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The Desire to Be Liked

June 29, 2020

Self Sabotage

This is not a good look. Before President Trump’s big comeback rally-turned-disaster in Tulsa, his campaign had workers remove all stickers and signage telling attendees to socially distance. The Post reports:

As part of its safety plan, arena management had purchased 12,000 do-not-sit stickers for Trump’s rally, intended to keep people apart by leaving open seats between attendees. … In a video clip obtained by The Washington Post, two men — one in a suit and one wearing a badge and a face mask — can be seen pulling stickers off seats in a section of the arena. It is unclear who those two men are. When Trump took the stage on Saturday evening, the crowd was clustered together and attendees were not leaving empty seats between themselves.

Gabby Orr at Politico reports on the White House’s internal struggle to appease the evangelical base while health officials want to get churches to stop being COVID-19 super-spreaders. I can tell which side of that struggle is winning.


Anti-vaxxers and Anti…um…maskers…(maxxers?)

Anthony Fauci says we’re probably not going to achieve herd immunity in the U.S. even if we get a vaccine because too many people will refuse to take it. CNN reports:

“The best we’ve ever done is measles, which is 97 to 98 percent effective,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “That would be wonderful if we get there. I don’t think we will. I would settle for [a] 70, 75% effective vaccine.” …

… In an interview Friday, CNN asked Fauci whether a vaccine with 70% to 75% efficacy taken by only two-thirds of the population would provide herd immunity to the coronavirus.

“No — unlikely,” he answered.

Case in point, anti-vaxxers in California who are, of course, anti-mask, as reported by Hannah Wiley at the Sacramento Bee:

At every stage of the pandemic, California’s anti-vaccine activists have foreshadowed what their fight against a future vaccine to prevent COVID-19 could look like.

“If we can’t win the mandatory mask argument, we won’t win the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination argument,” Larry Cook, founder of the Los Angeles-based group Stop Mandatory Vaccination, wrote in a June 21 tweet. “They are 100% connected.”

You may recall that the Arizona church where Trump had his most recent rally advertised that they had installed an air purification system that somehow scrubbed the coronavirus from the air, and the company that made the system, Clean Air EXP, indeed boasted it could “neutralize” the virus. They have changed their tune after a warning from the state attorney general sent to both the company and the church. Clean Air EXP tells Phoenix New Times:

“No air purification system, including ours, can universally prevent coronavirus (including COVID-19) infections.”

Oh, okay.

A federal judge has decided that it’s cool if you get infected as long as it’s in church, blocking New York state’s restrictions on indoor religious gatherings. Here’s an ironic statement from the plaintiff’s attorney:

“The idea that houses of worship are some deadly viral vector unlike anything else is just superstition,” Ferrara said in a telephone interview. “There’s no science to support that.”

Chutzpah.

There’s no such thing as the “Freedom to Breathe Agency” in the federal government, despite what a Facebook group of that name would like you to believe from its laminated cards claiming to exempt people from wearing face masks. CNN reports:

“Denying access to your business/organization will also be reported to FTBA for further actions,” it reads, in all capital letters, at the bottom. Some of the cards were even made to look more official, bearing the seal of the Department of Justice. …

… The group disappeared from Facebook on Thursday afternoon. [the group co-founder] provided CNN with a screenshot with a notification saying Facebook removed the group for “fraud and deception.”

USA Today debunks a meme going around claiming that OSHA says face masks can cause brain damage by reducing oxygen intake. They don’t.

Amit Katwala at Wired explores the weird social dynamics around wearing masks in public, and how a lot of it is just old fashioned peer pressure, in either direction:

… decades of social psychology research show that we also take behavioural cues from those around us, particularly when we’re entering a new environment for the first time. Psychologists break the reasons for conformity down into two main categories, which they call normative social influence (driven by a desire to be liked), and informational social influence (motivated by the desire to be right).

So if we’re not sure whether to wear a mask in the supermarket, we might look to others to guide our behaviour. Or, if we’re going somewhere where we know that people will judge us for wearing a mask, we might decide not to wear one, even if we think it’s the right thing to do.


That Has a False Ring to It

An unpublished study apparently claims that a smart-wearable, the Oura ring, can predict whether you have COVID-19 three days before showing symptoms. What? Jonathan Jarry at McGill looked into it, and as yet there’s been no evidence put forth.

The FBI is now offering guidance on how to spot COVID-19 testing scams:

Scammers are marketing fraudulent and/or unapproved COVID-19 antibody tests, potentially providing false results. In addition, fraudsters are seeking to obtain individuals’ personal information (names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, etc.) and personal health information, including Medicare and/or private health insurance information, which can be used in future medical insurance or identity theft schemes.

India has a particularly novel problem, as they have an entire government agency devoted to pseudoscientific medicine—the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy—which has to then tell practitioners of said pseudoscience, hey, stop being SO PSEUDO. TRT World reports:

A list of 50 companies that were made public include those falsely advertising homoeopathic medicines like Arsenicum Album 30, which is being used widely as a Covid-19 prevention drug. …

… In the four months since the pandemic hit India, part of the Modi-led government’s response has been marked by pseudoscientific remedies like homoeopathy to semi-scientific Ayurveda treatments, all backed by AYUSH.

Colleen de Bellefonds at Self explores ways of navigating the pesky situation of having loved ones who believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories:

Before you confront your loved one about their beliefs, consider whether you have a fighting chance of changing their mind. If this is a friend who tends to believe conspiracy theories, you may have a harder time convincing them that their belief isn’t true. Any evidence you provide will be used to further prove the conspiracy theory. “You’re not going to put an atheist and a Catholic in the closet and come out with the Five Commandments,” says Uscinski.

“If they say, ‘I am really convinced of this,’ then they probably aren’t lying,” says [Prof. Joseph] Uscinski. “If they say, ‘Hey, I just heard this, what do you think?’ you might have a chance.”

A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research says that by mocking the 5G-spreads-coronavirus conspiracy theory helped push the idea beyond the fringes, leading to greater adoption. Way to go, us. PsyPost reports:

The analysis found that while 35% of tweets about the conspiracy expressed support for the theory, 32% denounced the theory, unintentionally driving the topic into trending status. …

… The researchers suggest that public health authorities should advise the public against engaging with false information and direct users to instead report these posts to the respective social media companies. They further suggest that policymakers should increase efforts to shut down propaganda accounts that spread such misinformation.

At the CFI blog, Jamie Hale considers, um, bullshit, saying, “Bullshit isn’t going away; it is thriving.” Yes it is.

Because we live in a never-ending nightmare, PizzaGate is back. And worse, it now involves Justin Bieber. Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel at the Times report:

This time, PizzaGate is being fueled by a younger generation that is active on TikTok, which was in its infancy four years ago, as well as on other social media platforms. The conspiracy group QAnon is also promoting PizzaGate in private Facebook groups and creating easy-to-share memes on it.

Driven by these new elements, the theory has morphed. PizzaGate no longer focuses on Mrs. Clinton and has taken on less of a political bent. Its new targets and victims are a broader assortment of powerful businesspeople, politicians and celebrities, including Mr. Bieber, Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Chrissy Teigen, who are lumped together as part of the global elite.

Stephen Barrett at CFI’s Quackwatch looks back on the pseudoscientific work of the late opthamologist Deborah Banker and her “SEEDS Machine” (subtle electromagnetic energy device system), which was supposed to “stimulate energy and life force into damaged or traumatized nerve cells and tissue.” As Barrett puts it:

Although she claimed to have done research, I was unable to locate any research reports published under her name in a scientific journal or elsewhere. Nor could I locate any details about the SEEDS device. … Her acupressure recommendations illustrate her extreme departure from rational medical care.

Hey look, it’s the Flat Earth conspiracy theory versus Bill Nye, Michelle Thaller, and Neil deGrasse Tyson! That’s not even fair.


Lost Meaning

At The Atlantic, law professors Micah Schwartzman, Richard Schragger, and Nelson Tebbe explain how the Trump administration’s allocation of SBA loans shows how the wall between church and state and being ignored or obliterated. They conclude:

There cannot be two sets of funding rules—one that sends billions of dollars to local religious congregations and one that denies the same support to secular nonprofits. If those rules are constitutional, even as they allow more direct financial support for churches than at any other point in American history, then the establishment clause has lost its meaning. At the very least, it must stand for the proposition that the government cannot pick out religious organizations for special privileges. If that principle collapses, the country will be witnessing not only the end of the separation of church and state with respect to public funding but also a subversion of the commitment to equal treatment that is said to be replacing it. Instead what will exist is a regime that favors religious organizations above others.

We don’t know which churches got Paycheck Protection loans from the federal government, and we may never know. Kelsey Dallas at Deseret News reports on calls for transparency to see who got what, and whether any particular groups were favored over others for their ideology.

Seema Mehta at the LA Times looks at whether recent Supreme Court defeats for the Trump administration could cause erosion in the president’s support among white evangelicals:

“This has definitely introduced doubt,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent former evangelical activist. “It kind of takes away the one thing that gives him an edge with that type of evangelical voter — a skeptical evangelical voter, a less certain one.” …

… Some say, however, that the ruling on LGBTQ rights and a second decision that left intact California’s “sanctuary” law giving protections to those in the country illegally will prompt socially conservative voters to double down on Trump.

Michelle Boorstein at the Post reports that allegations of sexual abuse against Catholic clergy have quadrupled in 2019 from the previous five-year average. Churches say they have paid out a total of $282 million due to allegations made between July 2018 and June 2019 alone.

Archbishop Justin Welby made a lot of folks angry by making the obvious observation that Jesus would not have been white and that maybe he ought to not be depicted that way all the time. The nerve!

Emma Green at The Atlantic looks at the rapid rise of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, “a skillful steward of the covenant between the president and his religious supporters, openly suggesting that reporters stand among America’s enemies, no matter how much that may beggar belief.” And it’s very much.


Monument Valley

The Mississippi legislature voted to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag (cool!) and replace it with “In God We Trust.” (NO! Come on! REALLY??)

If you’re mad about Confederate monuments coming down, Cheryl K. Chumley says Christians can take their anger out on all the Satanic Temple’s monuments because “it’s only fair.” Hemant Mehta actually checks to see, like, which ones she could even be referring to:

I asked Lucien Greaves of The Satanic Temple what he thought about his throngs of statues coming down. He noted that there’s only the one Baphomet monument and it’s not currently in any public location. But he made clear that they’ve only considered putting it up in places where there was already a Ten Commandments monument on the premises. To them, this is about equality, not superiority.

A dude in Montana decided to take a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of a courthouse. It doesn’t sound like an act of secular civil disobedience, though. KHQ reports:

A release from the Kalispell Police Department says the granite monument was pulled from the ground and drug into the southbound lane of South Main Street. … It is currently unknown why Weimer pulled the monument from the ground.

Yeesh. And I bet it was heavy.


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.


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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