The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 06:21

The coronavirus pandemic highlights the importance of expert opinion

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

This week I have been moving back down to Bristol for university.

My flatmates do not arrive for another two weeks and after I unpacked my clothes and said goodbye to my parents, I was alone. With my lectures not starting until the end of the month and my work hours slashed due to less demand in the pubs, I suddenly had a lot more free time on my hands than I was expecting. I visited nearby Bath, explored Banksy’s artwork in Bristol city centre and have been consuming copious amounts of television.

On Good Morning Britain last week, I was shocked at the decision to interview and debate Piers Corbyn on the issue of COVID-19 and its severity. Corbyn, who has previously stated that he disputes the scientific consensus on climate change, outlined that he believes that the coronavirus pandemic is a ‘psychological operation to close down the economy’ and argued that ‘there is no need for a vaccine…as the history of recent modern vaccines show they make people more ill’. Of course, Corbyn’s ludicrous and dangerous claims were challenged by host Piers Morgan and brandished as ‘littered with dangerous errors’ by ITV’s Dr Hillary, but the fact that a figure like Corbyn can be given airtime on a morning news programme is alarming to me. His rhetoric is dangerous and giving him the opportunity to project his views to a large, potentially impressionable audience is a mistake. I believe that broadcasters like ITV have a duty of care to their audience, particularly when discussing a sensitive issue like COVID-19, and the guests which they allow on their programmes should be informed and rational.

You should be allowed to debate important questions related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as whether local lockdowns should be implemented or whether masks should be worn in school, but to attempt to debate a man who is sceptical on whether the virus even exists in the first place is hopeless and equivalent to trying to square a circle.

I understand why ITV and the producers of Good Morning Britain brought Piers Corbyn on to the show though. Guests that are particularly outlandish and spark controversy are great for ratings. Over 500,000 people have viewed clips of the debate on YouTube, likely after seeing Corbyn’s name trending on Twitter. However, just because a segment garners views and engagement does not validate it or make it any less irresponsible to broadcast.

Some things simply do not need to be debated. 97% of the world’s scientists agree that global warming is man-made, and in late 2018 the BBC informed its staff that it no longer needs to invite climate change deniers onto BBC programmes for purposes of balance because the facts were overwhelmingly clear in that climate change was real. They made the right decision in implementing this new change of policy, but perhaps broadcasters should extend this to cover COVID-19 deniers too. The virus exists, and to deny and downplay it is reckless and misleading.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the British public have, on the whole, trusted the scientific experts and generally abided by their recommendations to keep a two-metre distance and wear masks. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the government were implementing changes based on the scientific advice, and many people, myself included, found it reassuring to see Boris Johnson flanked by the Chief Scientific and Chief Medical Officers at his daily press conferences. Perhaps some people aren’t though and are attending anti-mask demonstrations in cities like Sheffield and Edinburgh, because for the past four years politicians have told the public to ‘trust themselves’ and be wary of authority figures who are in positions of power. Infamously during the 2016 Brexit referendum, Michael Gove stated that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’, and this led to people rejecting the status quo and believing they know as much about the economic reality of a Brexit result as much as the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

We need to go back to trusting the experts in their field who know and understand issues better than the average person. Let’s leave economic forecasting to the economists and climate research to climate scientists. Let’s stop inviting individuals who spread and promote harmful conspiracy theories like Piers Corbyn on national television. If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that academics and experts are to be trusted.

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