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  • Photograph by Iora Ohanessi

COVID-19: Misinformation on steroids

There is so much misinformation about COVID-19 and what we can do about it. To cut through the noise, Upstream Plan B podcast host Ralph Benmergui talks to University of Alberta professor of law Tim Caulfield, who is making a study of misinformation and where to find the truth.

Tim Caulfield doesn’t believe in magical thinking, hoaxes and medical fakery. To back that up he’s written books like, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything and The Cure For Everything.

When it comes to COVID-19, it seems we need a story that helps us make sense of an existential threat.

Tim is looking at, among other things, what he calls evil marketing—not just around fake cures but around certain ideologies that rely on an anti-science point of view; the same that fuel climate denial, among other things.

COVID-19: You can’t see it, taste it, smell it—and you’re praying that you haven't touched it. 

In this environment, Tim says there's a lot of pseudo- and anti-science noise. He thinks it's playing a big role in some of the denial behaviours that some around us are living in. 

There has been, in his view, a long history of tolerating anti-science or, as he puts it, magical thinking. 

Things like the belief, with no proof, that chiropractic interventions boost immune systems, or the belief bleach, or putting essential oils on your anus. These misinformed, absurd ideas are bouncing around the internet and into conversations around the world.

We challenge him a bit about homeopathy, seeing as so many in the world believe in it. Tim calls it complete pseudo-science. There is no evidence that it works. 

Let’s move to the recent talk of a Malaria drug that was, in Professor Caulfield’s thinking, irresponsibly pushed by the president of the United States. One study, no rigorous scientific follow through, and now people may die taking it. 

So where do we go if we want to counter misinformation in these dangerous times? The answer for Tim has for us is to turn to science-based and renowned institutions like the World Health Organization, the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

They’re working with the best available scientific evidence and as knowledge about this virus deepens, these experts shift their messaging to reflect the latest evidence.

What about the messengers, mainstream media, and social media? Right now the good professor is looking at Instagram for his research study. 

“Instagram’s a mess,” he says. 

Good news: they tell you if you search COVID-19 to go to the Public Health Agency Canada. Great, right? But, if you search immune boosting, he says that we are in an information junk yard. 

Canadian mainstream media, on the other hand, are doing a pretty good and responsible job in their reporting. 

Learn more by listening to our podcast above.

In this time of pandemic, stay safe and take care of yourself and each other as best you can.

 

Ralph Benmergui is a broadcaster and interviewer and the host of Upstream’s Plan B podcast,

Plan B is made possible in part by the Government of Canada. 

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