Tuesday, September 28

Alberto Nájera, scientist: “If we had listened to hoaxes and deniers, we would be in trouble”

“The activity of Spanish deniers has multiplied on the Internet” in recent times, according to the research being carried out by #SaludSinBulos, the initiative of the Association of Researchers in eHealth (AIES) and one of the current focus of deniers is to avoid childhood vaccination.

As a result of this research, the launch of a book, ‘Denialists Against Health’, with testimonies from numerous specialists is planned, which, among other things, will offer guidelines to combat misinformation.

One of these experts is Alberto Nájera, physicist and professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. His name joins others such as Gemma del Caño, pharmacist and popularizer, José Miguel Mulet, researcher and scientific disseminator, Luis Santamaría del Río, theologian and expert in sects, Rocío Vidal (Schrodinger’s Cat), scientific journalist and youtuber o Guillermo Melgar, pharmacist (Farmaenfurecida en networks).

The hoaxes were not “so evident” in the field of health … until COVID-19 arrived, says Alberto Nájera. “There was a barren terrain and the pandemic has paid it. He caught us all in our underpants, with no information. People started looking for it and these people found a new market niche ”.

Now there are all colors. From the most common who question PCR, preventive measures and vaccines or the virus itself, to others that are “surprising”.

In the field of this scientist, “one of the first hoaxes was that the 5G antennas spread the virus. Only the phrase shows a profound ignorance in Physics, Physiology, Biology, Medicine, Epidemiology … “and the question, he regrets,” is that it penetrated society to the point that it had to be denied by the World Health Organization because groups of people were organized to burn antennas ”.

For Alberto Nájera, the ‘palm’ was taken by the information hoax that pointed out that COVID-19 “was a plot by the Mexican Government (and that gives a clue to the scope of the sights) to confine us and install antennas. To this he added that the deceased had synovial fluid removed from their knees, as a fundamental element to install them. To me that … And the fact is that, if it is shared, there is a high percentage that believes it ”.

Every day a new Spanish denialist channel is born on the Internet, according to #SaludSin Bulos. And here come those who ‘sell’ pseudo-therapies or miracle treatments. “And in this case we see that they are very contradictory. On the one hand, they tell you that the pandemic does not exist. On the other hand, they are selling you treatments ”.

“Now what works are the lists of diffusion in Telegram, and they ask for money”

The hoax is not a new phenomenon. “The first ones were already produced 2,000 years ago. Information has always been a weapon of war, a power that had to be controlled ”, points out the professor, but“ its wildest irruption coincides with the arrival of the great populist movements in large countries and with the access of the population to the networks social. Before the information passed through the journalist, today it is in the hands of any person with lip service ”.

And as in everything, hoaxes have also had their evolution. “From the texts, to the memes already the videos through Tik Tok or Youtube. Right now what is working the most are the broadcast lists through Telegram channels ”.

Notoriety, narcissism or fallacy of authority, among the reasons for diffusers of hoaxes

What’s the point and who benefits from hoaxes? For Nájera, “there are cases of desire for notoriety and in some cases I perceive narcissism in their leaders. Some have no training in health and we are giving them recognition that they do not have. I’m thinking, for example, of singers and other celebrities ”. His charisma “convinces”, laments this scientist, “without questioning his ability.”

In other cases, he adds, “there are biologists and doctors without a recognized professional career who have seen how, in these forums, any outrage is applauded.” Here the problem is that the denial message comes from the health field itself.

How do you know what information is reliable? Nájera says he does not understand why certain people are “put on the loudspeaker” against the scientific evidence defended by medical organizations. “We speak then of the fallacy of authority.” That is, someone is attributed a statement that does not count, in this case, with the scientific consensus.

Then there is also the economic question. “We cannot evaluate it with certainty, but donations are being requested through these channels. It works almost like a sect, with faithful devotees ”.

It is not easy to fight a denialist message that, in addition, mutates at will. “They do not revise what they say. Now they say one thing and then another. They launch atrocities that they don’t review, ”says Nájera.

Looking ahead to autumn, and with child vaccination underway, he believes that “they will seek to play with emotions, with children’s health, and it is something that touches us all a bit. If the vaccination of the little ones is authorized, we must trust the authorities and the Medicines Agency ”because“ if we had listened to the denialist messages from the beginning, to their hoaxes, we would be in trouble. It is what should be highlighted ”.

It is very difficult to legislate because we collide with freedom of expression, but at least in a pandemic situation there should be tools to protect public health

When we asked this scientist if he thinks that it is possible to legislate to tackle the fake news or the hoaxes say that “it is very complicated because we collide with freedom of expression, but at least in a pandemic situation there should be tools to protect public health and people. It is proven that hoaxes cause damage to health because they prevent go to vaccinations or treatments ”.

The professor recalls that it has reached the point that these denial groups “are threatening scientists and share their profiles on social networks for followers to attack them. It has happened to me and that exceeds freedom of expression ”.

Then he believes that the fact that the judges decide the measures to apply is, he says, “an aberration.” In his opinion, “they should have scientific advice. I know that legality is higher, but in this pandemic situation it is very difficult to establish the limits between health and fundamental rights ”.

It is also unclear whether the hoax issue is really on the political agenda. There is not much beyond the initiative ‘Science in Parliament’, now stopped, for the Congress of Deputies to have an independent office for scientific advice, he recalls.

Improve training in scientific communication as an objective

The researcher recalls that most of the population does not have tools to distinguish hoaxes and appeals to the “need” for initiatives such as #SaludSinBulos. “You have to resort exclusively to official sources”, but regrets that, even so, “the denial movements also take advantage of it to point out these people, whom they accuse of being in the wrong.”

It also refers to “the lack of scientific culture in society. I’m not blaming her, but she’s missing. It is not known how science works: there are no one hundred percent answers in short time. It needs time, ”he explains. For this reason, he believes that the deniers have managed to occupy a good part of the space of “the quick and accurate answers demanded by both citizens and the media. It is just what we do not have in Science ”.

Alberto Nájera believes that this period of pandemic “has been golden months for scientific dissemination, in prime time, already daily. That had not been seen. In the end, those who communicated the best stayed ”. In fact, one of the short-term objectives for this scientist is to improve training in scientific communication in the field of universities.