2. Will you think you are famous?
2020/11/12 Elhuyar Zientzia
It can often happen that information is received through a famous person or with some authority (political, religious, scientific...). But, eye!, having reputation or authority does not guarantee the authenticity of information, even if that person is a scientific authority.
To believe an information we have is very important to know who you belong to and if you are an expert in the scope of the statement. As has been shown in the following lines, the fact of being an expert in the field of information that is provided also does not provide any credibility to this person, and as discussed in the previous paragraph, it is essential to know the opinion of other experts in the field, that is, of the scientific community.
It is common for a person to disseminate certain information, whether or not certain, using their prestige or power. In this way, it can happen that someone takes advantage of their reputation or authority to spread personal opinions on a subject (usually polemical) and thwart real information (for a particular interest or not).
People with critical thinking will question the information, even if it comes from the next path, and will try to affirm that what they say is true, even if the informant is famous or an authority in the matter. But others will think that it is enough for a person's fame or authority to ensure that what that person says is true, without raising anything else.
When someone with political, economic, or cultural authority speaks or thinks about something outside their scope, it is easier to question the credibility of what they say, but what happens when the authority is scientific? Is the credibility of what it says guaranteed? Not always, and to guarantee the credibility of the information, it is very important to know the opinion of the scientific community about what the expert said.
Be careful, therefore, with the information provided by someone with a certain prestige or authority. And it is that a person's fame or authority does not make absolute truth.
The above paragraphs can relate to a type of fallacy, known as Argument ad verecundiam, which means that, in defense of the credibility of an information, someone who knows in the matter is mentioned, without giving any other reason.
In order to facilitate the understanding of all that is stated in this section, in the following lines we will analyze the credibility of what has been said by some people around the coronavirus. For different reasons, people who give information have a certain prestige or authority, but as we have seen this does not give them credibility:
The prestigious singer Miguel Bosé: Since the beginning of the pandemic of COVID-19, Miguel Bosé acquired a great prominence, not for his songs, but for the permanent questioning through social networks of the measures proposed to stop the expansion of evil. Their demands have been widely commented on by references to conspiracy theories and by relating measures to reduce the expansion of covid-19 to the vaccine market and 5G.
In another controversy the artist had a great protagonism, since he opposed the use of the mask when he forced to reduce the spread of the virus in the street. He used his prestige to make more visible the call for demonstration against the use of the mask in Madrid from the Twitter account and announce his presence.
Bosé's claims lacked scientific rigor and were denied, but some of his followers and some skeptics against measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic also believed.
For all the above, Bosé became the sign of many criticisms of social networks and had to swallow his words; he recognized the existence of coronavirus in a video he posted on the Instagram profile. “It has been said that there are those who say that the virus does not exist. The virus exists and the virus has killed many people,” the singer said. In the video, however, he did not mention the controversy about the use of the mask and took advantage to ask his followers not to stay with a single point of view on the subject and to denounce that eliminating the profiles of social networks “punished” him and others who defend the same ideas.
US President Donald Trump: In April 2020, a press conference commented on the convenience of analyzing whether the injection of disinfectant into the lungs could contribute to the fight against coronavirus. Trump's words had a quick response; scientists, security agencies, and manufacturers of disinfectant products warned about the danger of swallowing, injecting, or putting the disinfectant or bleach in any way. The World Health Organization also overturned Trump's statements and warned of the danger of drinking or injecting the disinfectant to eliminate the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes covid-19 disease.
But there were those who trusted Trump's words, and in the days following the press conference the number of calls received for drinking bleach in New York's poison control center increased considerably.
Faced with the turbulence caused by these statements about the use of disinfectants, Trump said he spoke of irony.
Cardinal Cañizares (Archbishop of Valencia): Cañizares, at the Mass on the day of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August 2020), said that science and technology are insufficient to cope with the pandemic of the coronavirus, claiming that the true hope can only come from God.
But the above is not the only controversial manifestation of Cañizares on the coronavirus. He took advantage of the Corpus Christia Mass (June 2020) to spread a loving symptom among several members of the anti-vaccine movement: in the race to find the antidote of coronavirus, Cañizares warned that one of the vaccines was made with aborted fetal cells.
Cardinal Cañizares used all the words to turn opposition to the pandemic and vaccines into a moral or religious issue: to fight the coronavirus, in addition to science, God and the Virgin were indispensable and to develop the vaccine were used aborted fetal cells (he also mentioned the devil). Cañizares used the church pulpit to convey scientifically uncontrasted lies and claims through his religious authority.
The people of the three previous examples presented do not work around coronavirus, nor are they specialists in similar subjects. However, as discussed at the beginning of this section, the fact of being an expert in a topic does not guarantee the credibility of the information. Below are two more examples. Comparing with the previous ones, it should be assumed that the protagonists of the cases presented, by their formation and work, know more about the coronavirus and the pandemic. Let's see if what they have said is credible:
Negationist organization “Doctors for the truth”: “Doctors for the truth” was presented at a press conference without questions in Madrid in July 2020. The team, composed of more than 140 Spanish doctors, has as its reference the German platform “Ärzte für die Wahrheit” (Doctors for truth). Everything said at the press conference was collected in a video that was broadcast on social networks, defending and justifying statements contrary to the pandemic and its health and political management. In this press conference, the use of the mask, confinement and efficacy of the PCR tests used to detect SARS-CoV2 was attacked without evidence. In addition, it was commented that there is a relationship between the flu vaccine and covid-19 or that effective treatment for the disease is known.
“Doctors for the truth” publishes on its website that the vision of western medicine is neither healthy nor scientific. Here is what you literally pick up on your web: “The vision of western medicine is neither healthy nor scientific, so it violates the ethical parameters of informed consent.” According to a video published on his Facebook profile, the aim of the group is to show a supposed truth about coronavirus and thus question the "official version of politicians and the media" in relation to the pandemic caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.
This group of doctors defends many opinions contrary to the scientific community, but does not defend their claims with heavy research. Therefore, they do not meet the criteria for a reliable information. However, the group has its disciples and their arguments are shared by the negative currents that have been created around the pandemic.
Dean of the College of Biologists of Euskadi: Jon Ander Etxebarria Garate, Dean of the College of Biologists of Euskadi, published a series of reflections on the measures taken in August 2020 by the Government of Spain and the Basque Government in the health crisis of the coronavirus. The documents were surprised by the margin, by false claims. In the document published on the website of the College of Biologists of Euskadi (COBE), Etxebarria questioned the capacity of contamination of asymptomatic, the reliability of the PCR test used for diagnosis, the effectiveness of strict refinement to reduce the spread of the virus and the suitability of the use of the mask, among others. Among the sources mentioned by Etxebarria in the document there were hardly any scientific articles, he cited Youtube videos and a press conference of the association "Doctors for the truth", among others, as a source, all of them with precarious scientific rigour.
The document was published on the COBE website and the College withdrew it a few days after its publication. The reasons for which the document was removed from the web were: "This document has not been discussed or consensual, it has not been endorsed by any member of the COBE Governing Board and does not reflect the thinking of the entire Basque biologist team. As it is a personal opinion, it should not be published on the institutional website of the COBE or carry the logo of the COBE, so it has been withdrawn".
All the information criticized in the document has been scientifically demonstrated, which provoked criticism against Etxebarria and questioned his professionalism.
As we have seen with the above five examples, the authorship of the information we receive does not guarantee its credibility, and once again the importance of contrasting the information is clearly seen.
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