Op-Ed March, 2021: Year of the Hoax
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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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Last month we marked the end of the year of the rat. Some prefer to call it the year of the bat. While we welcomed the year of the ox, after only two weeks we appear to have entered instead the year of the hoax.

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands, he did not speculate on how species might evolve in the future. It was enough simply to know that they would. Still not accepted by some otherwise educated people, the idea that we share a common evolutionary lineage with other primates had Darwin ridiculed at the time. Yet one of the hoaxes being spread about Covid-19 vaccines is that vaccinated people will turn into chimpanzees — a conspiracy theory less ridiculed than Darwin was. It may be just an amusing distraction for most of us, but, last month, religious zealots posing as missionaries in Brazil did not wait for the year of the hoax to begin before going into remote, indigenous communities there and urging people not to get vaccinated. (The Brazilian version of the same hoax is that vaccinated people will turn into alligators.) It is precisely this kind of stupidity that led to the last male, indigenous Juma person dying of Covid-19 in Brazil last month.

In Burma (Myanmar), the Tatmadaw also did not wait for the year of the hoax to begin before spreading the lie that its recent election had been fraudulent. Nor did China wait to propagate its hoax that the coronavirus did not originate there. Russia likely had its hoaxes about political opposition prepared in advance.

Long before we were talking about coronavirus, scientists knew that viruses mutate according to the principles Darwin had outlined. Because that mutation is random, it is impossible to predict the nature of variants or which ones will pose a genuine threat to us. That has not prevented irresponsible mainstream media reporting. In fact, we now have more variation in speculation and hoaxes about coronavirus mutation than we have mutation itself. Add the inevitable politics into the mix and we have a recipe for a coronavirus hoax pandemic.

It is not difficult to make predictions about the new lunar year. Perseverance had been on Mars for only one sol, yet a video hoax about it was already circulating on the Internet. Once it begins doing actual science, we will doubtless be treated to a plethora of hoaxes about the coronavirus variants and the little green men it has found and with whom governments are negotiating to give them citizenship on Earth. Dictatorships and autocracies will rise and flourish as their despots wake up to the realization that hoaxes are their most powerful weapon against their own people. Journalists will be imprisoned or killed if they report actual facts. Climate change-related disasters will be dismissed as the evil perpetrated by rogue billionaires — just as the unusual snowfall in the southwestern United States was last month. And big technology companies will continue to police this hoax landscape.

We can just as easily predict that for many indigenous people it will actually be the year of the ox. This month's photo shows a Dogon man taking his oxen into a field for a day of work in Mali, West Africa. A similar scene is repeated every day in indigenous communities around the world where the ox is the most common working animal. By the time we reach the year of the tiger, most indigenous people will not have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Yet the rest of us may need to get inoculated against the greater threat of believing in hoaxes.

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