'Science is not an opinion': Saskatoon microbiologist refuses to let COVID-19 misinformation slide
SASKATOON -- Microbiologist Kyle Anderson has seen and heard a lot of misinformation in regards to COVID-19, which he says is dangerous.
“Generally, the first thing they hear about a topic (is what they believe)”, he said.
“If the first thing they hear is one chiropractor's opinion about how masks have no possibility of working, and then you've got thousands of research scientists who do this for a living who say it does, someone will say, 'Well, I heard this other thing first, and that's what I'm going to choose to believe.”
“It's like trying to herd cats,” said Anderson.
“If you just keep adding more cats, you're never going to get them all doing exactly what you want. Education is really the thing that we need to do until everyone is vaccinated and we can say ‘OK, it doesn't matter now what you believe or not, because we're safe.’”
So to help you out in the comment section — or perhaps make you think — here's some fast fact-checking and debunking from Anderson, an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine.
Claim: The COVID-19 death count from hospitals is inflated.
Fact check: False
“Unless there is a big stamp on your head when you die that says you died from COVID, some people just don't believe that doctors have the competence and expertise to say that, ‘Yes, this lung infection that led to someone dying because they could not get enough oxygen, it was because of COVID,’” Anderson says.
“And some people will say ‘Well, they had other pre-existing conditions.' That doesn't negate the fact that they would be alive if they had not become infected.”
Claim: Because scientists don’t know everything about COVID-19, their research is incomplete and therefore can’t be trusted.
Fact check: False
“Science is not an opinion, science is fact, and scientists are usually quite honest when they say that ‘We don't know this for certain, but we have very good evidence pointing to this thing working,’” he says.
“When we're working with minuscule viruses that you can't see, and massive numbers, and we're sort of looking at exponential growth, these are things that a lot of people say, ‘Well, I don't know, do scientists really know what they're talking about?’ Absolutely we do. But it's because we've trained our brains to process information in a way where it does make sense.”
Claim: "Studies" done by people who aren’t scientists have as much integrity as those done by actual scientists.
Fact check: False
“Herbal industries or things like that where people can make these sort of scientific claims and say, ‘This improves your memory’ or whatever it might be, and we know that that's not truly scientific because if it did work, the scientific studies would prove it. And then we would actually prescribe it. Doctors would be saying ‘this is the compound you need to take.’”
“If they don't understand that that's how science works, it makes sense to them to say, ‘Well one person has this opinion, and someone else says something different, and those are both valid as a scientific community’. We know that one opinion that goes against 1000 scientific studies is not reliable,” he says.
And Anderson offers a few facts of his own:
Misinformation spreads fast
“It's absolutely the case that lies or misinformation spread faster than the truth,” Anderson says.
“The way that anything spreads on social media is that, if it's the most provocative thing, if it's that clickbait, that is what people are going to click on. They're going to share it, they're going to disseminate it throughout their sort of social networks, and the truth is usually not as attractive to people.”
Anderson says videos posted to YouTube that show “non-scientific” experiments that try to show masks don’t work are not verified sources of information.
“People are like, ‘That's the thing I'm going to share, because I have the attention span and the capability to say, oh yeah that seemed to make sense,’ and they don't have that sort of critical thinking of ‘we need to have expertise, and trust expertise.’”
“There's been this industry of ‘We can have some weak scientific studies’, and that's okay if nobody's getting harmed. And right now, the distrust of science or this misinformation, is harming people. It's not just harming individuals it's harming us as an entire society.”
Conspiracy theories are hurtful
“When people are disseminating all of these anti-mask, COVID [is] fake, people aren’t really dying, hospitals aren’t full conspiracies, they are aiding and abetting the enemy virus that we're trying to defeat,” Anderson says.
“It is something that from the top down in leadership, we should have a very firm, informative messaging saying, ‘Sure, it might be your right not to get vaccinated, it might be your right not to wear a mask when we didn’t have a mask mandate, but in doing so you are degrading the quality of life of everyone in the society, in your home, in your community, in the province, and you need to stop that because your selfishness is harming everyone.’”
COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate
“People don't always extrapolate that they're like, ‘Well if it's 99 per cent survival, I'm the 99 per cent , obviously.’”
“Yes, 99 times out of 100, you would be, but that one time out of 100, you wouldn't. And you could be that 20-year-old with no pre-existing conditions, who just by cosmic bad luck, you're the person who is that one in 10,000, or whatever it might be that dies, and would be alive if it weren't for the fact that you got infected with COVID.”