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Skewering COVID-19 conspiracy theories


2010 Tutu Fellow Bright Simons insightfully unpacks the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories during the pandemic and the danger they present.  Bright is a Ghanaian policy activist and social entrepreneur. In his piece in The Africa Report, he kicks off his piece by saying "Because all of us are so damned scared and anxious, conspiracy theories, alternative facts, folk science, and fringe beliefs that would ordinarily not get more than a tiny fraction of our saturated attention, now flood news bulletins and timelines."

He writes that while Africa is not any more susceptible to fringe beliefs than elsewhere, during a time of crisis it can seem as if they are on the verge of overwhelming mainstream and traditional media.

Bright debunks the now infamous 5G-COVID-19 narrative and in doing so he poignantly observes, “Equally hard is the mental discipline to accept that scientific truth is like a heatmap of expert revelations with an epicentre that may move with time.” Because scientific conclusions change as the science and data improves, it does not provide the certainty many people seek during troubled times.  In its place, the balm to crisis panic can be conspiracy and fringe theorists who do provide a simple seeming truth with great certainty in direct contrast to views available from mainstream meta-studies and literature reviews by reputable scientists.

In Africa, chiefs and kings, self-styled bishops and priests, and a weak academic community that rarely commands the prestige accorded to research elsewhere, produce statements of seeming fact that results in a blurring of the line between “fringe” and “mainstream”. 

Bright says that because of how our brains are wired, it would be nonsense to talk about a “solution” to conspiracy theories or fringe beliefs, whether for Africa or elsewhere, or to believe that wider scientific literacy in Africa can somehow suppress them. Humans seek to make sense of the world around them. Instead, he asserts that fringe theories and the misinformation they generate - especially where they endanger the health of millions, such as those about vaccines - must be actively debunked.

You can read the full piece at The Africa Report.

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Thursday, 06 May 2021

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