The new coronavirus pandemic, misinformation, fake news and post-truth

In addition to the necessary measures, such as social isolation, for example, Segata presents an important scientific universe for us to think “outside the box”, as the popular adage says. It takes years of research and dedication to think about how humanity continues in the midst of an increasingly complex world.

Our interviewee has already conducted research in several public institutions in the country and other countries, such as the National Center for Diagnosis and Research in Endemo-Epidemics (CEnDIE), of the Argentine Ministry of Health.

Currently, as leader of the Multispecies, Microbiopolitics and Technosociality Study Group (GEMMTE) and coordinator of the Nucleus for Animal Studies, Environments and Technologies (NEAAT) at UFGRS, he has focused his research on cyberculture and human-animal relations.

It is with all this exemplary experience that Segata brings numerous challenging questions to think about in times of new coronavirus, the role of scientific research and the social sciences, and to deal with the pandemic of disinformation, fake news and post-truth.

Professor, throughout your studies on health, outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics, human and non-human relationships, what diagnoses did they bring in relation to public policies for the epidemiological area and public and collective health? What are the strategies for combating the new coronavirus (covid-19)?
Jean Segata - A first point is that my interest in these fields of epidemics, outbreaks and pandemics has to do with an intersection between the interests of the anthropology of science and the new digital technologies and the relations between humans and animals. Not all types of epidemic and infectious diseases, but those that correlate / tension this relationship between humans and animals in their environments. A type of coexistence, contagion, affectivity and contamination, between health and illness and how these beings share moments of health and illness. This leads to some consequences.

If I had to make a diagnosis based on my work on what I follow in public health policies, there is still a great difficulty in operationalizing health as a mediator of relations between humans and animals and environments. We provide human, animal and environmental health. It has no health as what it understands and mediates, uniting, contaminating and separating humans, animals and environments. I try to think of health and illness as something shared.

Shared health and illness?
I have realized that in this field that involves contamination there is always an idea that nature is dangerous, that it is external to human and social life, and that animals being beings of nature offer some risk and danger. There is a certain human exception, the idea that we are outside the box of nature, that we relate to it when we want, for our favor, our benefit, we treat it as a resource, try to control nature - animals, viruses, bacteria etc. But sometimes, things slip away and we realize that we are not in control of everything in this world.

This human fetish, especially male and capitalist, of having everything under your control and your servitude, does not work. Or at least it doesn't work with all the beings that make up the planet. Mosquitoes, which I have been researching for a long time, resist human actions, control policies, glyphosate, their attempts to exterminate them. Viruses are the same. And that is a nuisance, because it puts us in the feeling of uncertainty, that we cannot do everything.

What do you mean, the human being can't do everything?
I have tried to show that we humans are not an exception, but that we are in the world like other beings, in a political relationship that each one can have their own space, but we sometimes want the space of the other and then things don't work out, and we end up getting complicated, becoming contaminated. This appears in other dimensions, such as a month ago, when the Southeast was flooding and we were saying 'nature is relentless, it is taking lives, it is uncontrolled etc.', as if we had no implication in the production of these phenomena that we call of natural.

They are not natural phenomena, but human tragedies caused by people, they are environments and phenomena that we help to build.

Nature, environmental phenomena, viruses, bacteria, are not in another sphere, in a universe other than that in which we live and share. We have difficulty thinking about public policies beyond this human exceptionalism. To think about health as a mediator of the relationship with other beings. Of course, we try to defend ourselves, protect our own, but animals also die from the same viruses that we die, so it is not a game of executioner and victim, but a situation in which we are all susceptible to live well collectively, when we get sick collectively.

And how do digital technologies, which you study also, relate to this universe presented here?
The second point that interests me in public health policies has to do with digital technologies . My focus has been the high tech use of the data mining system, of algorithms that organize information from epidemiology and other areas, such as mosquito incidence, creation of risk scenarios, contamination maps, other technologies, such as life, modification genetics of mosquitoes and other vectors, viral mapping using DNA.

Especially because it promotes a kind of transition from prevention policies to prediction policies. There is a promise of these digital technologies for ubiquity [ ability to be everywhere at the same time ], to be able to see everything, to have accurate data, to foresee situations, to predict future, to predict a future epidemic period. On the other hand, it is curious why it contrasts with this scenario of uncertainty in which we live.

When asked the Minister of Health, [ Luiz Henrique ] Mandetta, last week, how the development of covid-19 in Brazil would be, he simply looked and said “look, we don't have a ball crystal". I thought this is where super high techs public policies, empowered by health intelligence programs that are sold today, there is a powerful health capitalism that sells these intelligence packages, which are used as tools for management of public policy, and that promise anticipation, prediction, preparedness and response and real time.

You know that technocratic fantasy of real time, at the time, everything sees, anticipates. Only when the problems are installed, they do not know what is happening. In other words, there is a distance between what is produced as a reality that is modulated by these algorithms, and a reality that is experienced, which requires actions and decision making. In fact, there is no point in producing so much information and having an inept team, an inept government and president, who do not make a decision based on facts and evidence. There is a great ambivalence between the powerful use of technologies that promise precision, with these scenarios of uncertainty, of methodological mess, of lack of concrete actions to contain an epidemic event like this.

In a globalized scenario, in which we are connected in real time, far and near, what do you believe produces from new subjectivities and how the agency of the internet algorithms impact the production of a panic about Covid-19 ?
That is a great question. In addition to what I told you, first these digital technologies themselves produce information that is converted into data and that are often blurred or biased. Certain local information is converted into data, which is converted to global scales, and a global scale always tends to fake an idea of ​​universality. These electronic monitoring systems tend to extract information from contexts that should be contextualized and in doing so, information is produced that has no face, identity, situation, and that in itself is already a danger.

When we go to a broader scenario, where the type of agency that has algorithms for shaping social networks, search results, Google and other tools certainly provoke understandings that are distorted. People tend to circulate fear through it, like the fact that so many cases have happened in Italy, so it's a danger here in our neighborhood.

Of course this can potentially happen, but people skip these contexts because the information is here with them, but there is something that is much worse in this context of real-time connection, which is disinformation. Which is this fake news production machine, where fake news spreads much faster than viruses and has far more harmful effects than them.

Misinformation is another disease that we have today. We are experiencing a disinformation pandemic, a post-truth pandemic. A few days ago I was trying to convince some school acquaintances that the Earth is not flat. It seems trivial to talk about it, but how do you want to deal with a pandemic if you still need to convince yourself that the Earth is not flat? With the misinformation that the incompetence disguised as president exalts in each of the pronouncements? So this is a very big challenge for us: dealing with the pandemic of disinformation, fake news and the post-truth.

Vera GasparettoCategory: Environment March 30, 2020 at 00:03 - Published in -do-new-coronavirus-of-disinformation-of-fake-news-and-of-the-pos-truth? fbclid = IwAR1UtqrZTXD5bB5BDAuCTiOUY4Qb9ZHt975olRAcPyKjKeIgzLhCvJE0Kt4