beginning to pay attention to the science of the disease.

“In politics, there is a long time from decision to impact,” he told me, this time over Zoom. “You can story-tell your way around that. With coronavirus, the feedback loop gets shortened from months to weeks. With coronavirus, you cannot escape reality.”


Fortune is collecting nominations for our annual Most Powerful Women lists: We’re shaking things up a little this year, adding a new criterion: how the executive wields her power to shape her company and the wider world for the better. (Examples might include instituting hazard pay for frontline employees during the pandemic, instituting gender/racial pay parity, creating a program or business unit that serves a disadvantaged population, measurably reducing the company’s carbon footprint, or creating new hiring pipelines that have resulted in a more diverse workforce.) 

We’re accepting submissions through this online form. The deadline for applications is Aug. 24.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by David Z. Morris. Check out The Ledger, the fintech newsletter he edits weekly.


Twit goes Tok? Twitter has reportedly been in discussions with TikTok about a “combination.” The Trump administration has driven the imminent divestment of TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, over national security concerns. Twitter adding TikTok would be at once a victory and a comeuppance: Jack Dorsey’s text-based platform spent five years in charge of TikTok precursor Vine before unceremoniously shutting it down in 2017.

SpaceX makes the grade. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance will split a multibillion-dollar contract to provide satellite launch services for the U.S. military. ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed and Boeing, and has long had a near-monopoly on launches. Now SpaceX, whose successful recovery of rocket elements is meant to make its launches cheaper, will share 40% of a contract worth as much as $6 billion.

Kodak kaput. The US Development Finance Corporation announced Friday on Twitter that a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to fund its pivot into pharmaceuticals was on hold. The agency says it will proceed if and when an SEC investigation, announced last week, has dismissed allegations of insider trading related to the loan. News of the loan was apparently leaked one day early, triggering a furious stock rally and creating the opportunity for massive profit by Kodak executives, including CEO Jim Continenza, who had just been issued millions of stock options. With the loan on hold, Kodak stock was off nearly 50% in premarket trading Monday.

Bitcoin $12,000. The market price of Bitcoin hit $12,000 on Sunday, August 9. The cryptocurrency hit a peak of nearly $20,000 during a furious bubble in late 2017 and then returned to a peak of just over $12,300 in June 2019. Bulls argue that the uncensorable, decentralized digital cash has renewed relevance as the coronavirus pandemic strains government-backed currencies, and while rising international tension threatens new barriers on mainstream payment rails.


North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia has become another entirely predictable case study of America’s inept, denial-based response to the coronavirus. Following the data-manipulating playbook of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, the school last week suspended a student who published photos of crowded conditions and lax mask enforcement. On Sunday (quelle surprise!), the school announced that six students and three faculty members had tested positive for the virus. Classes will be shifted online...for two whole days.


Trump’s WeChat order sends Tencent shares on a wild ride – Naomi Xu Elegant

Will India’s Jio be the next tech giant? – Vivienne Walt

How realistic is a 45-day sale for TikTok? – Danielle Abril and Anne Sraders

How the new coronavirus contact-tracing apps protect user privacy – David Z. Morris

How the Fed’s new real-time payments system could transform commerce – Rey Mashayekhi

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Looking for fresh Quar Content? It’s six days until the debut of HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Created by producers including J.J. Abrams and Jordan
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