An antidote on the internet

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2020 - 8:19 Author: Angela Driver
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The ideas that socialists try to communicate are often complex. They don't always fit on a placard. As Marxists, we base ideas are based on reality, on things that we know about the world around us. Knowledge comes from scientific enquiry — systematic gathering and analysis of evidence about the world around us.

Covid-19 presented a challenge to rational thinkers everywhere. Action was needed, but no-one knew very much about the virus. When I, as a nurse, first had patients who had the illness, I did what I always do when coming across something new. I tried to find sources of information.

I was worried about infection control. Normally, if a patient has an unusual contagious infection, the Health and Safety Executive and the NHS would both have clear definite guidance on how to manage the infection. This time what I found from them was vague and contradictory.

It became apparent that some of the official guidance was being influenced by pragmatism and coercion from politicians, rather than by emerging evidence.

Then I found a podcast called Science Vs. Scientists of all disciplines were scrambling internationally to learn about Covid the illness, how to treat it, how to prevent it spreading, how social conditions affected it, where it came from, etc. etc. Throughout the pandemic Science Vs has covered all these issues weekly. (No! The virus wasn't made in a lab!)

Science has to adjust its conclusions on the basis of evidence as it emerges. So Science Vs followed the evidence on the use of masks, for example, as it changed over time.

Initially the evidence on masks was unclear. Some research concluded that using cloth masks may actually increase the risk of the spread of Covid, as in some studies people tended to touch their faces more when wearing masks.

More evidence has been gathered, and the balance now suggests the use of cloth masks may reduce the spread. So Science Vs released an update. That is how science works.

Looking at Science Vs' extensive back catalogue I found episodes on US police racism, abortion, being transgender, and even astrology. (Yes, there has been research on astrology, and no, the research concludes astrology is not able to accurately predict anything. There are 89 citations for this episode!)

Often the internet and social media helps to popularise concepts that have no basis in fact. We have seen this recently with the rise of anti-vax ideas, that have spilled over from the internet to large real-life demonstrations. Although these ideas predate the internet, social media is helping to propagate them, as I'll show in an article next week.

Science Vs is an example of how the internet can be used to communicate complex scientific ideas, and summarise large volumes of research in an accessible way.

The absurd humour of Science Vs's host Wendy Zukerman may not be everyone's taste, but she makes me laugh, and as an accessible introduction to the existing evidence on a whole range of topics I thoroughly recommend it. Wendy interviews researchers from a variety of fields in every episode.

The full transcript, including the citations (which range from 70-130 per episode), is attached to the site as a Google doc.

Science Vs is a welcome antidote to all sorts of conspiracy theories and rumours, and fascinating too.

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