Tom Hilton (CC BY 2.0)

Null and Void

May 19, 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

President Trump claims that he is taking hydroxychloroquine. “And all I can tell you is,” he said, “so far I seem to be okay.”


The Atlantic magazine is doing a whole conspiracy-theory-themed issue, complete with a freaky interactive-ish interface for the website, (Watch out for that paywall!) The big feature on QAnon that I still can’t bring myself to read is part of it.

Jeffery Goldberg writes the introduction in which he declares that the conspiracy theorists are winning.

It was always a relief to know that in the United States […] men like Jones were more often than not a source of bemusement, not a cause for fear. Healthy societies develop antibodies to protect themselves from fantastical thinking, and America, democratic, free, and transparent, was a healthy society.

I was wrong, of course.

“Your reputation is amazing,” Donald Trump told Jones in late 2015. “I will not let you down.”

Read: Trump needs conspiracy theories

And he hasn’t. Trump does not defend our democracy from the ruinous consequences of conspiracy thinking. Instead, he embraces such thinking. A conspiracy theory—birtherism—was his pathway to power, and, in office, he warns of the threat of the “deep state” with the ferocity of a QAnon disciple. He has even begun to question the official coronavirus death toll, which he sees as evidence of a dark plot against him. How is he different from Alex Jones, from the conspiracy manufacturers of Russia and the Middle East?

He lives in the White House. That is one main difference.

If we ever get a vaccine for the coronavirus, anti-vaxxer misinformation may prevent a sufficient number of people from taking it, presenting a [clears throat, adjusts tie] COVID-19 Catch-22. Politico reports from Europe:

On one hand, a vaccine has to come when the risk of infection is still high, but if it comes too soon, people may not trust that it’s safe. …

… In the U.K., 7 percent of those surveyed — representative of the country’s population, according to [Heidi] Larson [of the Vaccine Confidence Project] — said in mid-March they would refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus. When the number of deaths rose two weeks later, that figure dropped to 5 percent. “Now that they see the numbers are coming down, it goes up to 9 percent saying they would refuse,” Larson said.

Let’s tamp down vaccine denialism in our own nation-state, shall we? We have an action alert for folks in Louisiana:

HB 706 encourages parents to risk the health of their children, as well as the health of the general public, by requesting medically unnecessary exemptions from immunizations that are recommended by the Louisiana Office of Public Health as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This legislation is nothing less than an attack on the trust of your state’s medical institutions, industry, and professionals who work every day to protect our health. Please help us stop it in its tracks.

Harriet Hall reviews Edzard Ernst’s new book, Don’t Believe What You Think, for Science-Based Medicine (and look out for Ernst’s mustache dominating the banner image for the post):

If you are not a believer, it may give you good tools to help you explain to believers that what they think they know is based on misinformation. Whatever you think about SCAM [so-called complementary and alternative medicine], don’t believe what you think. Think again and start doubting your belief.

Getting Friendly with the Fringe

Russell Brandom at The Verge worries over Elon Musk’s “playing footsie” with the far-right as he flouts stay-at-home restrictions:

Musk seems to be moving into a more troubling part of the online sphere, and he risks taking a lot of his fans with him.

Last night, Musk tweeted a confusing combination of the rose symbol for the Democratic Socialists of America and the red pill meme, a Matrix reference that has become a touchstone for anti-feminist communities online. It’s hard to say what Musk meant by all this, but it was clearly taken as a dog whistle by prominent red-pillers like Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson. It was also retweeted by Ivanka Trump, which caused Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski to curse both of them out. …

… Musk has spent the past month promoting discredited reports about the dangers of coronavirus, describing shelter-in-place orders as “fascist,” and dismissing the validity of existing case and death statistics on the virus’s spread. Along with Fox News, Musk was an early proponent of the antimalarial drug chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, an idea that has been discredited by clinical trials.

One wonders, will future Tesla cars connect to 5G wireless? If so, Musk may lose some of the good will he’s bought with the conspiracy community, like those in the UK who are burning down 5G antennas. Samantha Subramanian at Politico digs into the conspiracy theory’s ties to old paranoias, as well as how “the selection of scapegoats is a directed process”:

The vandals draw from a sludge of absurd theories to explain their motivations: that 5G masts somehow spread the coronavirus, or that the radiation from these towers weakens our immune systems, laying us bare to Covid-19. Or even that there is no Covid-19 at all, that the disease is a myth to explain the worst effects of 5G rays. In the U.K., conspiracists have spotted a 5G tower in the new £20 note and decided that it’s some kind of coded message; in fact, it’s only the lighthouse in Margate, the town so dear to J. M. W. Turner, the artist on the note. …

… As part of Moscow’s campaign to disrupt Western societies, Russian media outlets have been stoking 5G alarm with a flood of false facts, calling the technology a bearer of “wireless cancer.” Companies like Facebook and YouTube have been content to let wild plans for arson remain on their platforms for weeks. The irony is, of course, unmissable: These plans target the telecoms towers that are the very infrastructure of not only the Information Age but the Misinformation Age.

YouTube takes down the audiobook version of Coronavirus and Christ, which says among other things that the virus is here to punish the gays. And then they put it back.

Ten Oregon churches succeed in getting a judge to declare Gov. Kate Brown’s restrictions on public gatherings “null and void.” The Oregonian reports:

Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff found the plaintiffs had shown “irreparable harm” from the deprivation of the right to exercise their religions.

“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” he ruled.

“Your People”

Ryan Burge asks whether being an evangelical means one regularly attends church. First, evangelicals aside, look at what he found with Nones: Atheists and agnostics, sure, they pretty much never go to church, but only half of “nothing-in-particulars” never go. Anyway, back to evangelicals. Burge says:

Choosing to identify as an evangelical, even among those who never attend church, sends an important signal about how you see yourself and who you see as “your people.” As such, religious affiliation moves beyond the realm of theology and becomes both a social and political construct. So, once and for all, you can be a never attending evangelical and it matters.

On May 26, TIES is hosting a webinar that introduces the new board game “Go Extinct!” from young Stardust author Bailey Harris, with evolutionary biologist Ariel E. Marcy.

John Horgan at Scientific American talks to one of the New York Times reporters who covered the Navy-UFO story, Leslie Kean. She seems, shall we say, rather credulous:

Horgan: What is the best single piece of evidence that UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin?

Kean: The extremely advanced technology that the objects have displayed since the 1950’s. They demonstrate tremendous speed and accelerations, the ability to make sharp right-angle turns, stand still in midair, zoom off and disappear in the blink of an eye, and operate under water. They appear to defy the laws of aviation as we know it, since they have no wings or visible means of propulsion. …

Horgan: When we discussed ghosts and other supernatural phenomena at Esalen, you seemed to be a believer, not an agnostic. Can you clarify your position?

Kean: It depends what you mean by a believer. Paranormal phenomena exist. People have capabilities and experiences that have been labeled “paranormal“. They seem to operate outside the limits of the current materialistic framework adapted by most scientists, while at the same time, nobody can explain what consciousness actually is. So the existence of “paranormal phenomena” is not a matter of belief. I find it astonishing that there are still some scientists who adapt the position that it can’t be, therefore it isn’t.


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.