Hoaxes, myths, fake news. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which is mildly unlikely given you’re reading a blog right now) you’ve encountered at least one, probably many. Is fluoridated water a plan to impose a communist government in the US? (no). Do airplanes spray us with chemicals to make us obedient? (no). Are the members of the UK Royal Family lizards? (no). Do vaccines cause autism? (hell no).
Over the years, the issue has gotten me both fascinated and to the brink of despair. I’m genuinely fascinated in the way people think –or, as is unfortunately often the case, don’t. And I frequently despair when witnessing how easy it is for people, even ones that I think very highly of, to fall victims to the stupidest of conspiracy theories.
Hard as I try, I’m not immune to this myself –why would I? As a recent example, when reading that “people who curse are smarter” (yes I’m painfully aware of the irony) I immediately fell for it. It was only later that I found out that this is an existing but brutally misrepresented piece of research [link, in Greek].
Many times, when discussing with friends or family, I’ve heard yet another hoax, myth or conspiracy theory. I have then tried, and completely failed, to make my friend or relative aware of the misinformation or fallacy; and not for a lack of well-founded arguments. So I started looking for a way to effectively communicate science and, ultimately, truth.
That’s how I found the Debunking Handbook and skepticalscience.com. Upon reading it, in English, I immediately knew that that’s what I was looking for. The decision to help this effort by translating the handbook in Greek was almost a no-brainer.
Yesterday (Mon 16-May-2016) a court in northern Greece convicted, for the first time, a journalist/blogger for spreading a hoax.
A hoax is a piece of fake and (usually) emotionally charged news item. The usual drivers behind this is “like farming” (earning a small amount of money for every ‘click’ via Google ads) and selling bogus “health” products on the side. It’s very common for hoaxes to go hand in hand with conspiracy theories, like “chemtrails” (“we are being spreyed with chemicals from airplanes!”) or, as in this case, “harmful vaccines” (“vaccines cause autism”, “pharma companies spread cancer through vaccines!”).
Until now, the economics were firmly on the side of the scammers propagating the hoaxes: there was only profit to make, no real cost and, more importantly, no risk. So they would (and are) spreading whatever b*****t they can think of, with no or fake proof but lots of emotional content (“cancer to children!!!”) and pocket the profits.
The hoax of this specific case was titled “Shock: See how companies are spreading cancer through a vaccine”. It was about a girl which is not named other than by first name who supposedly received the MMR vaccine and then died from a brain tumor.
The story is full of sh*t. It was very well researched here.
This conviction is the only one I’m aware of globally (I do hope there are more, but I haven’t heard of any). And it may be, however slowly, a turning of the tide. Organized society needs to fight against this, and such cases are long overdue.