This is a guest post by Sebastian Schindler, Assistant Professor at Geschwister-Scholl Institute for Political Science at LMU Munich, Germany. Recently his article “The Task of Critique in Times of Post-Truth Politics” has appeared in the Review of International Studies.

Did the Corona virus really originate in an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan? Did it not rather stem from secret Chinese military labs, as early conspiracy theories claimed? Or was the pandemic planned by Bill Gates on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, as some Instagram posts suggested? And is the virus really as dangerous as official sources claim? Would not simple disinfectants provide an easy cure for this “foreign” virus, as President Trump indicated just a couple of weeks ago?

Doubt and skepticism of the “official” accounts of the current health crisis are so widespread that United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres recently declared that the world had to fight not only the corona pandemic, but also a “misinfo-demic”, recalling a term coined already in 2003 during the SARS outbreak. The doubt of “official” sources may take crude and bizarre forms, yet its popularity seems undiminished since the days when “post-truth” was selected as word of the year by Oxford dictionaries in 2016. At the time, the expression was meant to capture that scientific evidence had little effect in countering gestures at the “felt truth” (about crime in American cities, or the British contribution to the EU etc.). “Appeals to emotion” were more influential than “objective facts”, as Oxford dictionaries defined the term, and truth itself had “become irrelevant”.

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