On September 13 2021, a photograph of a man with a poorly spelled sign (“I know more than the scietists”) went viral on Twitter:
this is where we’re at and it hurts. pic.twitter.com/GwM28DIBG2
— Andrew Baback Boozary MD (@drandrewb) September 13, 2021
One popular tweet read, “This is where we’re at and it hurts,” a sentiment seemingly addressing a widespread distrust of public health experts during the events of 2020 and 2021. A geolocation tag placed the tweet at the generic-sounding “University Health Network,” but the tag connected to Canadian hospital @UHN — “a public research and teaching hospital network in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”
On September 13 2021, several Canadian news organizations reported information ahead of expected protests at hospitals and health centers. In one article on that day, “Politicians issue warnings ahead of hospital protests expected across Canada,” CTV advised the public of widespread demonstrations:
A Toronto hospital where protests against COVID-19 measures are planned today [September 13 2021] says such demonstrations are demoralizing.
The University Health Network, which runs Toronto General Hospital, says staff who have cared for the people dying of COVID-19 are particularly disheartened.
Some high-ranking Ontario politicians and prominent health-care organizations are issuing warnings ahead of a number of protests expected to take place at hospitals across Canada today [September 13 2021].
An organization calling itself Canadian Frontline Nurses posted notices of “silent vigils” expected to take place in all 10 provinces, saying they’re meant to critique public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Boozary’s tweet coincided with anticipated protests organized by disinformation purveyors “in all ten provinces.” But protests are not always straightforward, and an internet axiom known as Poe’s Law holds relevant advice:
The core idea of Poe’s Law is that a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody (all because parodies are intrinsically extreme, in case you haven’t noticed it). This can also happen to someone whose picture of the opposing position is such a grotesque caricature that it renders them unable to tell parody from reality. Reality and parody are further blended by the fact that something that started as a parody might turn into a Windmill Political that some people take as gospel and go to a very serious (if not literal) war.
According to RationalWiki, Poe’s Law was formulated by Nathan Poe, referring to the Flame Wars on Christian forums where Creationism vs. Evolution was discussed: Many users posted parody comments, which were followed by both angry and supportive replies. Poe phrased his law thus: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake it for the genuine article.” As far as we know, nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe’s Law describes the difficulty in discerning authentic sentiment from parody of same, and notes that the intensity of the sentiment influenced the ability to separate the two. A reply to Boozary’s tweet pointed to another, indicating that Poe’s Law might be in play with the “I know more than scietists” sign:
This counter protestor just arrived at Toronto General Hospital holding a sign that on one side reads “I demand my right to be ignorant & selfish” the other side reads “I know more than the scientists” pic.twitter.com/13WANeK4Rx
— Adrian Ghobrial (@CityAdrian) September 13, 2021
In that tweet, the same protester in a helmet and orange shirt was seen holding the “I know more than scietists” sign. On the other side and in the video still, the sign also read:
I Demand my Right to be Ignarant & Selfish !!
In that context, the “I know more than the scietists” sign certainly seemed to be the work of a counter-protester satirizing the Canada-wide protests outside of hospitals on September 13 2021. But as Poe’s Law dictates, without the additional context, the sign and its holder’s sincerity were unclear.
Update, 9/15/2021, 4:10 PM: The man in the image was identified as a counter-protester in coverage of the province-wide protests:
One anti-anti-vaxxer took a sarcastic stand against protests targeting Toronto hospitals Monday [September 13 2021], as he paraded around an intentionally misspelled cardboard sign to prove a point.
On one side, Dave Renzetti’s sign read: “I demand my right to be ignarant and selfish!!”
The other side said: “I know more than the scietists.”
The irony may have been lost on some, but Renzetti told 680 NEWS he had a very real message to convey.
“I don’t believe they know more than the scientists and I also believe our right to be free, selfish and ignorant doesn’t supersede someone else’s right to life.”