Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Covid-19 and the unsinkable rubber ducks

Globally, Covid-19 has brought people together, divided people; created argument, brought harmony; ...the contradictions are a little like the beginning of Dickens's book:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair" (1859, p. 1).

These dichotomies around Covid-19 have amazed me. The polar oppositions are scary. There has been little dialogue, and it is a bit frightening just how entrenched our positions can become. I don't quite know why so many of us have decided that our governments are trying to 'control' us, why we have so much mistrust, and why we attribute so many deep and conspiracy-driven motives to 'others'. 

I enjoy discussion about issues. However, under Covid-19, I have been very, very stretched by other's ideas about control, trust, science, and - to my mind - 'woo'. While I like a good Bond villain as much as the next person, I really don't think that Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and big pharma are all in cahoots to take over my mind through villainous nano-technology in an injection (which we don't yet have the actual technology for, but hey). 

"Woo", in my mind, was brilliantly explored by Chris Brookmyre (2007), where a discussion about psychic phenomena tries to enlighten woo-believers, by questioning if mentalists have "super-powers. [If they] can do things beyond the ken of all known physics", while reminding the listener that "conjurors and mentalists used to pretend that what they were doing was magic and sorcery" (p. 135), while today mentalists suggest there is a more palatable scientific reason. As we are just as sucked in by any Covid-19 con, we need to remember the unsinkable rubber ducks. This phenomenon was defined by "James the 'Amazing' Randi, a Canadian magician and world-renowned sceptic, to describe people who are determined to go on believing in woo, no matter how much evidence to the contrary you present them with" (p. 144).  Totally Covid.


There is lots of good information out there. We know how to handle our own beliefs when we are about to get sucked down the rabbit hole (Wiles & Morris 2021b), but how on earth do we help those ducks who remain in the vortex, firmly clutching woo as their safety line?

I have been avoiding the damn ducks. But if I do that, how many others do too? And if we all do that, how do we help the ducks - our friends, our colleagues, our whānau - to come back to science? 

I tell you, it is defeating me. Q-U-A-A-A-A-R-K.



  • Brookmyre, C. (2007). Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks. Little, Brown Book Group.
  • Dickens, C. (1959). A Tale of Two Cities. Chapman & Hall. 
  • Wikimedia Commons (2020). Rubber Duckies So Many Ducks.
  • Wiles, S., & Morris, T. (19 August 2021a). How Covid vaccinated people can still get infected. The Spinoff.
  • Wiles, S., & Morris, T. (21 August 2021b). The red flags of Covid misinformation. The Spinoff.

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