Australian government-funded broadcaster SBS has raised concerns about the recent news of Australian-grown garlic exhibiting a 99.9% efficacy against viruses causing COVID-19, warning that 'anti-vaxxers' were 'spreading misinformation' about the study.
The broadcaster raised apprehensions about potential misuse of this information by vaccine sceptics, who it alleged were propagating misinformation about garlic as an alternative COVID-19 treatment.
The research conducted by the Doherty Institute, was commissioned by Australian Garlic Producers and was a lead news story on several mainstream media outlets this week.
The SBS, however, flagged the research's substantial endorsement by vaccine sceptics, which led to its widespread sharing on social media.
The SBS report extensively cited Associate Professor Adam Dunn from the University of Sydney, who cautioned:
"This is a study that is done in vitro, meaning it's not done in humans in the real world; it's done in test tubes."
He warned against credulously accepting claims of products that have been tested outside of human trials.
While the SBS report chose to question why vaccine sceptics had 'latched on' to the garlic study, the mainstream media itself had predominantly originated the news of the new research.
In the article, Professor Dunn highlighted that those staunchly opposed to vaccines represent a minuscule segment of the population whose aim was to sway the vaccine-hesitant demographic.
"If you see an appeal to authority, without discussion of the actual evidence, that's a really clear signal that someone's trying to win an argument," he said.
However, the SBS, along with other mainstream Australian media, frequently referred to research and modelling data from the Doherty Institute in their articles during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Discussion of the Doherty Institute's evidence at that time was essentially off-limits, both in the mainstream media and on social media.
The mainstream media reported on lockdowns and vaccination strategies by Australian authorities, leveraging the Doherty Institute's authority without seeking further input from independent experts at the time, as the public was urged to 'trust the science' provided to government leaders.
In August 2021, SBS and other Australian media outlets covered the Doherty Institute's COVID-19 modelling, which recommended lifting lockdowns only when "70 to 80 per cent of the adult population are vaccinated".
Critics pointed out the lack of transparency regarding funding sources for the research and the absence of independent expert opinions on the studies' validity.
This week, however, SBS turned its focus on the Doherty Institute's investigation into Australian garlic, insinuating that vaccine sceptics were using the research to spread misinformation online deliberately.