There is a beautiful story from the life of Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the ubiquitous light bulb that we take for granted these days. Edison is said to have experimented with over a thousand ways to create light from electricity, something which he surely believed was possible. But in the process, he lost the desire to sleep or eat even, so much so that his family and friends tried to refer him to a psychiatrist, thinking that he had gone mad.
Yet, it was Edison’s courage to dissent from others’ views, especially of his scientific peers’, that gave the world the ability to light up a room or an office or a whole stadium at the flick of a switch.
Today, I came across another beautiful illustration of scientific dissent, which may prove to be a lifesaver for millions in these pandemic times.
But before that, a quick look at what is an aerosol, in case any of you have forgotten. An aerosol is a suspension of fine solid or liquid particles in the air or any specific gas. A natural example is fog or mist and a manmade example is air with automobile pollutants.
Now, in a major case of scientific dissent, 239 scientists have signed a letter to World Health Organization (WHO), refuting the apex health body’s stand that Covid-19 won’t be spread by aerosol or suspended virus particles in the air. These scientists from diverse fields including science and medicine, say enough evidence is there for significant aerosol spread of the disease, and their letter is now all set to be published soon in a medical journal.
WHO’s stand on the other hand has been that Covid-19 is spread primarily by only larger droplets of fluids containing the virus , from cough or sneezing, which will fall to the ground within minutes or seconds.
Aerosols, on the other hand, can form from even normal exhalation or breathing out and can be in the air for up to three hours or more, thereby significantly increasing the chances for mass infections. That is how the disease spread worldwide this fast and became a pandemic, these dissenting scientists argue.
But WHO argues that if it had spread through aerosols, the spread would have been much more massive and worse. But this is the same WHO which argued for long that there was no proof that Novel Corona Virus spreads from humans to humans, and that there was no need for banning flights from China for much of the initial months of the disease outbreak. And the same WHO which argued for long that the public need not wear face masks and that only health workers need to wear it!
That is why I think scientific dissent is very important if we have to achieve real breakthroughs and progress. In my new book, ‘The Making of a Superhuman’, I have often donned the mantle of a scientific dissenter and I have sided too with renowned scientific dissenters, be it on diet, metabolic diseases, fats and cholesterol.
I think the jury is still out on the aerosol question. Let the evidences emerge without prejudice. Meanwhile, if I were you, I would believe the aerosol theory of Covid-19 spread and take the necessary precautions. Like, wearing a good quality mask in the perfect way, which this large team of dissenting scientists is proposing as a short-term measure.