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An Arsenal of Hamster Knowledge

May 27, 2020

We’re keeping track of COVID-19 pseudoscience, snake oil, fake cures, and more at CFI’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Separate fact from fiction and inoculate yourself from misinformation at centerforinquiry.org/coronavirus.

Red Flags

For the first time, Twitter appends a very gentle warning message to one of President Trump’s tweets in which he lies about voting by mail, alerting the user that there are real facts to be had elsewhere. The Times reports:

Twitter added information to refute the inaccuracies in President Trump’s tweets for the first time on Tuesday, after years of pressure over its inaction on his false and threatening posts.

The social media company added links late Tuesday to two of Mr. Trump’s tweets in which he had posted about mail-in ballots and falsely claimed that they would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.” …

… The warning labels were a minor addition to Mr. Trump’s tweets, but they represented a big shift in how Twitter deals with the president.

That’s a good step, but it’s hardly the only, nor the worst, example of Trump tweetings that demand refutation. For the most egregious example of the past, say, 48 hours, we have the president’s maniacal insistence on accusing Joe Scarborough of murder:

[There was] a fierce backlash over tweets that Mr. Trump had posted about Lori Klausutis, a young woman who died in 2001 from complications of an undiagnosed heart condition while working for Joe Scarborough, a Florida congressman at the time. As part of his long-running feud with Mr. Scarborough, a host for MSNBC, Mr. Trump had posted false conspiracy theories about Ms. Klausutis’s death in recent days suggesting that Mr. Scarborough was involved.

Early Tuesday, a letter from the widower of Ms. Klausutis addressed to Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, became public. In it, Timothy Klausutis asked Twitter to delete Mr. Trump’s tweets about his late wife, calling them “horrifying lies.” … Twitter said it was “deeply sorry about the pain these statements” were causing the Klausutis family, but said that it would not remove Mr. Trump’s tweets because they did not violate its policies.


As for Trump, he just kept on going. The Post reports:

President Trump and the White House on Tuesday continued to promote a baseless conspiracy theory about a woman’s 2001 death, ignoring her grieving widower’s plea for peace and putting renewed pressure on social media companies about the president’s toxic use of their platforms. …

… “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation, very sad, very sad and very suspicious,” Trump told reporters at a White House event Tuesday. “And I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it, it would be a very good thing. As you know, there’s no statute of limitations. So it would be a very good thing to do.”

And things only get weirder! A bunch of Twitter parody/satire accounts, led by @TheTweetOfGod, began piling on to an overtly fictional scandal about Trump having murdered someone named Carolyn Gombell in 2000. This caused the hashtag #JusticeForCarolyn to trend way up.

Kara Swisher at the New York Times says Twitter needs to do way more about Trump and his conspiracy theories and misinformation, though admits there is no clear answer as to precisely what:

Taking really valuable one-off actions [such as simply deleting offending tweets] can be laudable since they make an example of someone’s horrid behavior as a warning to others. While it is impossible to stop the endless distribution of a screenshot of the tweets, taking the original ones down would send a strong message that this behavior is not tolerated.

Or, if he must, Mr. Dorsey could set up an independent content board as Facebook has recently done, which could take on thorny questions like this and remove them from his purview. This might seem like a cop-out, but putting these questions up for a more measured debate might be the exit that the company needs to focus on the rest of its business.

I Do Declare!

An atheist couple in Wisconsin wanted to get married by way of the state’s marriage law that allows couples to essentially self-solemnize by “mutual declaration.” But the county clerk told them they couldn’t because they weren’t attached to any religion or church. So they got in touch with us and American Atheists, and we’re following up:

“This is one of the most clear-cut cases of discrimination against atheists still sullying our legal system,” stated Nick Little, CFI’s General Counsel and Legal Director. “We’ve fought this battle across the country and are willing to fight it here. We hope, though, that Winnebago County and Wisconsin’s Attorney General realize this is a case they cannot win, and allow nonreligious Wisconsinites the same rights to the wedding of their choice that their religious neighbors have.”

The headline: “Meet eight pastors who pushed to keep their churches open.” Me: “No thanks! Life is too short as it is.”

There is apparently a Christian band called Hawk Nelson, and apparently, I am told, its lead singer, Jon Steingard, has announced that he is no longer a believer. Loudwire reports:

“I am now finding that I no longer believe in God,” he wrote, noting, “The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden. It’s been more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.”

Well it is almost June, and it is too hot for sweaters anyway.

In the preface of a new book on the Catholic Church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community published by the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi welcomes gays in such a way that I’m sure he’ll be getting some nasty letters from Bill Donohue:

Regardless of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, Zuppi specified that the doctrine distinguishes between sexual orientation and homosexual acts.

“What we cannot ‘welcome’ is the sin expressed in an act,” he said. “Sexual orientation – which nobody ‘chooses’ – isn’t necessarily an act. Also, it’s not separable from the identity of the person; by welcoming a person we cannot overlook their (sexual) orientation.”

Finally, the archbishop warned that even if an individual leads a lifestyle that is not approved of by the Catholic Church, this cannot mean that the person is not to be welcomed.

California releases its guidelines for houses of worship looking to reopen. RNS reports:

Worshippers who are allowed to return will find some jarring changes. The state guidelines limit gatherings to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower. Choirs aren’t recommended. Neither are shaking hands or hugging. Worshipers are urged to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs, keep their distance in pews and skip the collection plate. Large gatherings such as for concerts, weddings and funerals should be avoided.

The guidelines say even with physical distancing, in-person worship carries a higher risk of transmitting the virus and increasing the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and recommend houses of worship shorten services.

Ryan Burge wonders if Democrats have a shot in 2020 of winning over more Mormons:

Immigration is the real divide … On all five of the immigration questions, Mormons are not as conservative on immigration as white evangelicals. They are nearly twenty points less likely to support an elimination of the visa lottery and family based migration. They are 16 points less likely to support additional funding for the border wall of security on the Mexican border.

I must wonder if that continued support of harsh immigration policies and the presidency of Donald Trump among white evangelicals and the Republican party might drive a wedge into the Mormon vote. I don’t think any Democrat could ever win the electoral college votes of Utah, but it seems much more possible now than it did in the spring of 2012.

Double-Talk and Baloney

Sean Illing at Vox talks to David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under Obama and author of The Triumph of Doubt, about how corporations manufacture doubt about science to their own benefit:

Big Tobacco and the fossil fuels industry are obvious examples, but the problem goes well beyond that. From cancer-causing hair products and apparel to diabetes-linked food and sugary drinks, corporations have realized that you don’t have to convince the public or government officials of anything — all you have to do is create the illusion of doubt.

And they do that by piloting bogus studies, organizing partisan think tanks, supplying dubious congressional witnesses, and anything else they can think of to give regulators enough cover to plausibly look the other way. If you’ve ever heard a politician say “The science is still unclear” or “We need to keep researching the issue,” there’s a good chance that was made possible by industry-funded pseudo-science. …

… “The Republican base,” Michaels told me, “has been acclimatized to be skeptical of mainstream science, and easily believe accusations that they are being manipulated by the deep state, the liberal media, and pointy-headed scientists.”

At CFI’s Quackwatch, Dr. Stephen Barrett takes on chiropractors and their competing claims about boosting immunity to COVID-19:

Simply put, these reports are ingenious pieces of double-talk that say: “We know that chiropractic can help people with serious viral diseases, but we are not claiming this (wink-wink) because the clinical trials needed to prove this have not yet been done.” This message is misleading because clinical trials are unlikely to take place without a logical reason (such as preliminary evidence a plausible rational) to do them. The idea that chiropractors are in a “unique position” to help patients deal with the COVID-19 epidemic is also baloney.

At Skeptical Inquirer, Ada McVean surveys what we know about what will and will not have a detrimental effect on dudes’ little swimmers. For example, we know things like cigarettes and cocaine will impact fertility, but moderate drinking probably won’t. I was particularly taken with the opening paragraph, however:

Did you know that the average cisgendered male human produces approximately the same number of morphologically normal sperm per day as a hamster, despite having testicles ten times the size? Yeah, me neither. Until I started researching this article, that is. Besides being another piece of trivia to add to my arsenal of hamster knowledge (Did you know that hamsters are omnivores, even though most pet hamsters are fed vegetarian diets?), this fact highlights a problem that makes researching lifestyle contributions to male fertility difficult. Human males are really inefficient at producing sperm.

Steven Novella looks at the potential dangers of “herbal medicine” taken by pregnant women:

Herbs need to be thought of for what they are – unregulated, poorly studied drugs with largely unknown properties. … We are essentially allowing an entire industry to gaslight the public, to make false claims, and to be free of any burden of having to prove safety or efficacy.

50 Cents for Your Thoughts

It appears that YouTube had been automatically deleting comments with phrases critical of the Chinese government. The Verge reports:

Comments left under videos or in live streams that contain the words “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”) are automatically deleted in around 15 seconds, though their English language translations and Romanized Pinyin equivalents are not.

The term “共匪” is an insult that dates back to China’s Nationalist government, while “五毛,” (or “wu mao”) is a derogatory slang term for internet users paid to direct online discussion away from criticism of the CCP. The name comes from claims that such commenters are paid 50 Chinese cents per post.

Following these reports, YouTube says it has fixed what it says was an “error in their enforcement systems,” and not reflective of its actual policies.

Meanwhile, YouTube has also taken down the Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans because of alleged copyright infringements, but of course there’s more to it than that. The Verge again:

“I don’t agree with its message and I don’t like the misleading use of facts in its narrative,” Smith said to The Guardian. A few seconds of Smith’s video, Rare Earthenware, were used in Moore’s film, which criticizes renewable energy. …

… A firestorm of criticism from influential environmental advocates followed the release of Planet of the Humans in April. Among other things, the film makes the dubious claim that solar and wind power are potentially as harmful to the environment as fossil fuels and that environmentalists are essentially in the pockets of renewable energy corporations. Those claims have been torn apart by environmentalists and scientists who say that the film’s assertions are misleading.

How do you sell a million-dollar house in uncertain times? If it’s in Oregon, you dress up like Bigfoot. The Oregonian reports on a sasquatch sighting that I can endorse:

[Coldwell Banker Realty agent Daniel] Oster put on a Bigfoot costume, posed for more photos as he baked in the remodeled kitchen, lounged in one of the five bedrooms and gently clipped azaleas on the 0.7-acre estate. …

… “No one thinks Bigfoot is real, but there is a kitschy Bigfoot Discovery Museum in town,” said Oster, explaining what prompted the 6-foot-tall real estate agent to order a furry costume and get busy acting burly.

In almost 18 years of being successful at selling real estate, this is the first time Oster went yeti.

Indian yogi Prahlad Jani, who claimed to be able to live for decades without food or water, has died at the age of 90. I hope he got a chance to eat something first, because he apparently really baffled local doctors. AFP reports:

In 2010 a team of military doctors studied him for two weeks at a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest city.

Jani was watched with cameras and closed circuit television. Doctors took scans of his organs, brain and blood vessels, and conducted tests on his heart, lungs and memory capacity.

They said he did not eat, drink or go to the toilet, and his only contact with fluid was during gargling and bathing periodically.

“We still do not know how he survives,” neurologist Sudhir Shah told reporters then.

Hey, take 40 minutes or so to check out a cool board game. The TIES webinar with Bailey Harris and Ariel E. Marcy about their game “Go Extinct! Stardust Catches the Carnivores” is now online.

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.