Social media – to which we are all as addicted as our children are to Minecraft or Fortnite – is where we all go now to share those ill-informed gut feelings we used to share over too many beers and a boerewors roll. As the vaccine roll-out finally gets under way, no doubt it will fuel another glut of them.
In an interview with Bloomberg last week, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, was asked to describe the difference between working with the Trump administration and the newly minted Biden one. His response: “The current president is very much science-driven.
President Trump was much more gut feeling-oriented. And with vaccines, because of complicated science, gut feeling is not the right way to go.”
This pretty much sums up our global problem – our batty uncle’s gut feeling isn’t nipped in the bud before the braai’s gone out. Instead, he can spread his particular persecution complex to everyone else’s batty relatives and ill-informed public figures, creating a vortex of wilful ignorance.
According to a Nieman Lab article exploring the enduring allure of conspiracy theories, facts don’t always solve the problem: “Once someone has fully bought into a conspiracy theory, ‘there’s very little research that actually shows you can come back from that’, says Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge whose research focuses on ways to combat misinformation. ‘When it comes to conspiracy theories, prevention is better than cure.’”
A good example is an acquaintance of my mother who seems to believe that everyone – and their alien death ray – is out to annihilate her in increasingly bizarre ways. Her latest WhatsApp warning is as divorced from fact as it is from reason.
“This is an important video. The speaker shares a dream from God about what happens when a person takes the Covid vaccine ... The Covid vaccine is an MRNA vaccine, which will combine with your own DNA. Those who accept the Covid vaccine (the Mark), become a chimera or a hybrid ... Bill Gates’ favourite corona vaccine is made by Moderna – notice that the last 3 letters in that word are RNA.”
The Moderna vaccine, partly funded by US musician Dolly Parton, does have a chip in it – it makes sure you work 9 to 5. Jokes aside, these people are a peril to others.
My friend has been in lockdown for a year because of her comorbidities, she doesn’t find the anti-vaxxers funny as they are literally a danger to her future wellbeing.
Sadly, fewer than five years after the word ‘post-truth’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary, we are facing a health crisis that requires each of us to embrace universal scientific fact for our collective salvation. Let’s hope we can.