This Video About a Moss-Based Cancer Cure from 1816 Teaches Us a Valuable Lesson

Did you know that a cure for cancer was discovered in 1816 by Dr. Johan R. Tarjany? It involved a species of moss that could alter the double helical structure of DNA. But the pharmaceutical companies have suppressed that information because BIG PHARMA!

Just watch this video to learn more:

That brilliant video was created by Jonathan Jarry (note the anagram) of the McGill Office for Science and Society. Jarry was frustrated that videos like that — upbeat, exciting, letting you in on a big “secret” — appear on Facebook and get millions of views even though they spread misinformation. So he created that parody version.

He also asked a number of prominent skeptics to upload the video on their own — it was all coordinated one day last week — with a caption that said something like “this is nonsense.”

The plan worked. The video has now been seen millions of times in total.

Susan Gerbic was one of the skeptics who was in on the plan and shared it with her followers. She notes that the reactions were mixed… because some people clearly didn’t watch through the end:

I shared it to my personal Facebook page and then shared it from there to about thirty skeptic groups I belong to internationally. I was flooded with notifications instantly. Some were laughing emojis; others were angry emojis. The comments were mixed; about three-fourths were positive comments. They got that it is a skeptical video aiming to teach a lesson. But one-fourth from what I could tell were from people who were upset by the video. Two people asked for the research to prove what they were seeing on the video. Many people said they stopped watching seconds into the video calling it nonsense. Lots of those negative comments were pointing out the various flaws in the statements made on the video, like how DNA was not discovered until much later than the video claimed. One woman sent me a private message saying that she searched for Dr. Tarjay and he does not exist, but she found the moss.

If a quarter of Gerbic’s followers fell for the trick, you can take a wild guess how many people outside those circles would be taken in by it. Now realize that actual nonsense videos are constantly being shared by people who have no idea they’re being fed a diet of lies.

Science writer Kavin Senapathy also shared the video with her followers and told WIRED it worked as intended (possibly with some unintentional help from Facebook):

“In retrospect, I think the McGill video worked because it mimics misleading and predatory health claim videos, down to the mediocre production values and the fonts, because it’s short and easy to watch, and the twist at the end catches viewers off guard,” Senapathy says. She also notes that it appears to have benefited from the vagaries of Facebook’s algorithm — which may well have mistaken the McGill video for one of those it sends up.

The question now is whether the video reached the right people. Asking skeptics to share it with their fans is one thing, but a video like this needs to be seen by others. The ones who don’t have a firm grasp on critical thinking… like everyone else in your Facebook feed. With millions of views, though, this video undoubtedly went outside the skeptic bubble, even if we can’t calculate just how many of those people saw it. It also teaches a valuable lesson: If you want to reach the sort of people who might be influenced by videos like these, just imitate it and send a better message.

(via The Morning Heresy)

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