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The Truth Gets Retweeted Almost Never

February 4, 2020

So things are not going smoothly in Iowa. Mistakes were made, etc. Well, it’s time to release the conspiracy theories! I opened Twitter this morning (because I guess I hate myself) to find variations on trends about how Pete Buttigieg “cheated” at the expense of Bernie Sanders, how the DNC has rigged everything for whatever reason, etc. Look, if you know anything about the Democratic Party as an apparatus, you know they could never pull off anything like that.

But before caucusing even started, right-wingers were ready to go with false claims about cheating and fraud and whatnot. The Post notes, grimly:

“The truth actually gets retweeted almost never, and the things that are the most inflammatory get the most play,” said Ann Ravel, the director of the Digital Deception project at MapLight, which tracks money in politics. She previously served on the Federal Election Commission.

Hey, but don’t worry. YouTube is going to tackle “misleading or doctored” videos about the 2020 elections. I’m sure everything will be fine.

Chinese state media is, bafflingly, telling people to rely on pseudoscientific traditional Chinese medicine to fight the coronavirus. WHY? Foreign Policy reports:

TCM is big business. Modern practice is not a matter of herbalists and amateur doctors but industrialized pharmaceuticals—a $45 billion market in China annually just for such drugs. The industry in China is not alternative medicine but a thoroughly conventional and heavily government-backed business.

Oh, that’s why.

Oh, but did you know that President Trump has a super-drug that he’ll be sharing with us really soon? The Daily Beast reports on the misinformation mess, including how Trump cultists want to believe their savior has the key:

The storyline shares much in common with pro-Trump posts swimming around right-wing corners of the American blogosphere. There’s a simple answer being hidden from the public, and perhaps an exaggeration of some vacuous statement Trump uttered without thinking, about which conspiracy theorists will fill in the blanks. … Trump never said anything about America having any kind of secret or fast-track drug.

Sen. Tom Cotton—who, you may have noticed from the honorific, is a U.S. Senator—knows that the virus was actually made in a Chinese superlaboratory, which I guess is where they make Iron Man suits and harness the Speed Force.

Oh good lord there’s so much more alt-med misinformation, I can’t keep up. Dr. Hall? Help!

A paper in a scientific journal on the coronavirus is quickly retracted, which STAT says was a victory for science, and even for “preprint” servers:

… the paper claimed to find similarities between the new coronavirus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The use of the word “uncanny” in the title, together with “unlikely to be fortuitous” in the abstract, led some to think that the authors were suggesting the virus had somehow been engineered by humans.

The paper, from academic institutions in New Delhi, India, was critical and alarming, if true. Except that it wasn’t. …

… even when peer-reviewed journals do realize they’ve been had, retractions can take months or years. The Lancet took 12 years. Another journal took five years to retract a paper claiming that HIV did not cause AIDS. We could go on, and the list includes papers that have never even been corrected.

Colombia has its first science minister! Good for them! Mabel Gisela Torres Torres, a microbiologist, is the country’s first-ever Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. How cool! So hey, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega at Science, what kind of stuff has she done? I bet it’s great:

[A newspaper] story reported a claim Torres made, during a broadcast interview in August 2019, that she had essentially run an informal, uncontrolled clinical trial with cancer patients. Torres said she had given a brew made from a fungus she was studying to patients with cervical, breast, and brain cancer, and that their health had improved. She didn’t seek formal ethical, safety, and efficacy reviews prior to starting the work because it would have taken too long, and because she believed the fungus posed no threat to human health, she told the same paper the next day. She also said she hasn’t published the extensive data she has claimed to collect from such studies “as an act of rebellion,” although she plans to submit an application to patent her findings.

Oh goddamn it.

Well, if Torres resigns, maybe they can hire Gwyneth Paltrow. If so, they’ll have Elisa Albert and Jennifer Block on their side, as they have an op-ed in the New York Freaking Times about why criticism of Goop and its pseudoscience is unwarranted, merely “virtue signaling,” and not dissimilar from witch trials.

How’s this for a virtue signal: Goop may be in violation of court orders to stop making false medical claims. Beth Mole at Ars Technica reports:

“Goop seems to have forgotten that it is legally bound by a court order to refrain from engaging in deceptive marketing or, worse, is knowingly violating the order,” Bonnie Patten,’s [Truth in Advertising] Executive Director, said in a statement. “It is outrageous that Goop continues to exploit health issues in order to make money.” … In its new complaint letter to District Attorneys in California, alleges that in more than a dozen instances, Goop “deceptively markets products as able to treat and/or mitigate the symptoms of several medical conditions, including anxiety, depression, OCD, hormone imbalances, and hair loss, as well as address the symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption.”

Release of the Pakistani film Zindagi Tamasha is being held up by the government, as a decision on whether or not the film is blasphemous is being handed over to the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology. Good that they’re getting an impartial perspective cough cough cough. Just in case you forgot the stakes here, Pakistan punishes blasphemy with death.

At Skeptical Inquirer, Susan Gerbic gets ready for some long, long quality time with alleged psychic Thomas John, who’s set to do 6 shows a week in Vegas. Behold Operation Pizza Roll Part II:

… we have long range plans for Thomas John and his show at Caesars. I’m sure we will be paying him a lot more visits, so we will be sending in fresh new faces from all over, as people love to visit Vegas. But of course, he already knows all this, you can’t hide anything from a psychic. Vegas is a very connected town to locals, and we have already heard from people not too happy about a Grief Vampire taking up residency in town. A lot of options available.

Maybe all these spirits Thomas John talks to wouldn’t be so restless if they’d spent some time with J. Dana Trent, a college instructor and interfaith minister who is spreading the gospel of confronting death. Yonat Shimron reports:

How do you understand the meaning of life and death? And, more urgently, how do you grieve? … Unlike recent generations who, Trent said, went to extraordinary lengths to avoid open discussions of death, she is eager to reframe discussions of mortality for the post-Millennial generation. By doing so, she hopes to show them that looking death in the eye can create powerful lessons on how to live.

Watkins College of Art students found out their school was merging with Belmont University, which is a Christian school. Watkins is not. Guess who’s getting purged! Nashville Scene reports:

When asked whether non-Christian Watkins faculty will be hired, [provost Thomas] Burns says: “We do not hire people who are not Christian. So the ones who are not Christian will not be eligible to work at Belmont. That’s just part of who we are.”

Megachurch pastor John Ortberg sees no problem with allowing church volunteers who admit to “obsessive sexual feelings about young children” to be responsible for, um, young children.

Everything is terrible, and not just in Iowa.

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