David Staples: Dr. Theresa Tam is the last person who should complain about COVID-19 misinformation

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At the end of February, 23 Chinese-Canadian doctors insisted such bans and quarantines were sound public health policy. “This is about containing the virus, this is about isolation of the virus, not isolation of people,” Dr. Stanley Zheng of Toronto told the National Post. “It has nothing to do with discrimination whatsoever. It’s a global fight against this virus. Let’s contain it if we can.”

Zheng’s critique was unwelcome news to some. Would it be the kind of statement now classified as misinformation? It’s worth noting that one week later on March 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly affirmed Canada’s open borders approach, telling reporters it was based on science, not unsound rumour. “There is a lot of misinformation out there, there is a lot of knee-jerk reaction that isn’t keeping people safe,” Trudeau said.

I asked Tam’s media officials for examples of current misinformation in this so-called “infodemic.” The best they could do was point to a paper by medical researchers that described just one specific concern, a poll question from April by Leger asking if having a COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory. It was the opinion of the researchers that this question implied to the public that the government was pushing for a mandatory vaccination policy, even when it wasn’t doing so.

The Leger poll question is indeed speculative but it’s hardly damning evidence that we’re in the grip of a dangerous “infodemic.”

There are now heated public and scientific debates boiling along on everything from the nature and efficacy of herd immunity to the exact origin of the virus, from the accuracy of standard COVID-19 tests to the triggers that might initiate more lockdown measures.

To find our best way forward we’re going to need more vigorous debate and rational skepticism, not less.

Might Tam’s invocation of a dreaded “infodemic” put a chill on such dissent? Indeed, is her intent to stifle criticism of government policy?

dstaples@postmedia.com

twitter.com/davidstaplesYEG

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