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The Weird Cognitive Landscape

October 5, 2020

The president is sick. RELEASE THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES.

USA Today: “Many don’t trust the official story and the online conversation is quickly spinning out of control.”

It’s understandable, of course, to feel like nothing you’re hearing is true when, you know, so little of what you normally hear is true. The official briefings and updates coming from Trump’s doctor are not helping anything. Nor are the photos the White House released of Trump signing blank pieces of paper and going over empty folders.

Occam’s Razor says, I think, that they’re just really bad at this.

The Post: “A whole world, with Trump at its center, suddenly faced the threat that the president had encouraged them to deny or understate.”

Gorski: “Ever since Friday, news reports have alternated between glowing reports about how well he is doing with a drip-drip-drip of reports of the President receiving interventions that strongly suggest that he is considerably sicker than is being reported.

And then there was the drive-by. Just read how CNN’s Kevin Liptak puts it:

Just past 5 p.m. ET, a combination of boredom, agitation and yearning for adulation while convalescing from coronavirus brought the President to the rear seat of a black Chevy Suburban, waving frantically as he rode at a crawl down Rockville Pike while two US Secret Service agents, dressed in medical gowns, respirator masks and eye protection, stared stoically ahead.

Said one of the Walter Reed doctors: “The irresponsibility is astounding.”

Julia Belluz: Because of the nature of COVID-19, there’s no way for us to know right now whether Trump is in real trouble or not. Dr. Lakshman Swamy says: “The challenge is that when you are a VIP patient, it doesn’t always you mean you get better care — it just means you get more care.” But, importantly, he’s got a long list of risk factors.

Joe Pinsker: COVID-deniers aren’t going to change their tune over the president’s diagnosis.

Jessica Guynn: The anti-maskers are undeterred. Quoting one reality-denier: “Trump will take the hydroxychloroquine, he will be ‘cured’ and the masses will know it via an official press conference.”

Anyway, the best response to all of this comes from @lara6683: “Thoughts and prayers for a quick recovfefe.”


According to Jim Carrey’s “Joe Biden” on Saturday Night Live, Trump catching COVID-19 is a “team-up” of science and karma. I suppose we are expected to put aside the irony of Jim Carrey having anything to say about science or viruses. Of course, karma is not a real thing, and science very much is.

Speaking of Joe, we won’t really know if he’s in the clear for a few more days.

Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit upholds California’s pandemic restrictions on church gatherings, but the Michigan Supreme Court quashes that state’s governor’s authority to restrict gatherings.

There is a school in California that is literally called the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and it’s, of course, a COVID hotspot.

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.


French president Emmanuel Macron: “Secularism is the cement of a united France. Our challenge is to fight against those who go off the rails in the name of religion, while protecting those who believe in Islam and are full citizens of the Republic.”

For a while on Friday, we weren’t sure if Mubarak Bala, the Nigerian humanist leader who has been detained for blasphemy since May, was still alive. Humanists International confirmed that he is.

Reuters reports on the debate over sharia’s legal role in Nigerian society. One man they quote in favor of punishing blasphemers clearly did not grasp the irony of his statement: “People should not come to others’ faith and push their thinking.”

I missed this one last week (thanks, unreliable Pinboard iOS app): Pope Francis refused to meet with Mike Pompeo so it wouldn’t look like he was trying to help with Trump’s reelection.


Politico: How come there aren’t any evangelicals on the Supreme Court? Answer: Supply and demand.

Despite missing a justice, SCOTUS has a full plate of religious liberty cases coming up.

Tara Isabella Burton is wary of the “sanctification” of secular icons like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Retired minister Buzz Thomas in USA Today says Christian nationalism is “the merging of two very good things – Christianity and patriotism – into one very bad (and very dangerous) thing. Sort of like gasoline and matches. We want them both. Just not together.”


Matthew J Sharps begins a series of posts on “cognitive cult dynamics”; in other words, “How is it possible to persuade human adults to enter a weird cognitive landscape with no basis in reality?” Do tell.

Discover: UFO sightings are not, in fact, on the rise, and the things that are being reported are getting dumber.


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.