Part 1: From propaganda to the paranormal
Take a peek behind conspiracy theories and supernatural claims in this first segment with Massimo Polidoro, executive director of the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims on the Paranormal; and Amardeo Sarma, chair of Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften or GWUP (Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences) in Germany.
Both Polidoro and Armadeo’s organizations serve a similar purpose: to tackle paranormal myths and fraudulent claims that spread in their countries. Using the scientific method, they investigate from propaganda to paranormal claims to health claims, and debunk them. Their organizations also work to promote critical thinking and scientific mentality — which, when missing, give rise to conspiracy theories and a tendency for one to buy into them, Polidoro says.
But in the case of fraudulent health claims in the COVID era, such as eating garlic to kill the virus, sticking one’s hands in a hand dryer or even snorting cocaine, Polidoro notes that when all hope of a treatment or cure seems to be lost, “even the most absurd proposition appears to be hopeful.”
Sarma offers three final observations:
- The problem of the century is how people will evolve to deal with the influx of information given to them, and learn how to filter it;
- Political weaponization of science should be avoided;
- Countries need to reflect on the pandemic to assess how they will communicate uncertainty to the public in the future.
- Massimo Polidoro’s YouTube series “Strange Stories”
Part 2: The devastating impact of bad communicators
In this last segment, Inez Ponce de Leon, an associate professor at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, and Masataka Watanabe, president of the Japanese Association for Science Communication, discuss the devastating impact of poor science communicators in natural disasters and health crises.
The catastrophic 9.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan’s Tohoku region in 2011, as well as the massive 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, left damaging consequences beyond just the death toll. De Leon and Watanabe explain how both events were exacerbated by the governments’ poor communication of the risks and magnitude of the situation to the public. This lack of proper communication led to public trust in the Japanese government plummeting as a result of the disaster — it hasn’t recovered much since. As of 2019, 60 percent of the Japanese public do not trust the National Diet, Japan’s legislature.
Watanabe speaks on how poor science communication of COVID-19, from the initial assurance that younger people were not at risk to the virus, to quasi-scientific claims like gasoline being able to sanitize face masks, saw similar damaging effects. Regardless of whether a health crisis or a natural disaster is in question, both de Leon and Watanabe emphasize the importance of proper risk communication and understanding.
De Leon suggests involving more science communicators as consultative bodies for policymakers in the future. Watanabe adds that transparency and disclosure from the government is the only way to restore trust that was lost.