Subservience to the Barbarians

May 7, 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

Opening Pleasantries

First up, pleasant distractions! We can now finally release the video of the conversation between Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, and Richard Wiseman from last year’s ceremony in which Gervais was given the Richard Dawkins Award.

After watching that, go listen to the latest episode of Point of Inquiry in which skeptic comedian and cohost Leighann Lord interviews fellow skeptic comedian Ian Harris, whom will I will always associate with the excellent term “scientographer.”

And finally, what’s weirder than the mythical beast chupacabra? Probably this low-budget 1996 film, Ahi Viene El Chupacabras (Here Comes the Chupacabra). Benjamin Radford, our chief chupacabrologist, takes a look.

Then come back here to start feeling bad again.

Religious Damage

Abimbola Adelakun at Nigeria’s Punch warns about the dire implications of the blasphemy arrest of atheist Mubarak Bala:

For lawyers to be asking the police to arrest Bala because of his unsettling commentaries, and repeatedly insinuate they would resort to violence if the request was not granted, it is a testimony to how the ethics that regulate social interactions devolve from actions of authority figures. Once the leaders turn the abuse of power into a norm, other people with a measure of influence would take a cue and act similarly. The Bala development is not merely incidental. The will to repress freedom, an expanding feature of this present regime, is percolating through various spheres of society and doing damage at a level we have not yet quantified. …

… A society like Nigeria where religion is prevalent cannot afford to let folks railroad the people into self-subjugation by threatening to “take the law into their own hands.” The police should have used the opportunity to remind the petitioners that taking the law into one’s own hands is a crime they take seriously, not pander to their intimidation. Without standing up for the law and to those who threaten to violate it, we are all doomed to a lifetime of subservience to the barbarians.

Pakistan’s government, uncharacteristically, has a new National Commission for Minorities! Characteristically, they have decided not to include, you know, a minority—Ahmadi Muslims, which Pakistan officially deems to be, um, not-Muslim. Reuters reports:

“The Ahmadi community must not be included in the NCM, given the religious and historical sensitivity of the issue,” the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a note on the issue, seen by Reuters. …

… State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan has been among the most vocal opponents of Ahmadi inclusion in the new commission, referring to them on social media as agents of chaos.

“If they want to avail constitutional rights they must accept the constitution first,” Khan told Reuters in a text message. “The Pakistani constitution considers them non-Muslims.”

Khan defended a now-deleted Twitter post in which he said: “There is only one punishment for insulting the Prophet – chopping off the head”.

Sounds like a great commission, guys.

Chrissy Stroop has hope that “the Quixotic dream of Democratic faith outreach to white evangelicals [can] finally be laid to rest”:

Early indicators suggest that maybe, just maybe, three years of observing white evangelicals’ unwavering support for an amoral authoritarian demagogue who can’t keep from running his mouth has led the chattering classes to conclude, sensibly, that this demographic is a lost cause.

Cardinal George Pell knew about another predator priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and did nothing, Australian records now show. The Guardian reports:

Gerald Ridsdale committed more than 130 offences against children as young as four between the 1960s and 1980s, including while working as a school chaplain at St Alipius boys’ school in Ballarat. He is now in prison. He is charged with additional historical sexual abuse offences frequently, as recently as April. He is believed to have offended hundreds of times against children.

The Smith County School System in Tennessee agrees to stop passing out Bibles and having prayers as part of its school events while it’s engaged in a lawsuit from the families of atheist students.

Robert A. Cook of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers pens an op-ed for the Des Moines Register on why he has hope despite the darkness of the age:

All over the world, people are working together to help their families, neighbors, and compete strangers survive this and come out stronger. … Scientists are studying the virus to slow its spread, provide promising new treatments, and create an effective vaccine in record time.

Faced with critical supply shortages, Iowa quilters donate homemade masks, makers 3D print face shields for health care workers, and local businesses join forces to make free hand sanitizer for state operations. A Beaverdale family fills their little free library with toilet paper and gloves instead of books. An Ankeny fourth-grader started her own business and donates earnings to the Food Bank of Iowa.

What do these stories have in common? They are about people informed by science, working together to make the world a better place.

Under the Strain

Ed Yong at The Atlantic warns against speculations about the coronavirus’s mutations:

The bottom line: It will take time to know whether different strains of the new coronavirus even exist, let alone whether any are more or less dangerous than the others. Any claims of that kind should be taken with a grain of salt for the next several months, if not longer.

Also at The Atlantic, Renée DiResta worries that the actual experts on viruses aren’t breaking through the noise of misinformation and deception:

All too often, the people responsible for protecting the public do not appear to understand how information moves in the internet era. Meanwhile, people who best understand what content is likely to go viral are using that knowledge to mislead.

The Staten Island Advance apparently would like to delude its readership, as it touts a local psychic-healer business as “Staten Island Strong.” Not for long.

If you live in the UK and your brand new 5G phone is getting 5G speeds, it’s either because 1) no one really needs a 5G phone yet, or 2) conspiracy dimwits have set fire to 77 5G signal towers so they can’t spread the coronavirus I CAN’T BELIEVE THE THINGS I’M TYPING SOMETIMES.

Anna Helen Petersen at BuzzFeed News reports on the dangerous conspiracy-malarkey being spread by one Dr. Annie Bukacek:

Like many others who’ve propagated falsehoods about COVID, Bukacek argues that because many who’ve succumbed to the disease also had other health concerns, they thus died with COVID-19, not of COVID-19. …

… The video has since been picked up by talk radio, Infowars, QAnon accounts, and other media beacons of the far right. But it’s also made its way to less conspiracy-minded audiences, with over a million views on Facebook and various YouTube channels. For months, figures on the far right have been questioning the severity of government reaction to COVID-19. But Bukacek, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, is an unusual messenger for these unfounded claims. …

… For [the] growing number of skeptics [BuzzFeed of course is referring to science-deniers, not our kind of skeptics], the experts, institutions, and authorities of mainstream science and medicine can no longer be trusted. And that underlying distrust makes someone like Bukacek — a doctor who positions herself as a rebel unafraid to speak (alleged) truth to the medical establishment — a potent symbol to people who are already nursing their own suspicions.

The Chinese government is recommending injections of bear bile to combat COVID-19. We’re just totally making stuff up at this point, aren’t we? Next to be recommended: swan snot, sloth dandruff, and moose tears.

Good lord, “COVID parties.”

Coming to the defense of Jim Bakker, insisting he has the right to sell his fake coronavirus cure, is former Missouri governor and attorney general Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Wow:

“There’s lot of folks that sell these products in other places and no one is going after them,” Nixon said. “We feel pretty strongly that there has been a targeting here and that those religious beliefs have something to do with it. You just can’t do that, under the Constitution as well as the state religious freedom and restoration act.”

Are you high?

Oh boy, there’s already a coronavirus-conspiracy “documentary,” Plandemic. It’s largely based on anti-vaxxer conspiracy lunacy, as explained by Derek Beres at Big Think:

It only takes until the third paragraph of the film’s description to discover that the current forced global vaccination program is rooted in Hitler’s Germany. A few sentences later we “flash forward to 2020” to find out the “masters of the Pandemic” are finally finishing the job—on us.

Zoom Fatigue

The New York Times reports on churches experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and itching to get back to in-person services.

In Michigan, churches are suing the governor over the stay-at-home owners, even though they are already exempt from any penalties for non-compliance. WHAT. WHY. STOP.

No one puts baby in a corner, but you can put Jesus in a bag. Wait, NO YOU CAN’T. That’s what I meant. Hemant Mehta explains:

…according to Italian newspaper La Stampa, some churches are considering the possibility of offering “take-out communion” kits, in which individual wafers would be wrapped in plastic bags and left on shelves for parishioners to take as needed.

[Ultra-conservative Cardinal Robert Sarah said,] “It’s absolutely not possible. God deserves respect. You can’t put Him in a bag. I don’t know who thought of this absurdity. … The Eucharist must be treated with faith. We cannot treat it as a trivial object. We are not at the supermarket. This is total madness.”

Yes, because eating the literal body of Christ was already not at-all-weird.

Canceled-Event Horizons

Katie Mack at Scientific American rolls her eyes at the declassified “UFO” videoslike a scientist:

We were talking about grainy movies of unidentified objects in the air, weren’t we?

As far as I can tell, the only thread connecting these videos to anything involving aliens is science fiction. We have a long cultural history of telling stories of advanced civilizations living among the stars—civilizations that have much faster spaceships than we do, and that choose to use those spaceships to come see us and buzz around a bit. After all, if we had the ability to visit planets around other stars, we might do something similar.

But that’s an argument about human nature, not astrophysics. There is nothing at all connected to our current understanding of the real world that points us toward “technology of intelligences originating from a different planet” as an explanation for things we see in the clouds. When astronomers search for life out there in the universe, we start not with science fiction, but with a logic grounded in what we know about the stars.

I dunno, Dr. Mack. I mean, Bill Gates is signalling to aliens by putting the Windows logo in a crop circle. I mean, it’s the old Windows logo, but signals take a while to get out to space, so the aliens would be more likely to recognize, say, Windows 95 than a Surface Pro or something.

European astronomers report finding a black hole, the closest yet discovered, which is part of a trinary star system. It’s only 1000 light-years away, and I gotta say, it sounds like a pretty appealing destination right about now.

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.