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Not in a Normal State

May 28, 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.


Yesterday, the U.S. marked 100,000 dead from COVID-19.

But don’t worry, the president is on the case. And by that I mean he is threatening to shut down Twitter for appending his tweet with a fact check.

Knowing that the president spends most of his day watching Fox News, Mark Zuckerberg appears on the channel to wag his finger at Twitter and promise that Facebook would never, ever do such a thing. If you’ve been waiting for that one last straw to get you to delete your Facebook account, I think this counts as a bale of straws.


Please Don’t Be the Judge of That

The Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on the request by a California church for exemption from stay-at-home orders, and as Ian Millhiser at Vox writes, we know how this will go:

If granted, even a temporary emergency order would have sweeping national implications: It would be a clear signal that the Supreme Court, with its record of sympathy for religious conservatives, intends to expand “religious liberty” rights, even potentially at the expense of public health. … If the Court does rule in favor of the church, many states would no longer be able to order places of worship to hold services online until the public health crisis ebbs sufficiently to allow people to gather safely for worship.

Matt Ford at The New Republic looks at how the Supreme Court also poses a threat to public health regarding vaccines, should anti-vaxxers succeed in getting a case there:

… the court has never directly ruled upon religious objections to mandatory vaccinations, and it’s likely that legal activists will at least try to bring the issue before the justices once a coronavirus vaccine is available. Anti-vaxxers, who were once more commonly associated with the American left, have made common cause with conservative protesters who opposed stay-at-home orders over the past two months

Janelle Cronk at The Humanist wisely advises the secular movement to sharpen its focus on voting rights, which is in fact connected to the influence of the religious right and the denial of science:

We must act now to ensure the path to voting is safe and accessible. Every American should have the option to request a vote-by-mail ballot. Offering a vote-by-mail option will cut down on the number of people who will vote in person on Election Day (November 3), dramatically reducing the health risk for those who for whatever reason have to vote in person or who are working at the polls. …

… We know we’ll face opposition along the way. Advocacy groups connected to the religious right have turned to their well-worn playbook in claiming religious exemptions to pressure local and state governments to ease stay-at-home restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. With such groups already flouting evidence-based research on when it is safe to reopen businesses and large public gatherings, we must anticipate their opposition to common sense election reform during this time.


Angels in the Architecture

Calum Marsh at Canada’s National Post laments that conspiracy theories about 5G, Bill Gates, the coronavirus-as-hoax, and other such nonsense are no longer confined to “the lunatic fringe”:

A recent poll conducted by Carleton University in Ottawa found that 11 per cent of Canadians believe COVID is a 5G cover-up, and more than a quarter believe the claim that COVID was concocted as a weapon by the Chinese. A separate poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that 15 per cent of Canadians believe Bill Gates is responsible, while another 15 per cent believe COVID doesn’t actually exist.

So what’s going on?

These mysteries of perception can of course be explained, easily, by science. But science can be complicated. And such people want — crave — an answer they can readily comprehend. They don’t want to defer to others or accept that perhaps some things are too complex for the layman to grasp. Real research involves diligent, dedicated study and the assiduous scrutiny of peer-review. How much easier, how intoxicatingly simple, to scroll through memes on Facebook, or delve into YouTube and click “play.”

Well then I defy science to explain what the hell is going on with with this digital currency “META 1 Coin,” which involves a former Washington state legislator, YouTube psychics, and the archangel Metatron. Tarpley Hitt at The Daily Beast reports:

On its Instagram page, Meta 1 Coin describes itself as a “Coin for Humanity / Making History / Liquidity of Gold.” It is listed as a “Local Business.” The local business emerged in April of 2018, from two Boca Raton residents named Robert Dunlap and Nicole Bowdler. … Bowdler, the YouTube mystic who calls herself “an Earth Angel incarnated to help humanity” and now runs an online school for psychics, came on board as the coin’s “Trustee and Art Acquisitions & Forensics Director of Business Development.” …

… it was a sure thing. Or at least, Bowdler said as much on Crypto Visions, Evolutionary Journeys, an online talk show run by another YouTube psychic, who claims that “spirit guides” give her reliable crypto investment advice. Per the complaint: “Bowdler told the audience that Metatron and Abraham Lincoln revealed to her what would happen in the world’s financial and economic structure over the next 20 years.”

Okay, well, I learned from both The Amber Spyglass and Fall; or, Dodge in Hell to *never* trust a Metatron.

All these horrors aside, it looks like Americans still broadly trust scientists. Maggie Koerth at FiveThirtyEight explains:

The Pew survey, which was conducted in April and May, found that trust in scientists has actually grown. Pew has been doing a version of this survey for several years, so it’s possible to look at how opinion has changed over longer time periods. In 2016, for example, 76 percent of Americans had at least “a fair amount of confidence” in scientists to act in the best interests of the public. By the spring of 2020, 87 percent of Americans had at least “a fair amount of confidence” in scientists. That number seems far from the images of armed protesters marching into the Michigan state House. …

… “The war on science is really overblown,” said Erik Nisbet, a professor of communication at Ohio State University. That’s not to say, however, that scientists aren’t getting attacked. But Nisbet and other researchers say the divide between what we see in the news and what we see in the polls lies in conflating political rhetoric with public opinion. Just because political leaders demonize scientists (or demonize the other party for demonizing scientists) doesn’t mean most Americans are personally engaged in that fight.


Pomp Up the Volume

My heart did a little flutter of appreciation for this frank assessment of our Secretary of State by former U.S. diplomat Elizabeth Shackelford in Ms. Magazine:

Pompeo doesn’t act like a statesman, so we shouldn’t pretend that he is one. He is a dangerous man wielding tremendous power, and he has proven repeatedly that he does not have American interests at heart. …

… Led by the Bible, not the Constitution, Pompeo’s conservative religious beliefs are ever present in his policy work and have inhibited the State Department’s human rights efforts on behalf of women, LGBTQ communities and non-Christian religious minorities.

He has unapologetically sidelined the State Department’s human rights bureau, ignoring the expertise, resources and framework almost entirely, relying instead on a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to push his narrow, xenophobic views and undermine the internationally recognized framework of human rights.

Now FINISH HIM:

Pompeo is a true believer—of that I have no doubt—but the version of Christianity he hopes to impose on the nation is not the “meek inherit the earth” kind. His has drawn him to leadership in the racist army of a false prophet in pursuit of permanent minority rule. He tells himself it’s fine to act corruptly, lie and steal, as long as it supports the ultimate goals of Trump cabal: a return to unapologetic white, male domination with power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few.

Moroccan authorities have charged movie actor Rafik Boubker with blasphemy for appearing in a video on social media “in an abnormal state, making blasphemous remarks against Islam and attacking the sacredness of worship.” For his part, Boubker is just trying to get out of trouble. AFP reports:

Boubker … apologised for his “inappropriate remarks” in a new video on Instagram on Tuesday. “I was not in a normal state. I just wanted to make a joke,” he said.

But that’s not all. 27-year-old Tunisian student Emna Charki is being charged with blasphemy “after she shared a post about the novel coronavirus, satirising the style of the Koran”:

Amnesty [International] said the student has received threats against her life and accused the Tunisian authorities of failing to act. “What’s happening to me is not normal,” Charki told AFP. “For sharing a post that was not even mine, I’ve been prosecuted and received death threats.”

Well at least we know not to ask Facebook for help.


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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