As a child, I was taught that “sticks and stones could break my bones, but words could never harm me…” This was the sentiment back then, when as a child, words were not something of grave concern. Words couldn’t bother you, unlike physical altercations. Hurtful words didn’t mean anything, because they usually did not materialize into physical injury or harm. However, as time progressed, that childhood saying lost its luster. Words can be harmful and can be destructive.
Painfully Aware of the Harms of Words
During the pandemic, we have become painfully aware that words can be harmful. Misinformation and aggressive rhetoric have plagued the airwaves, news, and social media outlets on pandemic-related topics, as well as other health-related issues. Rejecting science and demonizing those who carry the message of science has resulted in lives lost and injuries sustained. Yet, those who would fall prey to or propagate anti-science practices are blind to the consequences of their actions, whatever the motivation for their behavior.
We have seen the scientific and healthcare community blamed for the woes of society during the pandemic, from economic strife to uncomfortable public health practices to being accused of taking lives or causing injury with the very therapeutics they created to save and heal lives. Great efforts have been mustered and sacrifices have been made by those in the healthcare and medical community who have been targeted as charlatans and unfit professionals by others who stand in opposition to science. This anti-science attitude may be in response to inconvenient scientific truths that threaten personal beliefs, ways of life, or anything else that those in the anti-science community deem sacred.
Science Is the Best Weapon
From the perspective of the pandemic and any other viral respiratory season, the truth is that there are specific viruses that spread among humans. There is nothing novel about the facts that humans can get very sick and die from these viruses. The problem lies in how we prevent, contain, and treat viruses to avoid having them do the things that they are programmed to do to us. Science is the best weapon against viruses. Without science, there is no way that we would be able to understand and protect ourselves from such a dispassionate, evolving, and singularly focused enemy.
When science is rejected, we lose footing on understanding nature around us and ourselves. From a healthcare standpoint, we become less fit for survival and lose the opportunity to evolve and fight those elements or conditions that would reduce the quality and length of our lives. It is important to listen to what science has to offer, knowing that our understanding of certain scientific precepts may change as we learn more about science. Science doesn’t lie to us because our perceptions of it are proved wrong; we just learned more to better understand it.
Engage Anti-Science Messaging
The more we understand science, the more we learn what we do not know. The current understanding of scientific principles is always open for debate. Debating and discussing such topics is how we develop ideas for constructively bettering our understanding of science. However, speaking mistruths and deliberately misinforming others with theories and statements not supported by science destructively disrupts the medical and healthcare community.
As a medical and scientific community, our duty is to promote current scientific truths and engage in public discourse to reduce misconceptions and combat misinformation that would harm our community. Training medical professionals on how to engage anti-science messaging is critical to relaying the lessons of science to the community at large. We need to understand that not acting is a tacit endorsement of scientific misinformation and misunderstandings. However, as important as they are, individual efforts are not nearly as effective as coordinated, group efforts. Medical professionals and the healthcare community need to be supported by the institutions they serve to amplify the accurate and constructive words of the medical sciences.
Words do have consequences and can prove to be harmful, if used to deliberately misinform or cause confusion. The harm may be more far-reaching and devastating than the proverbial “sticks and stones,” because words and ideas spread more quickly and widely than almost any physical confrontation. To understand and believe in science is to try and learn the truth of nature and ourselves. The scientific method is sound. What we do with the results determines if the outcome is bad or good. At the end of the day, science is just science, and it really doesn’t care what we think or say. Anti-science words don’t hurt science; they just hurt us.