Opinion | The University of Alabama is fighting the infodemic

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

This Thursday, Nov. 11, the University will reinstate the Alabama Lectures on Life’s Evolution series of seminars, or ALLELE. 

To kick off the series, Dr. Shannon Bennett from the California Academy of Sciences will be presenting Thursday’s lecture titled “The Evolution of the Pandemic: Lessons from SARS-CoV-2 and Other Viruses.”

With her expertise in “infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans,”  Bennett is a great choice to give a lecture on COVID-19.

I applaud the University for inviting Bennett to speak because there continue to be massive amounts of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccines that are our best hope of ending it. Social media in particular has seen an “infodemic,” where daily flooding of information has made it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Having an expert in viruses come to the University could help to clear the air for anyone who may still have reservations about getting the vaccine to “protect our herd.” 

I urge students who are vaccine-hesitant to attend Bennett’s lecture. More than likely, it will help to clarify the dangers of COVID-19 and will provide you with reliable information related to the virus and its vaccine. 

It is even more important to have an expert like Bennett speak now because the University’s COVID-19 policies have recently changed. With the mask mandate for vaccinated staff and students lifted as of Nov. 5, we must remind everyone of the precautions that they should still take, vaccinated or not. 

Bennett’s appearance is also essential after Charlie Kirk’s recent visit to Hotel Capstone. Kirk is a known peddler of the very same COVID-19 misinformation that Bennett can hopefully counteract in her seminar.

Indeed, inviting Bennett to the Capstone demonstrates the University’s commitment to knowledge and truth. It reaffirms our community’s resolve to do our part in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, even as we approach the two-year mark of battling this virus. 

As issues — even those related to public health — become increasingly politicized and divisive, it is important that the University focuses on platforming experts like Bennett to set the record straight. If anyone should have a voice when discussing issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be the scientists who actually study these subjects for a living.

As alluded to, an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic has been a decreasing trust in experts and an increasing reliance on questionable media and conspiracy theories. Thankfully, the University is promoting trust in experts by associating them with The University of Alabama, an institution that many students already trust.

The University is working to combat dangerous misinformation that endangers public health and to restore trust in intellectualism. It is also fulfilling its role as an educational institution by making the correct information more accessible and less elusive.

The University’s platforming of Bennett shows an admirable dedication to upholding its stated values. As a community, we must continue to amplify the voices of objective experts in a world that seems to increasingly value conspiracy and misinformation.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at letters@cw.ua.edu.