The geniuses of history are revered and act as role models. These group of people have a relatively large contribution in shaping the world. The public have worshipped these “geniuses” and some pivot their lives toward a path similar to what these geniuses took so as to taste even just a sliver of their accomplishments, almost always motivated and inspired to be like them.
However the “genius” worship has its caveats. While certain people can be described as geniuses in their respective fields, perhaps the multi awarded Kanye West as a genius in the music industry or the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk as a genius in industrial design and engineering, they also unknowingly carry over this great notion of themselves when they venture out to fields not of their specialty.
In early 2020, Elon Musk likened some aspects of COVID-19 to the common cold and stated that “the coronavirus panic is dumb”.
Musk was accused of spreading misinformation about the virus by Dr Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and associate research scientist at the Center of Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University School of Public Health.
These bouts of unscientific claims by Musk continued towards the end of the year. Recently, just this month of November 2020, he posted on the social media platform twitter (in which he has millions of followers) about being skeptic on the effectiveness of COVID-19 tests – when it’s widely known that tests may come out false positive or false negative and are not perfect.
On the other hand, Kanye West ran for President of the United States, which would have been a great publicity stunt if this was done for teasing new music but it turned out that he was serious.
While Kanye’s stunts are at best laughable and at worst do insignificant damage, Elon Musk’s claims on the other hand, are dangerous because of his scientific background.
And with millions of followers, these “opinions” have the potential to set back the efforts of containing the pandemic. To top it off, this is happening while Elon Musk is launching rockets from SpaceX and his companies continue their scientific endeavors, giving him the “genius” leverage he needs for his bold claims to find validity for the general public.
However there are of course many instances that an expert of the field become dumb on the same field, not from ignorance, but perhaps prestige, propaganda or profit as with the case of Andrew Wakefield, a former physician stripped off his license and medical register after fueling the anti-vaccine movement by publishing a now retracted study that vaccines cause autism – which is now proven as fraudulent. It was investigated and reported on The Washington Post and Web MD that Wakefield would have made more than $43 million a year from diagnostic kits for new conditions backed by his fake study, such as “autistic enterocolitis.”
Unfortunately, with how misinformation spreads in this day and age, Wakefield continues to receive support from pseudoscience and alternative medicine communities.
More of this topic on dumb Geniuses in Wisecrack’s episode “The Myth of Genius”
Now, in a pandemic ravaged world, there will be more of these claims disrupting efforts in containing SARS-COV 2. As the race for the vaccine draws near, some misinformed claims have started to surface, even from the scientific community.
An example comes from a pro-life / Conservative leaning website “The Life Site” which recently published an article parroting a TalkRADIO interview that happened this month, November 2020 with Julia Hartley-Brewer and Dr. Mike Yeadon, Pfizer’s former scientific adviser, in which Dr Yeadon said things such as:
“The pandemic is fundamentally over in the U.K.”; “We now know that loads of people had prior immunity […] I believe we are now firmly at community immunity (herd immunity).”; and “Viruses don’t do waves.”
All of these claims were recently debunked by an accredited international Fact Checking network, HealthFeedback.org.
They said between September and early November 2020, that there was a spike in the number of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.K, and this trend will likely persist for some time which debunks the claim by Dr. Yeadon that “the pandemic is fundamentally over in the U.K.” Furthermore, viral illnesses like the seasonal flu occur in waves, contrary to the claim that “viruses don’t do waves.”
And lastly, there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that many people have preexisting immunity to COVID-19, nor is there evidence indicating that herd immunity has been achieved in the U.K.
Another of Dr Yeadon’s claims where about the coronavirus tests being 90% false positives which is not entirely wrong but is inaccurate due to the context. HealthFeedback.org also explains the statistics behind the claims and why it is misleading. The claim that 90 percent of PCR tests are false positives rests on the assumption that the prevalence of COVID-19 among people who are being tested is 0.1%, and this survey population does not accurately represent the population that seeks out testing.
Sam Watson, a researcher at the University of Birmingham who studies statistics and global health, explained that “If you took the U.K. population as a whole and randomly picked one person out of it, the probability of them having COVID-19 is actually very low as it has a reasonably low prevalence.
“But if you turn up to a testing center you’re already thinking: ‘I might have COVID-19’ and if you turn up with a cough and a fever then it’s probably quite a high probability that you have COVID-19.” He said.
In other words, it depends on the population being tested. Populations in testing centers (who have been mandated to get tested due to symptoms) tend to have a higher prevalence of COVID-19 compared to a random portion of the population. Therefore, the claim that 90% of confirmed cases which are among the tested population are false positives is due to the inaccurate and misleading assumption that prevalence is low in that tested population. It is merely based on theoretical assumptions and the real situations on testing sites prove otherwise. The claim generalizes that this is applicable to all situations, which is false.
Lastly and perhaps the most questionable claim is that, due to “evidence” of herd immunity, a vaccine is not needed. The Life site article quoting Yeadon continues to suggest that the vaccines being rolled out may be dangerous with adverse side effects, siting early clinical trials of such vaccines (which obviously studies side effects in order to further lessen them) as proof that they will cause harm to the general population.
It is understandable that doubt surrounding vaccines rise due to some questionable one’s like Russia’s Sputnik V’s sudden appearance in the middle of the vaccine race, which have not publicized its clinical trials and basically just claimed safety and effectiveness ahead of peer review. While this may be a true precautionary instance to tackle, the article instead sites topics such as consent, choice, profit and other political subjects such as mandatory vaccination bills and relating them to “evil” which is more often than not evident in similar yet convincing anti-science and anti-vaxx articles.
The article even included a Petition against mandatory vaccination for COVID-19 which basically shows what it’s (antivaxx) intents are. It’s no question why “The Life Site” YouTube page was deleted and they have moved their videos to “less strict” video hosting websites.
Dr. Yeadon is but another expert who falsely misleads, and this is taken up by the likes of radio interviews and other news organizations as verifiable facts due to him being that, an expert. These claims may very well be further augmented by agendas that may or may not have the expert’s knowledge, that is why it’s crucial for media and people consuming media to be wary and verify every and all information they take part in.
With this, a forewarning, as history played out, experts can be wrong and because of their titles, some may still think they are right with devastating consequences.