Education and the New Dark Ages? Conspiracy, social media and science denial

Michael A. Peters and Tina Besley
Vol 40, Number 1, p.5
With the increasing use of social media by many people, and where many actually get their news from social media rather than traditional media sources (newspapers, TV, and journals) amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a huge increase in the number and influence of conspiracy theories world-wide. This has meant that those who believe and follow such theories are more likely to reject official health advice and government instructions, amid science denialism, anti-scientism and a distrust of experts, as well as politicians. Despite some efforts to remove misleading information, it remains easy to find sites promoting conspiracies such as ‘5G coronavirus’ as well as hate speech. But such theories are not limited to coronavirus, and in fact many others, such as QAnon, are actively or tacitly promoted by President Trump. Noting that neither conspiracies, nor science denialism are new, we start by briefly looking at the transition from the Dark Ages to Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, noting the case of Galileo. Then it was very dangerous to hold well-reasoned scientific views that did not fit with the prevailing views of the time; a combination of philosophical, and theological Church beliefs, which were based on Aristotelian geocentric views of the earth as the centre of the universe, and a geostatic literal biblical interpretation. We look at present day scientific skepticism and how to debunk some of the most widely held scientific myths. The need to educate and advocate for education that includes critical thinking, critical literacy, and critical media literacy is more important than ever or we risk having a large proportion of the population believing only what they read on social media and becoming dangerously anti-science and not prepared to even consider data or evidence and so be at the mercy of rampant and dangerous conspiracy theories — maybe risking a ‘New Dark Ages’!