The spread of disinformation is a “globalized, anti-vaccine and anti-science empire”: Expert


Tackling disinformation is now the focus of the US Surgeon General’s office, with Dr Vivek Murthy issuing an advisory last week hoping to “raise the bar for sharing health information by checking the sources before sharing them “.

“I urge all Americans to help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion. , sow mistrust, harm people’s health and undermine public health efforts Limiting the spread of health disinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require an effort from the whole of society, ”he said. he declares.

Murthy’s call to action also implored social media sites to do more to help crack down on harmful news, is a welcome move, experts say, but could be too little too late.

Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Finance the advice was too basic for a complex problem that had been brewing for years.

“The failure of the document is that it fails to recognize the depth and breadth of the empire of disinformation that has been made possible in part by the silence of (US health) agencies in recent years,” Hotez said.

“It is now an empire that dominates not only social media but also the Internet, video platforms, cable news networks, really all forms of human interaction,” he added.

Hotez says he has sounded the alarm bells for years, only to be told by government agencies that tackling the movement “will give them a platform and oxygen.”

Murthy, in a press conference with press secretary Jen Psaki, said the spread of disinformation throughout the pandemic has cost unnecessary loss of life and infections.

“Today we live in a world where disinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to the health of our country. And although it often appears harmless on social media apps and retail sites to the engines The truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions, ”Murthy said.

Dr Arthur Caplan, one of the nation’s top bioethicists and founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU School of Medicine, told Yahoo Finance the industry has experienced a shift in the way science is communicated and that it is also lagging behind in its will. to interact with new platforms.

“Social media has moved beyond the old ways of disseminating information… Science needs to do better to make its voice heard… and we need to speak out against fake news. Most of what I see on Fox (News) is just plain wrong, ”Caplan said.

Caplan told Yahoo Finance that the traditional channels of scientists speaking at a press conference or in interviews with journalists specializing in science and health coverage were previously the right way to get accurate information.

“If we asked people today who their science experts are, I think they could start talking about Fox News, or some celebrity, or someone who is important in the anti-vaccine movement (anti-vaccine). -vax), because they see them as a lot on social media, ”Caplan said.

Beyond looking for sources that help cast doubt on vaccines and science, anti-vaccines also seek information that can easily create mistrust. In particular, former FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the Pfizer Board of Directors (PFE), has been an easy target.

“All anti-vaccines are on the lookout for anything that can compromise the credibility of people speaking for science. Their biggest target is pharma, their second biggest target is biotechnology. time they buy influence to promote vaccines, ”said Caplan.

But the data speaks for itself, especially for vaccines, eliminating any need to buy an avocado, Caplan said.

“You just have to look at the morgue, and you have to look… in the intensive care unit, and then see what happens when you vaccinate,” he said.

In addition, any spokesperson or representative of a company is always required to be transparent and disclose their dealings – especially in public places – as a conflict of interest. In some cases, however, it may be better for them not to speak out on certain topics – like whether or not Americans will need a reminder, as Pfizer clearly has an interest in this matter, ”Caplan said.

“Generally speaking, you can’t open yourself up to attack as someone in conflict or who has a financial interest in the game. It’s just an anti-vax trope that they like to hit over and over again. “, he added.

Despite far-right support for some conspiracy theories and disinformation, some Republicans have rallied to voice their support for vaccines and science, and recent reports have identified a dozen key sources of misinformation and avenues to disseminate them.

But, Hotez said, little attention will do to put out the wildfire of disinformation.

“This is an international, globalized, anti-vaccine, anti-science empire that has gone beyond the boundaries of the United States, even though it started in the United States,” he said.

As a result, he said, the US government does not realize that even if social media blocked the sources tomorrow, “the empire would not go away.”

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