Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The truth is out there, but it needs defending

Good morning to all our readers – who may be surprised to see the regular newsletter appear on a Friday morning instead of a Friday evening.

We here at Irish Medical Times hope the new time of delivery will allow (at least some of) our readers to leave medicine behind for the weekend, and re-charge for the coming week.

We have done a lot of thinking about improving the paper – even the word ‘paper’ seems old-fashioned and antediluvian. Nonetheless, the appeal of black ink on white paper still gives an authority, a seriousness that you just don’t get in the digital space. At least, not yet.

Take for example, my experience recently.

I was driving home around 8 pm on a sunny summer evening when I thought that I might enjoy a cool beverage at my local – which mightn’t be there in a few years’ time. Ignoring my doctor’s orders, and the example of Matt Talbot, I dropped in and ordered a pint.

One pint on a sunny evening was never a recipe for trouble, but reader, that cookbook didn’t count on social media and modern-day resentments.

I say next to a gentleman roughly my own age and we began that conversation that is commonplace in an Irish pub. The weather was discussed. The prospects for a Tipperary All-Ireland in the era of JP McManus were written off. Various politicians were slandered, slagged and sullied, and local issues, as always, were to the fore.

It was suggested that the Irish government was giving migrants and asylum-seekers three times the amount of dole that Irish people were getting.

Being a student of these things, I countered (as one would have in, say 2003) that this simply wasn’t true. And one of the reasons that such a thing was obviously false was the fact that any Irish journalist would make himself or herself a small fortune by writing such a story, and more importantly, by proving it.

I know many Irish journalists. It would take most of them about an hour to find evidence of this ‘triple payment’ if it existed. So I questioned this man on the veracity of his claim, and he replied to me that he had, with his own eyes, ‘seen them coming out of the Post Office’ with this money. And the amount in question was ‘nearly six hundred pound’.

Foolishly, I disputed this account several times. I told my counter companion that such a thing was impossible. But he went straight for the conspiracy theorist’s next ploy – the media are lying.

Why the media would lie, and what their purpose would be in doing so is the unanswered question here.

The Irish media is certainly nepotistic, biased towards Dublin’s middle-class’s attitudes and concerns, and in many cases unrepresentative of the majority of people’s views, but it rarely lies.

And it never lies by omission when there is a good story to be told. The Internet has killed any previous omertà that might have existed regarding certain issues, and the Catholic Church no longer can permanently ‘kill’ a story.

But I couldn’t shift my friend’s opinion – he had ‘witnessed’ these migrants getting this huge largesse and it wasn’t in the media because the media was lying. Every one of us.

It was an unwinnable argument. This man had the evidence of his own eyes, and the cognitive dissonance and suggestions from the Net that MSM (Mainstream Media) was lying. When you’re a liar, you can’t persuade anyone.

The era of ‘if it’s in the paper it must be true’ is definitely gone.

So I went looking on the Internet to see if I could find these migrants hauling their cash from the Post Office. What I found was a ridiculously bad ‘payslip’ made out to a foreign-sounding name (let’s say Abdul Abulbul Ameer) and the ‘weekly’ payment of €585 clearly delineated.

Sure enough, the document proved to be a fraud – put out by…tankies, Putinheads, Trumpists, fantasists, conspiracy theorists – well, take your pick. But it existed for real in the mind of the man I spoke to. He had even elevated its significance to me by using it to claim that he had ‘personally’ witnessed the migrant/s in questions receiving this money.

The proof required by a paper that can be sued is a lifetime away from the ‘Citizen Journalists’ of the web. We can’t just imagine things based on a picture of a document put out by some anonymous troll.

Fair enough, you might say, but what has this to do with me, or medicine?

Well, I would say that the biggest challenge we face in the next decade is establishing the truth and not settling for hearsay, innuendo and outright lies. The first series of columns I ever wrote were entitled “Lies, Rumours and Innuendo” but that was in an era when people HAD faith in newspapers. You could give a mild ribbing to the newspaper industry precisely because it was, in the main, truthful.

But to look at UK and UK media now is to view two different worlds. On the day an ex-President was criminally indicted, Fox News was focused fully on ‘new’ evidence against Hunter Biden – new evidence that like all the previous ‘evidence’ wasn’t in fact evidence at all, but speculation, innuendo, wish-fulfillment and guesswork.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail and other Murdoch outlets in the UK talk very reasonably about removing every right UK citizens have guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s insane. But then Brexit was insane, MAGA is insane – it doesn’t seem to stop them.

In this world, you simply can’t assume that any patient has the ‘normal’ world view. You can’t guarantee that people will do the logical thing in a public safety appeal – nor can you assume that ‘mainstream medicine’ is accepted by them as a real and life-saving thing.

Remember, people died because they believed the lies about Covid.

The truth is out there, but it needs defending. Every single day. Journalism needs defending. Medicine needs defending. Science and Elections need defending. And that’s a big part of the job now in 2023 – to simply tell and defend the truth.

We are going to stick to that mission, and I want you to contribute. Do you have something you’d like to say in this space? Is there a message you’d like to impart to your fellow doctors? Could you be any worse than me?

Send me your column/opinion/thoughts on any medical subject and if it works, we’ll publish it here. On Friday mornings.

I look forward to being outdone. 

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