NIH director: ‘Conspiracies are winning here’

Washington Post
Nov 19, 2021The Health 202
Analysis
NIH director: ‘Conspiracies are winning here’
Francis Collins wants online misinformation spreaders “brought to justice”

NIH Director Francis Collins has a stern message for the American public: The country has, what he called, an epidemic of misinformation and disinformation. And it’s fueling a dangerous distrust in science.

“Conspiracies are winning here. Truth is losing. That’s a really serious indictment of the way in which our society seems to be traveling,” said Collins, who will soon step down as the National Institutes of Health director after serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Collins made his most forceful comments yet against the pervasive spread of falsehoods online… He was defending his own colleague, Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, against the biggest onslaught of angry messages and threats he’s received throughout the entire pandemic.

Those attacks stemmed in part from a viral and false claim that Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had funded a medical experiment that involved trapping beagles’ heads in mesh cages filled with diseased sand flies. Fauci received so many messages — 3,600 phone calls in 36 hours — that his assistant quit answering the phone, Yasmeen and Beth Reinhard report in a story out this morning...

The rapid-fire spread of misinformation has altered public opinion of the pandemic and coronavirus vaccines. Some 6 in 10 Americans say they either believe the government is exaggerating the number of deaths from the virus or aren’t sure. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans believe covid-19 shots contain microchips or don’t know if the claim is true, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

“Truth is supposed to be truth,” Collins said, “and the fact that your truth would be so heavily modified by your social circle or where you get your news tells you we’re in real trouble.” He said he worries about a society where “somebody’s Facebook post carries as much weight as a statement from the director of the CDC about what is the truth of a public health crisis.”

He sees two ways of attempting to curb the spread of misinformation, though admits he’s unsure how successful either has been.
:: The first: Identify those who are purposefully spreading false information online and bring them to justice.
:: The second: Find a better way to counter false claims with real information. He didn’t specify what exactly either one would entail…