What’s That Got To Do With COVID?: Funny you should ask

Lately I have noticed something that I find strange and, well troubling, really. I have noticed in a lot of open spaces around the city people gathered in white clothing, some wearing war paint (like many First Nations people traditionally did) or even like Georgians in England. They seemed to be enacting strange rituals bursting into loud cheers and chants every now and then, before all dispersing and spreading out in silent contemplation. At times some ran oddly with straightened arms – not like ‘river dancing’, but more like a windmill. Others seemed to have deformed legs which were thickened their full length – perhaps that is why some were rubbing and scratching intensely (even with rocks) at their groins, thighs, and backsides. Some of them appeared to be bleeding from the groin. I have seen short wooden spear-like things there, but what they throw at each other is a rounded, red rock which some fend off with a flattened, wooden stick. There seemed to be two people who they worshiped because at times suddenly everyone stood still and turned towards these two and yelled ‘how’s that!’ at them. I cannot decide whether these people are friendly to each other or not, or indeed hostile to others who also had gathered with me watching in great concern, but it all seems really strange and I am afraid it might spread and people I am friendly with might start to be taken into this emerging new culture.

Of course this is a parody of cricket, instantly recognisable to anyone who grew up in a commonwealth country when they observe the game being played. Others might not recognise the game, but would recognise it as a sport because it is clearly organised in a park, and so on. If you have ever tried to explain cricket to somebody entirely unfamiliar with it you will understand how strange it seems to them. I often marvel at how strange baseball appears, when I have no idea of what all the signals to each other mean.

What’s the purpose in this? Well imagine if I started explaining here a scientific process like conducting a PCR test. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction and it amplifies a specific DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sequence, if present, exponentially to a point where it can be detected when a dye is included. It can be done also for the other type of nucleic acid, RNA (you guessed it, ribonucleic acid, just drop the ‘deoxy’ from DNA), by first doing a reverse transcription stage which is where a DNA analogue is made of the RNA sequence. This process of transcription occurs in all living cells in nature. Therefore a PCR test for RNA is called rt-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction). Obviously the more cycles of exponential amplification in a PCR process, the greater the chances of detecting fewer and fewer copies of the DNA that was present in the original sample…

I am guessing anybody that was still reading after the cricket parody is now bored. Yep, me too. This is old science – it was being done routinely throughout the world well before I retired as a scientist almost 20 years ago.

I am not suggesting that any of this is difficult or tricky. The very great majority of people I have known in my life are more than capable of understanding the theory of it and then following the procedures to do a PCR themselves if they had an interest in it and/or they needed to. (Certainly if you understand how to play cricket you could!)

But most of us are unfamiliar with these endeavours. In fact most don’t understand what is DNA and RNA, other than seeing pictures of it resembling a giant spiral staircase. With no experience in working in laboratories, also, I am sure it all seems very odd and foreign to most.

Then if you add on top of that the major shock that everybody in humanity has received just being alive at this time and experiencing the pandemic, well it feels to everybody a confusing and challenging time.

I have noticed that these conspiracy theories that are being spread, and people who spread misinformation, pick up on little pieces – buzz words like PCR, cycles, etc – to make them seem knowledgeable, but what they say is disjointed and nonsensical to anybody with a background in this work.

However they gain attention because people are afraid of the uncertainty, and in many cases these conspiracists are telling people what they want to hear.

Who would not prefer to go back to our lives as normal after the disruption of the last 2 years?

I truly hope that people can read this and stand back to understand that it is OK that they do not understand all of this but it is still in their best interests, and in everyone’s best interest, to do the things recommended by the people who do. 

We can’t all be scientists – indeed, not all scientists can be virologists and immunologists. Neither can we all be doctors or nurses or forklift drivers or grocery assistants or stay at home parents. In fact, we can’t all be the same of anything, no matter how important the role, because we all need a broad range of things to be done for us by others to have the better lives that we have come to expect (which is why everyone craves ‘normal’).

The really important thing that this pandemic has shown us – and the learning that I hope outlasts all others – is that all of our roles, all of us are important! Even the people who are no longer ‘producing’, i.e. the elderly, and those with additional physical and/or mental challenges.

I understand very well that impacts on people have been great, and many may be frightened when deciding what is best for them and/or people they love. 

So, if it seems like trusting people on some of these things is a big step because you are confused and scared, can I suggest you sit down and write a list of how many people every day you trust with your life?

Here is my very quick list:

  • The builders of my home in which I sleep and live,
  • The people responsible for supplying electricity and water to my home,
  • The police who enforce property laws and general societal behavioural expectations on people who might otherwise think they should have the Freedom to enter my home and occupy it and do what they like,
  • The people involved in the production of the food that goes into my meals,
  • The factory workers that produced any electrical appliances that I used to make breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • If I travel by bus, the bus driver, and if I travel in my own car my mechanic and everybody else driving on the roads with me or impacting on the road system,
  • If I work in a high-rise in the city, or as a worker, the individuals who carry out maintenance on lifts and cooling systems, etc, or who make machinery and facilities safe,
  • My GP and all health care providers who help me to maintain my health,
  • etc, etc, etc

Over all of that lies the societal system in which I live which provides the governance and regulation that makes it so that all people (working for companies or acting on their own) who do all of the things that I depend on in my life (that I no longer have to do for myself) know that if they do not do things in a way which is safe to me then they will be held accountable.

That’s not to say anything is or ever well be perfect. That is why free speech is so important, and why I am grateful to live in a democracy. But I also accept that if I believe strongly in improvement to societal functioning then I need to convince others with logic and words rather than intimidation and aggression.

The point is this – if we did not trust the society in which we live, the people and the systems we have developed (with governance, regulation and enforcement), then we would have to do everything ourselves. We would have to move back to the middle ages and live on our own plots and become self-sufficient.

Although the pandemic was a great shock to us and many things still seem confusing and challenging because it is largely dependent on what the virus does, and that is up to nature and is not in our control (even if we can do things to aim for better outcomes), the truth is that our systems have been robust and protected us from the worst ravages of the pandemic.

Australians, especially, can be proud of how we have worked together and cared for each other to try to minimise the human loss from this natural disaster. I hope that we can continue to do that, recognising that the conspiracists are very much in a minority of their own making, and people can use the logic I show above to be less confused and more trusting for themselves and for others who they know are struggling.

Others who are embedded in the conspiracist culture of course will not be open to the simple logic herein. They have invested a lot of their identity and ego in their opinions, and we all can understand that they may feel vulnerable and embarrassed if they were to acknowledge that they allowed their fears to overcome rational logic. That’s OK, too.

Please let us all show each other the compassion and space that we all need to move on in our lives, to be curious, well-meaning and caring.

Take care and stay safe


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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2022

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