A favored bromide of the coronavirus conspiracy claque is “Do your own research,” or “I did my own research.” While you’re at it, do your own brain surgery. There is nothing easy or banal about research. Research is done by scientists in labs or PhDs writing peer-reviewed papers or white-coated clinicians conducting double blind clinical trials, not by some lout sitting on a toilet watching YouTube on his phone. I wouldn’t know how to begin “researching” coronavirus. We have people who do that kind of thing already. They’re called “experts.”
The idea that some platitude-parroting mediocrity could do research is a fatuous conceit, an outlandish mistake of Dunning-Kruger proportions. But it’s claimed so often and with such insouciance on the internet that people get away with it every day.
I recall an online debate from several months ago. A person with actual scientific credentials was debating some proton-brained, Dunning-Kruger poster child who didn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” and began a sentence with, “I don’t care what scientists say” — and he wasn’t called out on it. “Wait a second, what?” I wanted to write. But I was otherwise engaged and stayed out of it. Instead of challenging the cretin the scientist replied, “I respect that.” Well I don’t. And it’s time for us to stop letting people get away with such risible, irresponsible claptrap.
Apart from a laughable misidentification of what they’re actually doing, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers who claim they did their own research and you should do yours are doing something else, too. They’re passing the buck on the burden of proof. You see, the burden of proof for any outrageous claim lies squarely on the shoulders of the claimant. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” as Carl Sagan put it. Telling people to do their own research is just a lazy, stupid anti-vaxxer’s way of saying they’re sure they’re right but they just lack the vocabulary to express it.
No anti-vaxxer, anti-masker cretin is doing research. What they’re doing instead is immersing themselves in bias-confirming excrement. They read articles and watch videos and pass around memes created by fools who ignore what experts are saying. That’s not doing research that’s searching for people who agree with you in order to find different ways to parrot the same wearying, preposterous lies. These people who claim they’re doing research don’t even understand how light switches or radios or cars work. They aren’t qualified to learn how to do research, let alone dare to suggest they have ever done any.
The internet is not some intellectual democracy where every opinion carries the same weight as every other opinion. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, “your ignorance is not just as good as my knowledge.” There is no equivalence between research as it’s performed in labs by experts with decades of experience and years of education with hare-brained, anti-science poppycock regurgitated by some formula-memorizing jackass. It’s time to stop letting these idiots get away with intellectual murder and call their “research” what it is. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.