Twenty-five years ago Carl Sagan used “Science as a Candle in the Dark” as the subtitle to his best-selling book, “The Demon-Haunted World.” Dr. Sagan encouraged us to look to science for guidance, to use the evidence it presents to inform our decisions, and to question claims – especially those that are extraordinary in nature. As the emergence of the 2019 novel coronavirus causes drastic changes to the lifestyle and livelihoods of people around the world, the undersigned science-based organizations of St. Louis urge everyone to turn to science for answers to their questions, and for treatment of the disease. While medical doctors may not have all the answers about this new virus, the ones they do have are based upon the evidence at hand, and offer the best measures to protect ourselves and our communities.
Times like these make us vulnerable to extraordinary claims, especially those which promise illness prevention, hold out hope of miracle cures, offer financial assistance, or weave insidious stories about the virus’ origin. In order to protect ourselves from manipulation, it is important to remember Dr. Sagan’s words of wisdom: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Pandemics have occurred throughout human history and do not require a conspiratorial explanation. While the ability of asymptomatic carriers to transmit the virus is unusual, it is not implausible. Be wary of statements claiming to know the reason “why” this virus emerged, or which suggest that it was manufactured as part of a conspiracy. Scientific evidence has proven that viruses can be transmitted from animal to human and that viruses mutate, which is what allows this transmission to occur – no conspiracy required.
In addition, conspiracies about “Big Pharma” and “Big Medical” abound in our social media feeds, in advertisements, and on websites. These conspiracies erode trust in medical and scientific experts, often leading people to embrace “miracle cures” that claim to work for COVID-19, but do not. As we navigate these challenging times, be certain to ask for the evidence required to prove the claims you hear. Even asking yourself “Is this too good to be true?” can go a long way toward preventing the medical and financial scams that are sure to arise throughout the next few months.
To protect yourself and your family, we advise turning to science to light your way in the dark. Consult the information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), your local health departments, and your primary care doctors to make informed decisions regarding your and your family’s health. We are all hoping for a quick end to this scary and uncertain time, and it is tempting to reach for the first “solution” offered, even if there is no evidence to support it. But remember the words of Carl Sagan: “Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact.” We need facts now, not fancy. We will all be safer if we stay skeptical.
The Skeptical Society of St. Louis, Missy Rung-Blue, President,
The Ethical Society of Saint Louis, James Croft, Outreach Coordinator
Skepticon, Lauren Lane, Founder & Executive Director,
March for Science – STL, Brian Carthans, President,
Ethical Society – Mid Rivers, Sarah Vehige, Board President,
The Rationalist Society of Saint Louis, Kathleen Kelly, President
350 STL, Ken Denson & Rita Fitzjarrell, Co-Leaders,