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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

The Pandemic Information Solution explains why knowledge is our most powerful tool in overcoming this crisis

The Pandemic Information Solution explains why knowledge is our most powerful tool in overcoming this crisis

While most of us are overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of pandemic data presented to us daily, Rotman Professor Joshua Gans is hard at work making sense of it all.

His latest book, The Pandemic Information Solution: Overcoming the Brutal Economics of COVID-19 (Endeavor Literary Press, 2021), considers strategies for overcoming the challenges of collecting good data (via rapid testing and contact tracing) and how acting on meaningful information will be our way out of this crisis.

It's an understatement to say that Gans, who is Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship and chief economist at the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), has been busy in recent months. In addition to publishing academic papers and op-eds on COVID-19 and the economy, he has been maintaining an email newsletter — remarkably, he’s found time to publish new issues three to four times a week — covering everything from how vaccines are being marketed to his own experiences getting tested for COVID-19. Additionally, as a member of the CDL’s Rapid Screening Consortium, he’s actively involved in the planning and execution of rapid screening pilot programs that will support workplaces across Canada in reopening safely.

After almost a year immersed in COVID-19 projects, he’s ready to pick up where his last book, The Pandemic Information Gap: The Brutal Economics of COVID-19 (The MIT Press, 2020) left off. This time, his writing is aimed at policy makers, but it’s a worthwhile read for those curious about the bigger questions surrounding COVID-19's impact on the economy.

“We now have real solutions to the information problems that pervade today’s pandemic management.”

—Joshua Gans, Professor of Strategic Management, Author of The Pandemic Information Solution

“With COVID-19, the information gap has been wide,” explains Gans. “We now have real solutions to the information problems that pervade today’s pandemic management.”

From the outset, Gans has always been clear that information would be our only way out of this pandemic. Though vaccines are promising, Gans notes that we are still years away from administering the vaccine globally and we don’t yet know how the virus might mutate.

To bridge the information gap, we need data.

In the early chapters of the book, Gans looks at the type of data we need and how to obtain it. He stresses the benefits of inexpensive, rapid antigen testing for identifying those who are infectious. He also raises important questions, including what are the economic costs of false positives or false negatives in screening? Also, are temperature checks truly effective?

Later in the book, he describes the challenges of developing sustainable screening systems that are scalable, convenient for individuals to access, and will encourage compliance. He also explores how we can use social media, mobile data and analyze networks to track viral spread.

Arguably, the most important chapter of the book is the final one, where Gans looks at preparing for the next pandemic.

Rest assured, this won’t be the last we’ll be hearing from Gans. As the pandemic continues to unfold, we can trust that he’ll be considering the new and unexpected impacts on the economy. In the meantime, we can rely on this book for making sense of many of the issues at hand.


Joshua Gans is the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management (with a cross-appointment to the University of Toronto’s Department of Economics). His research is primarily focused on understanding the economic drivers of innovation and scientific progress, and has core interests in digital strategy and antitrust policy.