The Pandemic of Misinformation

(Read time: 6 minutes)

One of the aims with this website is to eventually open it up to others for their contributions. A very close friend of mine, Dips Mann, completed his PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and I asked him to write a piece of his choice and I am so glad he agreed. He talks about the pandemic of misinformation and it is a great read!


There is currently a less obvious but equally dangerous pandemic playing out across the world, one for which no amount of social distancing can protect us from: a pandemic of misinformation.

A Google search, a flick through your social media feed, or for some a conversation with friends will tell you that Covid-19 is either being caused by 5G telephone masts, has been developed by scientists as a bioweapon, or that this pandemic is part of a plan that has been masterminded by Bill Gates. Depending on who you listen to, these theories are either absolutely absurd or absolutely true. Just to be clear, I’m in the former camp.

Although the spread of such misinformation is not necessarily shocking in itself, the apparent credibility lent to these farfetched theories by celebrities and “influencers” has taken me by surprise. These false stories have received widespread attention through popular YouTube channels and have even been picked up and propagated on mainstream television (I’m looking at you, Eamonn Holmes).

As someone who is firmly entrenched within social circles that haven’t entertained the idea that the global shutdown has been orchestrated by EE or Vodafone, I’m not in a position to say why these theories are proving so popular. Perhaps those who seek to spread false information are those who shout the loudest? Or perhaps some people don’t find the truth to be as attractive as an imagined reality in which the government are out to control us? In all honesty I don’t know, but what I do know is that by keeping quiet about it I’m certainly not helping.

I do not believe that I am alone in responding to the spread of misinformation by turning the other way rather than challenging these absurd theories. The problem is that once you have completed a science degree you quickly learn that regular people aren’t nearly as interested in talking about science as you are, so you learn to stop discussing it at all.

If I could say anything at all to anybody who has heard one of these conspiracy theories, it would be this: 5G telephone masts currently emit less powerful radiation than your microwave, and the SARS-Cov2 virus shows no hallmarks of a laboratory made virus (scientists have actually checked this – I’ll put a link to the scientific paper that explored this theory below if you don’t believe me). Moreover, Bill Gates, the man who already has more wealth and possibly more power than most heads of state, is not behind some kind of plot to plant microchips throughout the world population. Even if he wanted to, I very much doubt that he or anybody else would be able to coerce the tens of thousands of doctors, engineers and scientists that would be required for such a grand and covert operation.

The reason I’ve decided to speak up now is that I have witnessed how belief in conspiracy theories can have extremely dangerous consequences. For instance, the belief that 5G towers are responsible for the spread of Covid-19 has resulted in the arson of telecommunications infrastructure across the country. Unsurprisingly, this has not stopped the spread of the virus; rather, it has simply helped to damage the communications equipment that the emergency services rely on. The spread of misinformation can also have a far wider impact. Belief in conspiracy theories is manifested in behaviours with the potential to accelerate the spread of the infection, undermining any progress made in slowing it and putting healthcare systems under unnecessary strain. People are ignoring social distancing advice and organised rallies and demonstrations have even taken place in a number of cities in the USA.

Conspiracy theorists are helping to fuel these dangerous behaviours. One such conspiracy theorist, who I will not acknowledge by name, addressed a small rally in Austin, Texas, claiming the virus was a communist bioweapon shaking hands with several attendees. These actions undoubtedly help the spread of the virus. In order to counter these dangerous behaviours, it is time we are all as outspoken and as brave in our responses to these senseless acts as those who promote them, challenging unfounded theories with hard facts.

Reference

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9

Thank You

Everyone, please support Dips Mann on his new podcast the ‘Masters of Science’ podcast, which can be found here:

https://mastersofscience.podbean.com/

Thank you Dips Mann for taking the time to support this website, I am so happy that you were the first contributor to this project!


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