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It Messes Up Everything

May 14, 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.


The Darkest Winter in the Darkest Timeline

Dr. Rick Bright, the vaccine expert booted by Trump when he pushed back against the president’s insistence on promoting hydroxychloroquine, is going to testify to the House today about how bad things are going to get. The Washington Post reports:

“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright says in prepared testimony submitted to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities. While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”

Kevin Roose at the New York Times has a frightening thought, which of course is just about all we think about over here, “What if we get a Covid-19 vaccine and half the country refuses to take it?

It occurred to me that all the misinformation we’ve seen so far — the false rumors that 5G cellphone towers fuel the coronavirus, that drinking bleach or injecting UV rays can cure it, that Dr. Anthony Fauci is part of an anti-Trump conspiracy — may be just the warm-up act for a much bigger information war when an effective vaccine becomes available to the public. This war could pit public health officials and politicians against an anti-vaccination movement that floods social media with misinformation, conspiracy theories and propaganda aimed at convincing people that the vaccine is a menace rather than a lifesaving, economy-rescuing miracle.

Scariest of all? It could actually work. …

… In short, the anti-vaxxers have been practicing for this. And I’m worried that they will be unusually effective in sowing doubts about a Covid-19 vaccine for several reasons.


Resistance to the Resistance to Resistance to the Virus

The San Diego Union-Tribune profiles the extraordinarily shady Vivienne Nicole Reign, the “charismatic frontwoman” of the California pro-infection group We Have Rights:

Reign, who has been living with her husband in a $3 million home in Newport Beach, according to legal documents, is currently embroiled in legal challenges concerning several neuropathy treatment clinics she owns and operates with a chiropractor. The defendants have maintained their innocence, denying claims brought by former clients of medical negligence, financial elder abuse and fraud. … While many [We Have Rights] protesters cited financial hardship as a reason for coming out, those in attendance also criticized everything from vaccines to Gov. Gavin Newsom to socialism.

Think about how weird it is that there now needs to be a resistance to the resistance against curve-flattening. The Poor People’s Campaign has a new initiative “urging resistance to or noncooperation with state plans calling for the reopening of the economy.” Can you follow all that? Yonat Shimron reports on the campaign that should not need to exist, but does:

In its new slogan, the campaign, co-chaired by two Christian ministers, is asking its followers to “Stay in Place, Stay Alive, Organize, and Don’t Believe the Lies.”

The campaign urges Congress, the president and state governors to follow the recommendations of public health experts and not risk a resurgence of the virus, which is disproportionately affecting poor, uninsured, low-wage laborers, many of them “essential workers” who have no alternative but to go to risky jobs that make them vulnerable to the virus.

Shira Feder at Insider checks with experts about how to talk to loved ones who believe in coronavirus conspiracy theories:

“When talking to friends and family member, you should always try to first understand the root of what they believe,” therapist Weena Cullins told Insider. “People are scared. And conspiracy theories are usually motivated by fear.”

Try to shift the conversation to the root of the issue instead of the details of the conspiracy. “Talk about their fears and concerns instead of getting into the finer details that neither will agree on,” said Cullins.

Then consider who is sharing the theory. “Think about is this somebody who has functioned in the family as a kind of bully or an antagonist, or is it someone just sharing something they saw online,” psychotherapist Matt Lundquist, of Tribeca Therapy, told Insider. “I urge people to start by being suspicious and to say wait a minute, are we talking about an issue or is this person looking for a fight.”

The journal Nature has a useful short video on the “infodemic” of coronavirus fake news.


Respect My Pseudo-authori-tah!

Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic has written what seems to be a very thorough investigation into the QAnon conspiracy-cult, and I want to want to read it, but I also don’t want to read it, because I am already so sad all the time.

Likewise, Politico explores the ugly world of far-right extremist groups using the pandemic as a “global rallying cry”:

People seizing on the pandemic range from white supremacists and anti-vaxxers in the U.S. to fascist and anti-refugee groups across Europe, according to a POLITICO review of thousands social media posts and interviews with misinformation experts tracking their online activities. They also include far-right populists on both continents who had previously tried to coordinate their efforts after the 2016 American presidential election.

Not all online groups peddling messages on the pandemic have links to the far right, but those extremists have become especially vocal in using the outbreak to push their political agenda at a time of deepening public uncertainty and economic trauma. They are piggybacking on social media to promote coronavirus-related themes drawn from multiple sources — among them, Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns, the Trump administration’s musings about the coronavirus’ origins and anti-Muslim themes from India’s nationalist ruling party.

In his latest piece on coronavirus misinformation, CFI’s Benjamin Radford explores the rogues’ gallery of “pseudoauthorities” making outrageous claims. They include the Oprah-borne illnesses of Drs. Oz and Phil, Paltrovian “holistic psychiatrist” Kelly Brogan, and Plandemic faux-whistleblower Judy Mikovits, as well as otherwise-qualified folks who are just being wrong:

Anyone can cherry-pick experts and study results to support whatever position they like; it’s easy to do. There will always be someone, somewhere, who will—for cynical profit, misguided ignorance, or some other reason—endorse misinformation. And there will always be those who share their views because they’re “just asking questions.”


Don’t Get Any On You

The New York Times profiles microbiologist Didier Raoult, the guy who developed what he called a “cure” for the coronavirus by combining hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which of course got Trump all a-quiver with excitement:

There is much about Raoult that might make him, and by extension his proposed treatment, appealing to a man like Trump. He is an iconoclast with funny hair; he thinks almost everyone else is stupid, especially those who are typically regarded as smart; he is beloved by the angry and conspiracy-minded; his self-congratulation is more or less unceasing.

Reporter Scott Sayare says, however, that Raoult is showing “flickers of doubt”:

His initial YouTube video, “Coronavirus: Game Over!” has also been renamed. The new language is more measured, and in place of the exclamation point there now stands a question mark.

For what it’s worth, the spike in bleach poisonings started before Trump suggested injecting clorox. So Trump was sort of finding out where the crowd was already going so he could lead them.

Dr. Amir Faizal Abdul Manan, writing at Malaysia’s New Straits Times, wants you to know that you should not drink cow urine to prevent COVID-19:

Politicians are known to be economical with the truth. However, the spread of pseudoscience during a pandemic is more disturbing. This is unsurprisingly common with all the religious hocus-pocus.

In India, there was a gathering of devotees and activists that had hosted a cow-urine drinking party as a means to stave off the coronavirus. A swami had advocated that the drinking of cow urine, and taking a bath in cow dung, could help prevent and cure Covid-19. As expected, this created a stink in the scientific community. …

… It is critical that scientists engage in science communication, lest we may see waves and waves of misinformation going viral, misrepresenting scientific facts, creating a global infodemic more harmful than the Covid-19 pandemic itself. And this may just be the beginning.

“Cow-urine drinking parties.” I think I prefer social distancing.

In the Indian state of Maharashtra, police are being advised to take homeopathic fake medicine as a preventive measure, which, of course, it can’t be. The Indian Express reports:

“We have recommended that our people take either of the two medicines. These do not have any side-effects and one vial is enough for a whole family. These can also be taken along with allopathic medicines,” said [S] Jagannathan [Additional Director General of Police].

Yes, I’m sure it is fine for the fake medicine to be taken along with other fake medicines so they can combine their don’t-do-anything powers.


Fudging the Numbers

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer report that Virginia officials have been “blending the results of two different types of coronavirus test in order to report a more favorable result to the public”:

By combining these two types of test, the state is able to portray itself as having a more robust infrastructure for tracking and containing the coronavirus than it actually does. It can represent gains in testing that do not exist in reality, says Ashish Jha, the K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard.

“It is terrible. It messes up everything,” Jha told us. He said that combining the test results, as Virginia has done, produces information that is impossible to interpret.

Todd Stiefel’s airplane banner telling pro-infection protesters in North Carolina, “Fewer graves if we reopen in waves” has made sufficiently large waves itself as CNN brings the story to a national audience. I’m still laughing to myself over “That ain’t us, bro.”

Speaking of misidentified flying objects, Popular Mechanics reports on U.S. Navy technology that uses plasma to fool heat-seeking missiles that might be getting mistaken for “UFOs,” maybe even the ones in the previously-leaked-and-now-declassified pilot videos.

Most likely, though, those videos probably just show pilots spotting drones. CNN reports:

The newly released reports appear to share this assessment, describing many of the unidentified aircraft as “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS),” the Pentagon’s official name for drone aircraft.

According to another incident report from November 2013 a Navy F/A-18 pilot “was able to visually acquire a small aircraft. The aircraft had an approximately 5 foot wingspan and was colored white with no other distinguishable features.”

“Due to the small size, the aircraft was determined to be a UAS,” the report said


Blasphem-ish

Scotland’s recently-scrapped blasphemy law, which we were all excited about, might not be so scrapped after all, and just sort of dressing differently. Hemant Mehta writes:

It now appears that bill also includes a section that would criminalize “stirring up hatred” against various groups… including religious ones.

Somehow, blasphemy will be eliminated but hurting religious sensibilities could be prosecuted. How does that make any sense?! … Scottish officials may say this argument is moot since there’s another clause in the bill that specifically says “criticism of religion or religious practices” is an exception to the rule, as is trying to persuade other people to stop practicing their faith.

Remember Egyptian atheist Sherif Gaber? He was under threat for charges of blasphemy as he tried to escape his country, and then he went quiet for a while. Well look at the video he put up a few days ago, and there he is. Or, there are four versions of him, actually. Be sure to turn on the English subtitles, and enjoy.

There’s a font that automatically redacts letters in curse words as you type. Scunthorpe Sans “blocks smut and filth”!


Bibliofail

I’m going to leave you with a pleasant and informative Twitter thread about libraries. Well, really it’s about how pictures of gorgeous home libraries get falsely attributed to certain public figures, and for some reason those social media posts get a lot of attention. @incunabula begins with what is not Umberto Eco’s library, and proceeds to teach a lesson:

An elaborate private library with fancy oak panelling doesn’t necessarily mean you’re amazingly well-read with a rich intellectual hinterland – it usually just means you’re rich. … Fake news spreads when we WANT it to be true.

Right in the feels.


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.



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