COVID-19: fake news and individual arrogance

Like many people, I often talk about COVID-19 and its impacts in various areas. By academic and professional habit, I try to do so by applying three criteria:

  • to talk about things I have direct knowledge of, to ask for explanations (explanations, not “clarifications”),
  • when I have to draw conclusions of my competence that require non-legal knowledge,
  • to avoid talking about topics outside my area of knowledge.

This attitude, proper of people accustomed to reasoning on a logical basis, is less widespread than one might think and not (only) out of ignorance, but out of a form of intellectual arrogance in the name of which the fact of having competence in an area self-attribute title and authority to talk about whatever topic comes on the floor.

In the case of COVID-19, this translates into the frequent use of arguments based on “too many coincidences” such as:

all summed up in the paradigm of irrational speculation: “and who says so?”

Attributing value to coincidences is a classic fallacy: you take facts and pretend to establish a correlation between them and then turn this correlation into the “proof” of what you had already decided was true. It is the classic method of “conspiracy” admirably described by Umberto Eco in his Foucault’s Pendulum.

The arrogance that comes from having some university degree, therefore, sums up in the refusal to accept that:

  • not all phenomena have an immediate explanation,
  • not understanding a subject does not turn it into “mysterious” or “esoteric”,
  • If you want to understand a topic you don’t know about, you have to study it in-depth, rather than relying on talk-shows and social-network.

It is quite reductive, then, to think that it is only the ignorance of people to feed the fake-news. The (pseudo)cultural arrogance of those who prefer and only select the information that confirms their (odd) beliefs also heavily contributes to the spread of unreliable information.

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