Have you been bullied into health? Fear, quackery and Covid

So here we are with our modern-day wonder, the internet – where even with a smartphone, you can search for and read the latest scientific research on a host of topics, including diseases like Covid. And what do we have? A whole lot of codswallop with little or no basis in science, spread by devotees of disinformation; more proof, if needed of this maxim:

‘A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.’

Mark Twain

With Covid, we have people aggrieved at a whole host of public safety measures – face masks, vaccines, “lockdowns” (which often weren’t lockdowns at all – seen info from China on what real lockdowns are like?) and so forth, or even claiming Covid is no biggie, “just a cold” or – even more absurdly – Covid doesn’t exist at all.

Yet it’s hardly novel that people have railed against measures to safeguard public health. Nowadays, we surely all take clean drinking water for granted – or at least appreciate its importance. Yet I lately learned of a remarkable editorial in the [London] Times, in 1854, opposing efforts by Edwin Chadwick to introduce clean water etc in response to a UK cholera epidemic; included:

We prefer to take our chance with cholera and the rest than be bullied into health.
There is nothing a man hates so much as being cleansed against his will, or having his floors swept, his walls whitewashed, his pet dung heaps cleared away, or his thatch forced to give way to slate, all at the command of a sort of sanitary bombailiff.

Did London Times Editorialize Against Being ‘Bullied into Health’ in 1800s?

Today, who would suggest they are being bullied into – for heaven’s sake! – drinking clean water, and even having a shower? Yet with Covid, it seems too many figure it is appalling to advise they inhale cleaner indoor air, even if this means using a face mask to do so given all too often woeful indoor ventilation.

Looking for info on the Times editorial, I also came across a lengthy article explaining that fear has always accompanied pandemics, and this can be stoked by hype and fictional narratives with pandemics so severe they threaten most/all of humanity (have you seen The Last of Us series, even if not played the game?). Yet this fear can be exploited by crooks with false cures – snake oil salesmen; and can seemingly prod too many people to find a kind of mental sanctuary/ comfort in believing narratives saying there is nothing to worry about, and never mind these narratives being based on flimsy evidence or being downright lies. From the article:

Fear, anxiety and even paranoia can proliferate during a pandemic… They can render people vulnerable to engage in implausible conspiracy theories about the causes of illness and governmental responses to it. They can also lead people to give credence to simplistic and unscientific misrepresentations about medications and devices which are claimed to prevent, treat or cure disease.

… pandemics are the domain of linguistic hyperbole, unhelpful predictions of a viral Armageddon, and a forum for anxiety-inducing prognostications.

… The best known questionable remedy proposed for the Russian Flu, though, was the Carbolic Smoke Ball which consisted of a rubber ball filled with powdered carbolic acid. The patient squeezed the ball sending a puff of acidic smoke up a tube inserted into the nostrils. 

… A troubling variety of false treatments for COVID-19 has been touted by persons of influence, including politicians and religious figures in the months after the commencement of the pandemic. … In the United States President Trump’s unscientific enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, azithromycin, bleach and ultra-violet light is one example. In Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro went a step further and ordered the distribution of hydrochloroquine

… In the United Kingdom, prophylactic suggestions that appeared on the Stop Mandatory Vaccination website related to inclusion of elderberry syrup, placing sliced onions on the bottom of feet and rubbing the back with lemon and lavender oil to draw the coronavirus away from the brain.

COVID-19: Fear, quackery, false representations and the law

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