In a viral video, Stella Immanuel, a US-based Nigerian-trained medical doctor, confirmed the facts that experts are vulnerable to naïve realism, and could be instrumental to promoting the rule of cognitive biases. By describing studies, which question the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as “fake science”, and alleging that there is a conspiracy by pharmaceutical practitioners against the treatment of COVID-19, she presented herself as a naïve realist.
Her inferential biases, anecdotal evidences, disrespect of regulatory authorities and peer inputs as well as hasty labeling of experts with alternative views, point to the warped logic of naïve realists. Her anti-scientific stunt offers instructive lessons on the ruinous effects of naïve realism.
Naïve realism is a theory of perception. It involves three basic postulates. One, it is an inclination to regard our views as objective, unbiased, and in consonance with reality. Two, it flows from a conviction that people will reach the same conclusion with us, when they have similar information, and rationally process it. Three, it makes us to consider people who disagree with us as uninformed, irrational, and biased.
Data science and predictive analytics cannot foster good governance when leaders and experts exhibit elements of naïve realism. It is extremely difficult to forge multilateral cooperation when naïve realists are at the helm of affairs. Their false sense of superior knowledge stirs unhelpful controversies, antagonism, and destroys bridges. Nothing buttresses this point like the reactions of Kogi State’s government to the disclosure by NCDC that the state was not COVID-19 free.
In knowledge economy, leadership requires data intelligence. However, when the credibility of purveyors of knowledge for national transformation is needlessly attacked, it becomes extremely difficult for leaders to make data-based decision. This paves way for political entrepreneurs to unleash sentiments, and manipulate the decision-making process of leaders. Stella Immanuel has inadvertently politicised the fight against COVID-19, thereby, she has made big wins more difficult, and remote in the horizon of possibility.
The lack of stakeholders’ cooperation to stop the killings in Zamfara and Southern Kaduna demonstrate how naïve realism could jeopardise national security. Leaders across ethno-religious and political divides in the region are unable to agree on measures to end the criminal and serial wastages of lives and property, because of needless exhibition of I-am-right-you-are-dead attitude. Naïve realists focus on points of differences, and pay no attention to points of similarity, thereby exacerbating crises.
Experiences have shown that in addressing perennial national problems, we do not have polite ways to disagree without sowing seeds of disunity and acrimony. Hence, leaders across partisan divides cannot set aside their differences and form alliances for common good. They politicise national issues that require the spirit of sportsmanship, because, they are more loyal to their biases than to Nigeria.
A close look at Nigeria’s public square shows that naïve realists consider fellow citizens who disagree with them as “useful idiots” on the payroll of merchants of delusion. This mental attitude is antithetical to the democratic temperament underpinning pluralism of ideologies, cultural differences, freedoms of conscience and expression. If unchecked, it would make public spaces unsafe for transformational civic dialogue.
Dr. Stella Immanuel dramatised how naive realists engage in stereotypical group characterisation. She said, “So if some fake science, some persons sponsored by all these fake Pharma companies come out to say it doesn’t work, I can tell you categorically is fake science.” Naive realists think that by attacking the integrity of anyone that disagrees with them, they are logically establishing the facts of their claims. For example, power mongers shoehorn public intellectuals that decry banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, et cetera into the pigeonhole of wailers. It is unwise to cast gatekeepers of knowledge in bad light, because of partisan interests.
Naïve realists tend to conflate feelings and fact. They use feelings to validate facts. It is unscientific and a recipe for social chaos. Social harmony and economic progress are elusive where biases and anecdotal evidences are ranked above veritable facts. Facts make people to cohere; biases divide them.
Many leaders are not drivers of social change. For they do not see the nature of things the way they are; rather, they see things in the light of their nature. Blindfolded by arrogant biases, they do not see and empathise with people wallowing in the squalor of poverty. Therefore, they fail to provide life-improving opportunities to people.
Naïve realism causes tribal alliances on social media. Digital natives animated by conspiracy theories and deft at constructing reality with alternative facts are the fastest-growing tribe in Nigeria. Fact checking is a luxury they cannot afford. Substituting hunches for facts is their pastime. Sadly, democracy cannot flourish where facts are subservient to sentiments.
It takes comprehensive knowledge of oneself and others to live peacefully and prosperously in a multicultural and polarised society. Naïve realism is an impediment to cultivating such knowledge. As a result, Nigeria’s public squares are battlefields of jaundiced-tribal warlords, instead of locus of noble contestations of ideas.
Osamwonyi Gabriel Omozuwa, email@example.com