health

Pete Evans' dangerous ideas were confined to his social media. Now they're on mainstream radio.

Since Pete Evans departed Channel Seven earlier this month, his social media feed has become a hotbed of inflammatory commentary.

In between peace sign and rainbow emojis are comments like “intriguing” and “What do you think?” and hashtags including “#nevergofullscience”, plus alarming theories about COVID-19, social distancing and vaccination.

A quick look through Evans’ Instagram account shows posts questioning the needs and effectiveness of vaccinations and the safety of 5G, as well as anti-Bill Gates, media and government memes – and that’s without even diving deeper into the links he shares, such as one to a video in which British conspiracy theorist David Icke refers to the current health crisis as “a fake pandemic with no virus” and ties COVID-19 infections to 5G antennas. (If that name sounds familiar, that’s likely because he’s the man who alleged that the world is secretly run by giant, shape-shifting lizards.)

Among the most bizarre of Evans’ posts was one to his Instagram stories that claims we’ll soon see media articles about celebrities being diagnosed with coronavirus, but secret “code words” will reveal the truth.

That truth?

US President Donald Trump is in charge of an investigation into a global paedophile ring involving political and Hollywood elites. Evans’ post alleges that the media will mask the arrests of “certain high-profile people” for “major crimes against humanity” by reporting they have been forced to isolate due to coronavirus.

Image: Instagram.

And of course there was the $25,200 fine he copped after he promoted a $23,000 light machine (available for sale through his website) as a treatment for coronavirus.

For the last couple of weeks, Evans has made media headlines for these views.

But articles on most mainstream media sites, like here on Mamamia, have reported Evans' posts as exactly what they are; bizarre conspiracies - and have included fact checking to point out the dangerous implications of his claims.

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Because Evans is a chef. He has no background in medicine or science, and is not an authority on either topic.

But on Monday morning, The Kyle and Jackie O Show brought Evans' views to the mainstream; Sydney's biggest FM radio show to be precise, for an almost 20-minute chat.

Evans was on brand from the get go, making unsubstantiated or just blatantly incorrect claims without scrutiny or challenge.

"There's been scientific reports out there, they say if you get the flu vaccine now there's the potential that it increases your risk of coming down with greater symptoms for COVID-19," he said.

This is incorrect: This claim relies on a January 2020 study which found individuals who received the flu vaccine had a higher probability of contracting seasonal coronaviruses that lead to the common cold. The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is not the same virus and the study found vaccinated people did not have significant odds of respiratory illnesses.

Image: Instagram.

Evans said he was not an anti-vaxxer, but "pro-choice for medical freedom", a phrase the anti-vaccination community has adopted from the pro-choice abortion movement.

During the interview, Evans questioned if people should be seeking advice from their GPs.

"Now, I don't know how much training GPs have done in virology or immunisation or whatever that is, and that's a question I would love to hear," he stated.

"People need to do their own research on this too," Kyle Sandilands responded.

Evans went on to discuss a disproved theory that vaccines caused behavioural changes in children.

"I've met so many mothers and their children and they tell me, 'Hey Pete, my boy or girl was a healthy, functioning beautiful child - and they're still a beautiful child - but something happened when they got a shot one day'," he said.

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"And within two hours, 12 hours, 24, 48 hours, that little boy or girl completely changed their behaviour. And certainly changed their nature."

There is no evidence that vaccines can cause behavioural changes in children, and the supposed link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been discredited time and time again, with the ex-physician who claimed such being found as a fraud in 1998.

Royal Australian College of GPs President Dr Harry Nespolon said it was "extremely disappointing" that Evans was given 20 minutes of unfetted air time in a statement to Mamamia.

"As I have said many times, vaccines are one of the great success stories of modern medicine. However, sadly the rise of the anti-vaxxer trend, which is particularly prominent on various social media platforms, has eroded public trust.

"I think that all television networks, radio stations and publications have a responsibility to self-regulate and not provide platforms to people spreading dangerous and misleading information that can harm public health.

"If they do interview such individuals they need to at least challenge conspiracy theories and 'advice' contrary to expert medical opinion.

"Instead of listening to Pete Evans on commercial radio, consult with your GP - we are there for you and have your best interest at heart. Now more than ever, expert advice matters."

During his interview, Evans said he took issue with being "pigeonholed" as "just a chef".

"No, no, I'm actually a human being that is passionate about many different things in my life, you know, health and nutrition and building communities of like-minded people that can have a ripple effect out there into the world."

He finished his segment - after more than 17 and a half minutes - with an analogy that boiled down to 'I am a chef, but so is Colonel Sanders' and suggested this applied to doctors too.

"Feel into it, feel into it and then seek the advice of the experts right, in all the fields, and even if that doesn't feel right, keep searching for other experts," he said.

The problem with this is that it encourages people to keep searching, through multiple experts, until they find one on the fringes who validates their view.

"Keep an open mind," Henderson said, wrapping their chat with Evans up.

"Keep an open mind and research yourself," Sandilands concluded.

Indeed; for peer-reviewed, science-backed research, try Scopus, Google Scholar and PubMed. And stay off YouTube.

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Feature images: Instagram.

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