Scores of Australians have fallen for a “whole bunch of lies” around the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.
That’s the opinion of renowned science author Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, who has revealed the COVID myths that do the rounds on social media that he finds most frustrating to rebut.
The Triple J host told news.com.au that misinformation about everything from the pandemic to climate change was spread chiefly because misunderstanding and lies were simple to grasp.
In contrast, the truth is complex, sometimes imperfect, and takes longer to explain.
On Friday, Dr. Kruszelnicki will appear at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in a science-themed panel session entitled The Rise of the Armchair Epidemiologist. Since the pandemic began, epidemiology has gone from being discussed mainly on university campuses to being debated between people, as the session’s name suggests, sitting on armchairs at home.
But Dr. Kruszelnicki, who has just published his 47th book called the Little Book of Climate Change Science, said too many of those discussions were being fuelled by rumor and misinformation.
“Fake news travels so much faster thanks to the internet. You can end up just following a series of lies, over and over and over again and going down the rabbit hole,” he said.
Conspiracy theories and misinformation is easy to spread
Conspiracy theories swirling around 5G towers and Bill Gates were the barmiest claims some uninformed armchair epidemiologists came out with, said Dr. Kruszelnicki.
But there were other claims he said he’d heard time and time again that continually exasperated him.
One of those was chatter that vaccines weren’t effective. Dr. Kruszelnicki said some people had pointed to the Auckland Airport worker who recently contracted COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated with the Pfizer jab as proof.
But this was no more than cherry-picking one event to back up a dubious claim.
“No, not all vaccines are perfect, and their effectiveness depends on the person, but to explain that, you have to explain the concept of seroconversion and the complexity of the human body,” he said.
In a small number of cases, vaccines can take longer to work on some people, or they might need more shots, Dr. Kruszelnicki said. He said he had to have four jabs of the hepatitis B vaccine before he started producing antibodies.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a crucial jab that was highly effective.
Truth takes longer to explain than lies.
The complexity of the truth was also an issue. And in unfolding situations like a pandemic, advice on the best way to handle health can change. We run up against this factor which is called the ‘bulls**t asymmetry factor’ or ‘BAF’,” he said. It’s the realization that it can take 10 times longer to debunk something.