Fake news in the time of COVID-19


Fake news in the time of COVID-19


Friday, May 22, 2020

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5G Technology is the cause of SARS-C o V-2 virus.

The origin of the coronavirus can be traced to bat soup.

The virus was manufactured in the lab (man-made).

Orange peel inhaled as steam can cure the virus.

Garlic can cure the virus.

How reliable are these claims? Should you believe them?

You shouldn't.

Viruses and radio waves are different entities and linking them together is highly improbable. Bat soup is a great source of protein, and for the fastidious gourmet a tasty addition to his menu, but hardly a source of the virus. Bats — a likely culprit is the horseshoe bat, not the soup — are believed to carry the virus to humans via an intermediate mammalian host, possibly the pangolin. How do we know? The genome in bats is very similar to the genome in the virus, and the coronavirus is widely distributed in nature, making a man-made origin highly unlikely.

Even God thinks bats are unworthy creatures. Didn't God say and these you shall regard as an abomination you should never eat, because they are detestable for you — the eagle, the vulture, the little owl, and the bat? (Leviticus 11: 13-19)

Is the pandemic God's punishment for this transgression? If not, why doesn't He intervene? The bat, of course, is a mammal, not a bird. How could God miss out on this bit of fundamental science. Fake news?

Garlic is undoubtedly a flavourful addition to your ackee and salt fish, but as a medicinal cure for the virus — not to mention a cure for hypertension, diabetes and cancer — and being good for everything makes it unlikely to be good for anything (except your ackee and salt fish, of course).

Misinformation can be dangerous.You may develop a false sense of well-being taking garlic or other unproven remedies for your hypertension or diabetes when these conditions are dangerously uncontrolled with few or no symptoms. Aunt Agatha's insistence that garlic cured her cancer is not evidence-based. Sorry, Aunt Agatha, we need controlled experiments, not your anecdotes.

Presidents and celebrities are the main culprits of misinformation. Consider two presidents, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, united in spreading false rumours. US health officials scrambled to put out the fire started by Trump when he suggested in a press briefing that injecting disinfectant into your body might be worth studying for the treatment of COVID-19. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, dismissed COVID-19 as a “fantasy” and a “small flu”, even as new cases and deaths have overwhelmed hospitals in Latin America's largest country.

I myself was a victim of fake news recently. My exposure to a COVID-19 patient resulted in me self-quarantining at home. My trip to a local hospital to be tested was apparently observed by several onlookers with lots of time on their hands. Shortly after my visit, breaking news in the community was that my wife and I had contracted the virus. Thankfully, they stopped short of reporting my demise. My wife and I both tested negative. But, being quarantined for three weeks, even if I had contracted the virus, I believe death from boredom would have been a more likely outcome.

I am reminded of an incident in my community when we heard the shocking news that “dem find a dead man pon top a Mrs Brown (name withheld)”. Speculation was that the dead man was Mr Brown, and his heart gave out during an unusually hectic sexual romp. Some — at least the men — agreed that if he had to go it was a fitting and glorious end, and expressed a desire to go that way when their time came. The more romantic speculated that the dead man was not Mr Brown, but Mrs Brown's mysterious lover, and the lady was giving her husband “bun”. But this was quickly dismissed as Mrs Brown was known to be a fervent Christian. As it turned out, the news was somewhat misleading. The man who died was not Mr Brown, and actually died in a house above — hence “pon top of” — Mrs Brown's house; not while lying on Mrs Brown.

Why do people believe weird things? By weird I mean claims unaccepted by most people, logically impossible, highly unlikely, anecdotal, or uncorroborated. Most of us come to our beliefs for reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Such variables as genetic predisposition, peer pressure, educational experiences, and life impressions, in conjunction with social and cultural influences, lead us to make certain belief choices.

The facts of the world come to us through hunches, biases, and prejudices, and we select those conforming to which we already believe. These biased beliefs are typically intuitive, rather than reasoned; lazy thinking as opposed to careful critical thinking.

So much for fake news.

Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or ethonlowe@gmail.com.

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