Comments: 76 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

Sigmar_Heldenhammer13 karma

A family member of mine buys into literally every single vaccine conspiracy theory, I'm not exaggerating. She is also elderly and lives a very at risk lifestyle. How would you convince someone like that to get vaccinated?

thegnome5420 karma

That's a really difficult situation, I'm sorry to hear that. There's no easy solution but I've heard a few things that could help.

1) It's best to treat conspiracy theorists almost like people with dementia. That is, don't argue against their ideas. You don't have to agree with them, but try gently steering the conversation towards positive things you both believe in. It can be good to talk about happy memories you've had together, for example. This will prevent them from getting further isolated from you and hopefully keep you in their life as a source of information and help/comfort when they need it.

2) Conspiracy theories are not really about knowledge. Giving facts and rebuttals will rarely help - more likely, people will dig in. It may seem paradoxical, but conspiracies can give a sense of control and safety when everything seems to be in upheaval. The appeal is often this feeling of control and agency. It may help to focus on the ways that your family member does have control in their life to fill this same need.

3) Liberals and conservatives tend to have different moral foundations. Liberals respond to arguments from fairness and harm reduction, while conservatives favor in-group loyalty, authority and purity. Depending on your family member's beliefs, you may have a better chance focusing on the appropriate framing.

Sadly it's incredibly difficult to reverse conspiracy beliefs. The best you can do may just be to stay in their life as much as you can and make sure their beliefs don't isolate them from their sources of support.

TheWrongSolution8 karma

How does a company that does science communication work? Where does the revenue come from?

thegnome548 karma

This is a great question that I struggled to understand when looking for work after my PhD! I wanted to do science communication and had a hard time finding opportunities.

There's a whole world of science media stuff - for example the amazing Kurzgesagt videos are made by a small company in Germany. There are also companies that make documentaries etc.

My current company is sort of academic-adjacent. We have a lot of connections in academia and also a lot of business development skill on our team. We do contract projects with different organizations and also get grants from various institutions and foundations. We might get funding to create videos or websites that connect scientific knowledge to a public need, as we've done with this website about covid-19 vaccination. Other projects aim to help research-funding organizations explain what they do and share their work with the public.

Nettie_Moore6 karma

How worried should we be about the association between blood clots and a certain type of vaccine? My mother-in-law is due to have her first dose soon but has been worried about the risks.

thegnome541 karma

The blood clots appear to be a real, but incredibly tiny, risk. More than 6.8 million people had received the J&J vaccine when it was paused after 6 people developed clots. That suggests that the odds of getting a clot are less than one in a million. For context, the odds of getting struck by lightning in the US in a given year are about one in a million.

That's not a zero risk, but what you get in return is protection from Covid-19 which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and also appears to cause long-term damage even to patients who are not hospitalized. In fact, it can also cause blood clots - around 1 in 5 patients who end up in the ICU with Covid-19 develop them.

I think that the way the vaccine was paused for such a tiny risk speaks to the care being taken in rolling these treatments out, even in the face of the massive destruction being caused by the pandemic. Ultimately getting the vaccine is a personal choice but I would absolutely encourage your mother-in-law - or my own - to get whatever vaccine she can access.

Here's an article from Yale Medicine with more info about the blood clots: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/coronavirus-vaccine-blood-clots

DK_The_White4 karma

For any conspiracy theorists out there, let me list a couple of ideas to try and clear the air:

First, how would you explain the money trail that ties Dr. Fauci to the Wuhan Virology Lab, and the gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses being conducted at the lab?

Second, the state of Texas has seen a near complete drop of COVID cases since removing all restrictions. What explanation can you give for this?

Three, why did the flu virus have such a high drop in cases in 2020?

And four: the more we studied the virus, the more we found the risk of death is very low. What initially caused the panic in the first place, and why did we believe it was a super-deadly virus at first?

Again, these are some of the most common questions a theorist would ask, so please clear some of these up. Thank you!

Edit: Oh almost forgot: 5, why did the data that proved Hydroxycloroquine to be an effective treatment for stage 1 COVID get buried, and why is it just showing up now that it worked the entire time?

thegnome541 karma

Ok great questions, let me try to answer them!

1) Calling it a 'money trail' seems a little misleading. It sounds to me like the NIH funded a non-governmental organization (EcoHealth Alliance) to carry out some research about coronaviruses. They in turn funded work at the Wuhan lab. Whether or not this work involved potentially making viruses stronger or more transmissible seems to be a matter of dispute among experts so I really can't weigh in. Whatever the case, this was subcontracted. The NIH funds a lot of projects, and Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) there. I don't see a clear connection between him and the work, even if it was potentially dangerous.

2) Honestly nobody knows! We're still trying to figure all of this out as we go. We do know for sure that wearing masks and doing social distancing, and especially getting vaccinated, all significantly reduce transmission. There are lots of other factors that can play a role though - when it's hotter, more people are outside where transmission is reduced. More people are now vaccinated which reduces transmission. The virus itself also may do worse in hot weather. Finally it's possible that a lot of the highest-risk individuals have now been infected and are temporarily immune! While it's impossible to know what mix of factors is at play in any one location, there are clear patterns globally which show that restrictions reduce viral spread. In addition, the science supporting masks and distancing is simple and clear.

3) I hadn't heard this, but I think it makes perfect sense as the flu transmits in some similar ways to the novel coronavirus so all of our efforts should slow the spread of both! I think epidemiologists will be doing PhDs on the data from this past year for decades to come...

4) I don't remember how super-deadly some people thought it was at first. There's actually a 'sweet spot' for viruses, as if they're too deadly they don't spread very far as they immediately kill their hosts. One of the scariest things about this coronavirus is how it so often doesn't cause any symptoms, and can take so long to show when it does. It's quite transmissible and so even with its 'low' death rate, it has still tragically killed hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone. There's also some emerging evidence that it can cause long-term side effects even in people who don't have symptoms initially. In general, we've been learning about this virus as fast as we can and we should be incredibly grateful that we basically had a vaccine in the wings ready to test so early in the pandemic!

5) I haven't followed this... as a scientist, I can say that science is hard. It's possible that the evidence was mixed overall or misinterpreted by the media. I would suspect honest confusion over any kind of intentional obfuscation, but I'd have to look into it more to give a better answer. Sorry!

NewAlexandria1 karma

candid professional advice, don't try to head down the sci-communicator track. I know reddit abhors criticism, but.......

thegnome541 karma

Ouch! I'm always up for constructive criticism, though. Do you feel my writing here is too wordy, or confusing?

pres4654 karma

Can I just say thank you, and I hope more groups work to fight misinformation about science?

thegnome542 karma

Thank you so much for your support!

PsyclingSavage4 karma

My biggest problem is the use of mrna. From what I kno its used to synthesize proteins inside the body. I don't like or trust the idea of a man made mrna to produce things in my body.. even if there's a miniscule chance that it could go wrong. There's still a chance. Is it possible for the vaccine to make something other than it's supposed to?

Best_Writ2 karma

I have a similar concern. There’s already evidence that the RNA can break down more than expected.

thegnome541 karma

I'm curious to hear more about this - can you link what you're referring to?

thegnome541 karma

Very interesting, thanks for the link! I hadn't known that mRNA breaks down so readily but that makes sense given the cold storage requirements.

I understand the hesitation about the 'man made' aspect, but I think it's important to remember that our bodies are constantly battling the foreign bodies of bacteria and viruses. The vaccines take advantage of a natural system for antibody production. There's always a level of uncertainty about side effects, but that's why we did thousands of careful controlled tests before releasing the vaccines.

thegnome542 karma

I'm not a biologist so this is going to be a well-informed layperson's response:

I get the man-made stuff in your body concern. However mRNA vaccines seem to be incredibly safe. We are very good at manufacturing specific molecules. As far as I know, there's no reason the mRNA would somehow end up the wrong shape - any more than other man-made drugs. Do you worry about ibuprofen changing shape and doing the wrong thing in your body?

The mRNA in vaccines is naturally taken apart by your body shortly after it's used so it doesn't stick around. It doesn't go anywhere near your DNA. It's basically a burn-after-reading one-time recipe for a protein. Even if the instructions in the mRNA somehow did change, it's doubly unlikely that the resulting protein would somehow be harmful. It might just be unreadable, or make a malformed protein that your body would recycle. Again though, there is no reason to believe that the mRNA would change its structure in the first place!

TomMakotoYork3 karma

What can we prepare ourselves to debunk or stop the spread of misinformation?

thegnome548 karma

Great question! Here are a few tips:

1) Don't repeat misinformation. It can stick with people emotionally even if they don't believe it. Say ‘you may have heard concerns about safety’ rather than ‘some people claim the vaccine itself will give you coronavirus’.

2) Use the truth sandwich - start and end with truth statements so they get more airtime and provide context. You can discuss the misleading ideas in the middle, trying not to repeat them!

3) Allow room to save face. People get emotional about being wrong - it's embarrassing. If you acknowledge that things have been confusing, people may be more willing to change their minds.

4) Pre-bunk misinformation! You can be proactive by talking about how there is a lot of bad information going around. Maybe you can give an example of bad reasoning, or a biased source. People who are warned about these things may be less likely to believe them later.

These are my top tips from the page I put together, and there are sources for them here if you'd like to read more: https://www.communicatetovaccinate.com/blank-7

Uninhibitedrmr3 karma

What are your thoughts on Vaccine lotteries? I believe in vaccines but do you find it odd people are being offered millions of dollars for getting a vaccine?

thegnome541 karma

Getting the amount right is a big challenge in encouraging vaccines. If you give too little, people aren't motivated. If you give too much, people start to feel like there must be something bad about the vaccines - otherwise why pay so much?

That's a totally sensible reaction, as that's a lot of money to spend on getting people vaccinated! I personally believe that the vaccines are incredibly safe and well-tested. Getting as many people vaccinated as possible will help us stop the deaths and damage covid-19 is causing globally. If paying out a large sum to a few people gets that done, I'm all for it! But it may backfire as you point out, so we'd need to be careful about that.

JPRCR3 karma

In my country (Costa Rica) most of the misleading information is spreading in Christian churchs, how do you combat that level of ignorance?

thegnome545 karma

That's rough. People tend to trust religious leaders deeply. Ideally, having other trusted community leaders speak out about their vaccinations and the truth about the pandemic would help. I'm not sure how an individual could help with that... Maybe encouraging any doctors you know to make public posts or approach churches for Q&As?

One of the best things you may be able to do as an individual is just to work hard to maintain your relationships with people who believe the misinformation. The more isolated and polarized they become the worse off the community will be. While it can be very frustrating, having positive and respectful interactions with these folks may do more good than trying to educate or argue with them.

sjmanikt2 karma

Where do you see disinformation coming from? What countries, and what kinda of entities / organizations, and why?

thegnome543 karma

I haven't personally been involved in tracking disinformation at this level, but there's an interesting NPR article suggesting that a lot of it comes from a few social media influencers: https://www.npr.org/2021/05/13/996570855/disinformation-dozen-test-facebooks-twitters-ability-to-curb-vaccine-hoaxes

Some of them seem to be spreading theories in an attempt to drive traffic to their personal books or sites promoting alternative health, sadly. I can't speak to countries or organizations beyond that.

TrickyJCT2 karma

What is the deal with people thinking the vaccinations are making their arms magnetic? I’ve had a couple people show me a magnet ‘sticking’ to their skin. I believe it’s bs, as I’ve had the same vaccine. However, they’re throughly convinced.

thegnome541 karma

That's a new one for me! Haven't heard that. I would suspect that the magnets are sticking to people's skin due to moisture. Have you seen anyone try with a tissue paper or other thin, dry barrier between their skin and the magnet?

There is no reason I know of that a vaccine would do that.

The25002 karma

Just got fully vaccinated a few days ago with the Pfizer. How much do I need to worry about a stronger strain of covid emerging thanks to anti-vax assholes?

thegnome544 karma

Congratulations on being fully vaccinated! Luckily, recent research has shown that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines protect against at least the Indian variant. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-57214596

I am not an epidemiologist, so I'm in the same boat as you when it comes to the risk of other variants emerging. I don't think anyone can really predict, but we can track the ones we've found. The CDC has great resources that they are updating frequently where I get most of my information on variant progressions: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html

sanman2 karma

Why have so many tried to attack the theory that the pandemic may have originated in the escape of COVID19 virus from Wuhan Institute of Virology? Why can't there be a rational discussion on this possibility? Can we really rule out the possibility that COVID19 is the product of "Gain of Function" research being conducted at the Wuhan lab? Shouldn't we want to investigate this possibility more fully?

thegnome542 karma

I find this interesting, too. There was a New York Times article I saw that suggested some reputable scientists considered the lab-origin idea to be a possibility all along, but they were dismissed early on. They blamed this partly on polarization. Some conservative sources promoted the idea, which led liberal sources to see it as a conspiracy theory rather than a real possibility.

My understanding is that the idea is getting taken a little more seriously as evidence of another source continues to prove elusive. We don't know either way but I would personally agree that all potential sources should be investigated!

Secretly821 karma

How does one get a job like yours? What kind of degree do you need? I’d love to work for a cause like this

thegnome541 karma

I have kind of a unicorn job and I found it in a roundabout way. Everyone I spoke to during my career exploration had a similar story - unexpected connections and twists and turns. I would say to think about your strengths, as well as the kinds of work you enjoy. Let those together guide your growth as a professional. Keep your eyes open for opportunities that light a fire in you, and talk to everyone you can about their experiences. Tell them who you are and what you enjoy - you never know who will hook you up with a great opportunity!

If you want to get started in science communication, you can try to pitch articles to smaller outlets. Having a few publications under your belt could really make you stand out, even if your credentials don't line up perfectly. I got my job partly thanks to the science education YouTube channel I created as a hobby while I was a student.

Humabdomen1 karma


thegnome541 karma

Which RNA therapies are you referring to, and could you provide a source? My understanding is that no one has died from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and when blood clots surfaced after the J&J vaccine it was suspended for further inspection.

Josquius1 karma

Have you looked at all into accelerationism for fighting conspiracies?

What I mean is well thought out scientific rebuttals usually just turn on conspiracy nuts defence mechanism and get instantly laughed away.

Taking their nonsense to even crazier extremes however.... Can this help them reexamine what they're getting into or at least scare away others? (Eg the vaccine made my dad get blisters everywhere - that's nothing, my dad's head literally exploded the second the needle went in..... Only you know, better)

thegnome541 karma

I actually hadn't heard of that idea, that's interesting! I do know that trying to argue against people can cause defensiveness. Often the emotional content of the interaction is the most important - you want to avoid embarrassing, shaming or dismissing people. I think if you could strike that balance while also getting them to question things in this way that does sound like an approach to consider!

SoLongAstoria2160 karma

What are your thoughts on the allegations that Governor Desantis were telling his scientific community to fudge the numbers of infection, potentially infecting hundreds of thousands of more people?

thegnome543 karma

I don't want to get too into politics but I personally believe this is possible and very disheartening. There's a lot of anti-science sentiment in the US right now. We need to understand why that is if we're going to turn the ship around, and that starts with a whole lot of listening and introspection about how we've been communicating science to the public so far.