Matt Le Tissier talks to The Skeptic about Covid, vaccines, 15-minute cities and climate change Michael Marshall The Skeptic

Yesterday, I wrote about a recent experience at Essex Skeptics in the pub, in which I was heckled by some anti-vaxxers who came along to tell me how wrong I was about everything, and who left telling me what a fantastic time they’d had talking to us about all the various ways we disagreed.

Partly, I wanted to express the importance of talking to people we disagree with, rather than shouting at them – I really do feel that our only way out of this epistemic mess is to continue to engage with people and ensure they’re within reach. But my extended thesis on the value of patience, before it evolved legs and ran away with itself, was actually intended as an introduction to a different conversation I had recently.

Talking to people I disagree with has been a hobby of mine for over a decade now, and it’s the whole purpose of my podcast, Be Reasonable (available everywhere podcasts live, naturally!). As a show, Be Reasonable is something of an acquired taste – the most prominent piece of feedback I get from listeners is “I love the show; I can’t listen to a full episode of it”. That’s because the purpose of the show is to hear from people we disagree with, and to try to understand what makes them tick… which means that, rather than arguing with my guests, or correcting them every time they say something that’s not true, I prioritise building a rapport, letting the conversation flow, and trying to get to the points that I think are most important, avoiding distracting dead ends as much as possible.

Be Reasonable, as a show, grew out of one of the first podcasts in the UK skeptical community, Righteous Indignation, where Hayley Stevens, Trystan Swale and I would interview people we found interesting. Over time, we realised that the community was well served for interviews with prominent skeptics, but there was nobody trying to hear what the other side were saying, and so that’s what we did. When RI ended, in 2013 Hayley and I picked up the interview idea with Be Reasonable; after a while Hayley left to pursue other projects, and I’ve been hosting the show ever since.

For those who are new to the show, there’s a back catalogue of more than 80 episodes, including half a dozen interviews with flat earthers, a number of people claiming to have psychic skills (check out the interview with Vicki Monroe for a live psychic reading that borders on excruciating), conversations with a chap who believes that pterosaurs still live in America and another who believes that humans are the result of cross-species hybridisation. I’ve talked to the inventor of a bleach-based miracle cure that has killed thousands of people, I’ve spoken to more than one person who believes in conversion therapy for gay people, and I interviewed a white supremacist who went on to become the subject of a major documentary. There was the interview with a homeopath who felt that insulting me was the best way to make his point, and the conversation with a hollow earther which takes a hard turn in a completely unexpected direction.

Each of these conversations, I feel, teaches me something – something about how people construct and justify their beliefs, or how their personal circumstances lead them into positions that most people will consider to be obviously false, or how beliefs that seem on the surface harmless can mask far darker implications.

All of which leads me to the most recent episode of the show, with perhaps my most well-known guest to date. Matthew Le Tissier was a footballing idol at during a 16 year career at Southampton, and is widely regarded as one of the most creative and talented players ever to grace the English game. Since retiring, he became a household name as a pundit for Sky Sport’s football coverage – a position he would lose in August 2020, over his ongoing social media criticism of the global narrative around COVID-19. Since then, he has built a significant following among Covid conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine communities, including appearing at in-person events with QAnon promoter Mark Attwood, and with Gareth Icke, son of famed conspiracy theorist (and, by coincidence, another former footballer) David Icke.

I sat down for an hour on Zoom with Matt, to find out what brought him to his current positions on Covid, vaccines, 15-minute cities and climate change. Our conversation was released in Episode 81 of Be Reasonable, for April 2023, and you can watch it in full below:

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The Skeptic editor, Michael Marshall, sat down with former footballer Matt Le Tissier to ask why he has become increasingly vocal in his support for conspiracy theories
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