Step up scientists

It’s time scientists step up, step out, and put a stop to this catalogue of bullshit.

Scientists are a measured bunch, probably because their careers involve measuring. But those careers are themselves measured, not only in research output but also the impact of that research.

Scientists are also measured in the language they use. They’re generally cautious, sticking to supporting their statements with quantitive evidence – “In our research, 21% of respondents were shown to…” That type of thing. They prefer not to step out of their comfort zone of measured responses.

Right now we need scientists to stop doing that, and to start speaking with a commoner’s tongue. The media is awash with all manner of bizarre claims about Covid-19, and in the absence of firm, authoritative correction, those claims are taking root in the minds of people desperate for a way out of the current crisis.

Let’s use this claim as an example: Chewing garlic protects you against Covid-19. The common phrase scientists would use to correct the claim is this: “There’s no scientific evidence to support it”. While that is technically correct, it doesn’t really help. All the other person hears is “There’s no scientific evidence to support it…yet”. That leaves the lab door open to what will surely be the inevitable conclusion that chewing garlic does indeed protect you against Covid-19.

Supporting that, somewhere on the internet will be a seemingly authoritative website, replete with sciencey-sounding terminology carrying ‘evidence’ to the hitherto unheralded immunity power of a humble strong-smelling pungent-tasting bulb. The website will carry stock footage of a smiling person holding garlic. There you go: evidence.

While it’s tempting to let nature take its course and pick off the weak-of-logic in a cleansing of the intellectually incurious from the human gene pool; the reality is that innocents will be victims too. So, we have to protect the stupid from themselves.

What then should scientists do? They need to stop bringing a pen to a knife fight and pick up a bazooka. They need to stop these runaway wild claims in their tracks with clear, unadulterated corrective language, stripped clear of any measured jargon. And they must experiment with sarcasm. 

I’ve taken the liberty to suggest some examples of snappy answers to stupid claims about Covid-19. Scientists, feel free to use them:

Claim: “Chewing garlic protects you against Covid-19”

Correction: “Bullshit”

Claim: “5G is responsible for Covid-19”

Correction: “You have to be a special kind of stupid to believe that”

Claim: “Covid-19 will turn us into mindless zombies”

Correction: “I can see that”

Claim: “I hear gargling with salt water will protect me from the virus”

Correction: “Only as much as a KFC drumstick will mend a broken leg”

Claim: “Blowing hot air in my mouth will kill the virus”

Correction: “No, but it will dry any wet hamster dancing on your tongue”

Claim: “I’m scared my cat will now get infected”

Correction: “Have you tried blowdrying it?”