Keeping up with conspiracy theories is a lot of work. I confess that I am not particularly interested in them, but if one dedicates oneself to scientific journalism it is inevitable to come across the most absurd interpretations of current events and endure the occasional insult and threat.
In one of its most grotesque manifestations, some of the most obstinate vaccine deniers claim that there is a conspiracy to add mRNA molecules to food and thus fill the bodies of those who refused to be ‘inoculated’ with ‘microchips’. In its most up-to-date version, from earlier this year, a rumor spread that Bill Gates had bought Heineken shares with the intention of putting RNA into the beer. “Spread among your family and your friends”, said one of the most reproduced messages, “it is going to throw Spike mRNA and protein into the deck. It is urgent. Maximum danger”.
One of the characteristics of genetic material, and of RNA molecules in particular, is that it is associated with life and therefore it is everywhere (at least on this planet; if you live in Tralfamadore, I’m out of it). Eating RNA-free foods is therefore as impossible as the old aspiration to eat “gene-free” tomatoes. You just can’t. And ingesting RNA molecules, of whatever type they are, is perfectly harmless, so the fear of having it thrown into your drink has a comic point reminiscent of the famous meme of José Tojeiro, that 90s television character whom some prostitutes had put “droja in the colacao”.
In psychology, this ability of deniers to withstand “cognitive dissonance” and integrate contradictions into their discourse without blinking is well known. Thus, for example, one can defend at the same time that astronauts never set foot on the Moon and that NASA has a secret base there (take half a second to consider whether both can be true at the same time). Or that the goal of the vaccines was to kill half the population, but also to chronify the need for new doses and drugs (take another half second to consider the two options).
An interesting phenomenon is that advocates of these positions tend to conspicuously deny the advances of science while, at the same time, their discourse implies that they believe that research is at a much more advanced stage of development than it has actually reached. . Because to think that in order to deliver a vaccine to the population, it is enough to spray food (or drop chemical products from the heights), and that this technology allows manipulating human behavior and health, is to believe in a science “indistinguishable from magic”, as the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicted.
This week we published in elDiario.es two scientific news related to the type of advances that are opening new paths. The first was a new clinical trial demonstrating the potential application of mRNA vaccines to fight cancer, including some of the most aggressive types such as pancreatic cancer. These “therapeutic vaccines” are based on the same technology that allowed us to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and are now one of our best assets to combat such a deadly disease. The second piece of news was a new application in neurosurgery that could make it possible, in the future, to implant electrodes on the cortex of the brain using smaller trephines without having to lift part of the skull.
The two pieces of news offer us an idea of the difficulty that every small advance that science makes to improve our health still entails. Developing an immunotherapy against cancer requires an amount of collective effort and resources that we can barely imagine, while accessing a brain to monitor its activity with precision is a delicate operation that requires the coordination of dozens of specialists, under highly demanding conditions. exceptionality.
But there are people out there who think that health and willpower can be controlled remotely and easily, with the complicity of the international scientific community.
When faced with a real breakthrough, these same people feel that their house of cards is in jeopardy and resort to denial or threat. It is impossible for scientists to come close to a cure for cancer, they argue, but it is perfectly possible that they will use their technology to poison or kill us. It is “the biggest stamp scam in history,” a denier snapped at me regarding the trial on pancreatic cancer. “How disgusting you are, I hope you will be judged in the future for accomplices in the genocide caused by RNA injections (not vaccines), ” another kind defender of the “truth” told me. They do not realize the contradiction involved in their denying the achievements of real science, while at the same time attributing to it powers of control that even the most uninhibited of investigators would not dare to dream of.
In his wisdom, Carl Sagan had already warned that living “in a society deeply dependent on science and technology, and in which nobody knows anything about these issues” was our winning ticket to disaster. The job of those of us who communicate science is to reduce this gap and try to ensure that public opinion has a clear idea of the progress, errors and challenges that research really implies, in order to immunize it against this virus of paranoia that some try to inoculate.
Now that time has passed, the data gives us more perspective: in Spain more than 41 million people were vaccinated, almost 91% of the population over the age of five, and not only did none of the catastrophic predictions of the girl of the “howl” and the aluminum foil hat, but it was the proof of maturity of a technology that may change forever our way of fighting the disease. And that is the other news that matters, that science is winning the game, to the annoyance of egomaniacs wanting to mess up.