Zeynep Tufekci on the pandemic and underlying social problems.
August 31, 2021 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Tufekci is a strikingly sensible sociologist who was early about the importance of masking. "Yes, this is a really difficult question because I ended up writing an op-ed essentially criticizing CDC and the WHO on masks in March 2020. At the time, people were still saying masks could infect you, make things worse. Never in a million years I thought I’d start my own personal pandemic, criticizing global health authorities or the CDC. That was a really weird situation."

"And I have a lot of friends, especially junior people. Some of them are aghast but cannot speak up, and because I don’t have as much to lose, I can write things, in a way, that sometimes they can’t. That’s really made me think we need a mechanism for that to be possible for the scientists in the field. Medical fields are very hierarchical, and there’s some positives to that. You don’t want quackery there, but when they need to be challenged, there’s no mechanism to challenge them."

"I feel the same way about the pandemic now. I feel like it was a stress test, and I think there’s going to be a first crop of books that put most of the blame on Trump’s lap, which is not unjustified. That administration has a lot to answer for, but I think the things that it has shown us are much bigger than one administration’s admittedly very real failings. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, there is space for a book that looks at some of the things you were talking about, which is, we have to revitalize how our society works. We haven’t come to grips with this."

****

"I’m going to go back to the sociology fallback, which is that people don’t exist as independent atoms. The person to convince that person is a friend, an acquaintance, or somebody else from Staten Island. The way you want to deploy these convincing is — and we have this from so much sociology. If I come to you and say, “Your field is terrible, and you’re wrong about everything,” you’re not going to all of a sudden like me, right?

If we want to convince people, we need to deploy the people on the ground that we have, wherever it is, who’s closest to those people. If you want to convince people on Staten Island, you’ve got to send people who live on Staten Island who can work for this, or whatever community it is.

Instead, we’re lecturing at them. Nobody likes being lectured. Even if the lecturing is all correct, it just doesn’t work. I would try to say, “Hold on, my Staten Island friend, I’m going to find you somebody that you relate to, who’s going to tell you why you should get vaccinated.”"
posted by Nancy Lebovitz (14 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I follow Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) on Twitter and she's indeed by far the most sensible voice ont he subject. As she says in the interview repeatedly, it gets framed as a Republican-versus-Democrat opinion-fest when it can't actually make sense that way. People aren't wrong just because of their politics.
posted by Peach at 10:03 AM on August 31 [10 favorites]


People aren't wrong just because of their politics.

At the same time, their politics can drive why they're wrong. The choice of Staten Island when discussing vaccination reluctance was telling for me, someone who grew up in the NYC metro area - of the five boroughs, SI tends to be the one most centered around cultural elements of whiteness and conservative positioning. So it's not surprising that if you're talking about vaccine refusal in NYC, your mind goes straight to SI, because it's the place in NYC most friendly to the positions driving vaccine refusal.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:28 AM on August 31 [9 favorites]


or somebody else from Staten Island.

Ha
posted by star gentle uterus at 11:06 AM on August 31


Worth noting that Staten Island is actually ahead of Brooklyn and the Bronx in terms of adult population with at least one dose. Staten Island is at 72%, with the Bronx and Brooklyn at 70%. This is according to NYC's vaccine tracking website.
posted by SansPoint at 11:13 AM on August 31 [1 favorite]


Instead, we’re lecturing at them. Nobody likes being lectured. Even if the lecturing is all correct, it just doesn’t work.

I felt a cousin of this with the mini-genre of covid hospital bed interrogations that went around (and may still be -- I've just developed an aversion to headlines that suggest a story headed in that direction).

"Well, your mom wouldn't get the shot, you neither, and now she's dead and you just got done being intubated for a few weeks -- what say you now, ma'am?"

What human in the history of ever delivered the pat line with a camera stuck in their face? Somehow, national media journalists managed to top the MAGA safaris in obnoxiousness and futility, having never learned the simple rule that you give people a way out of the corner you put them in -- that they sometimes put themselves in -- or having perhaps learned the shame culture version that demanding confession and a display of contrition suffices as a graceful out.

People flatter themselves that they came to their beliefs and continue to believe what they do via some sort of syllogistic pure reason, and expect everyone will behave in line with this mirage of ego and vanity. So there's this well intentioned but futile conviction that just exposing people to reason and facts (or, in Facebook's dumb meme parlance, "science, bitches") will win the day.

I appreciate the sense of urgency and frustration people feel. I am irritated by but patient with the WWII victory garden levels of vaccine and masking boosterism coming out of NPR and other media outlets that identify as center or center-left. But it's all prolonging this bad idea that just anyone can shoot a little reason rocket over the DMZ and win hearts and minds. It has to be slower and harder than that.
posted by mph at 11:18 AM on August 31 [14 favorites]


When the pandemic was first recognized, I was watching South Korean news on Youtube, because they seemed to be very sensible about it, not surprising since they had been through two similar pandemics, an earlier SARS and a MERS pandemic. (They have consistently had some of the lowest Covid infection and death rates of any non-island nation).

Early on, a medical leader (a South Korean version of Fauci), made a public plea for western nations to start using masks, at a time when WHO and CDC were telling people not to wear masks. I mentioned this in several websites (probably in one of my Metafilter comments).

But no one was listening. Actually, not everyone in the US got this wrong. The US Post office had a plan to mail several masks to every US citizen, which was cancelled by you-know-who. (Then they got a new Postmaster General who's claim to fame was to slow down the mail service during an election.)

Now if only South Koreans can get themselves vaccinated (a choice they didn't have with previous pandemics).
posted by eye of newt at 11:35 AM on August 31 [14 favorites]


Instead, we’re lecturing at them. Nobody likes being lectured.

Okay, but what if someone only considers it lecturing when a woman does it?

Do we get a man to say it or do we say, "Don't be a sexist."
posted by FJT at 12:09 PM on August 31 [2 favorites]


It has to be slower and harder than that.

No, it doesn't, it's exactly the opposite. The only answer is a short, sharp shock.

Lecture? Convince? Fuck that, we need to stop coddling these people. This piece is in conversation with libertarian garbage Tyler Cowen so the obvious solution isn't brought up, but here's the choice to give these people: obey or be punished. No more conversations, no more pleading, no more carrots, only sticks. Mandates, period. You don't want the vaccine? Fine, no more job, no more participation in society. Enough of this courting bullshit, this is a national health emergency. Break these people.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:05 PM on August 31 [11 favorites]


star gentle uterus: The problem with this approach, which I do agree with, is the question of who enforces the punishment. To give you an idea, less than half of the NYPD is vaccinated, and they're pushing back hard against the city's mandate.
posted by SansPoint at 1:18 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


I know, I live in NYC. Fire every officer who refuses. Make vaccination a requirement for employment, fine or even arrest employers who don't comply. We can figure out how to enforce every other rule and law in the universe, we can figure this out. That's a solvable problem, it's just a matter of will. Our leadership needs to grow a spine and stop worrying what the anti-vaxxers will think. If Republicans or others push back, push back harder. Enough is enough.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:25 PM on August 31 [2 favorites]


We can figure out how to enforce every other rule and law in the universe, we can figure this out.

Considering 80% of the flagrant parking violations and at least 30% of the illegal driving I see done is with cars somewhat obviously belonging to cops or their family members (bent/scratches/illegally obscured license plates and think blue line punisher stickers are a good sign) I think it’s unlikely we’ll find a way around cops just not wanting to do certain things.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:52 PM on August 31 [2 favorites]


"I’m going to go back to the sociology fallback, which is that people don’t exist as independent atoms. The person to convince that person is a friend, an acquaintance, or somebody else from Staten Island. The way you want to deploy these convincing is — and we have this from so much sociology. If I come to you and say, “Your field is terrible, and you’re wrong about everything,” you’re not going to all of a sudden like me, right?

It's the idea behind 6 degrees of separation, basically. But because carrying out that sociological insight would require a different form of collective action, it's just so much easier to use neoliberal capitalism and status quo institutions to whip bad, right-wing people into order: using mandates, passports, ideology of the new normal, etc. And Western society is going to use the latter method, with most not realizing that was the same path that has been leading us to global crises in the first place.
posted by polymodus at 2:58 PM on August 31 [2 favorites]


The turning point, probably — probably not as visible to people outside — is the WHO investigation. I wrote a New York Times article about the origins of COVID. I didn’t really go into the WHO investigation. It is a debacle. It’s going to go in history books into how bad it is. It is essentially just typing up what the Chinese officials told them, almost uncritically.

It's interesting because I've been listening to TWiV regularly now, and they're definitely 90% letting WHO off the hook every time this is discussed. So I'm glad someone like Tufekci as a somewhat more independent disciplined expert is calling out in a reasonable way the more subtle forms of bias, conformity, mental gymnastics within professional science.
posted by polymodus at 3:11 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]


let the insurance companies do it. no shot? pay your own Libertarian way. 100% copay.
posted by wmo at 4:15 PM on August 31 [7 favorites]


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