Greetings and Salutations;
I am seeing more and more truly nutty theories being pushed as the Covid-19 crisis continues. The Conspiracy Loonies are out in force, pushing nonsense ranging from the virus being a biological weapon attack by China, to it being an overblown hoax by the Democrats to tear down the administration (Guess who likes this idea the most???) to it being a way for Bill Gates to inject tracking/mind control chips into everybody in the world.
I was just hooked into a thread that involves the “doctor” that the following essay mentions, so when I ran across this well written, and accurate discussion of why conspiracy loonies are a waste of time it jumped out at me. The biographical information given by the author checks out, by the way, so this is legitimate.
Yo I’m not going to watch your 25-minute YouTube conspiracy video. I’m not even going to watch your 5-minute conspiracy video. This isn’t because I don’t have an open mind. This is because video is a shitty way to transmit information, specifically geared towards emotional manipulation, and I hate it. I can read probably about five times as fast as people speak, so if you want me to look at a write-up, I’ll try to find a time when I have the emotional energy for it. One of my friends was nice enough to summarize parts of it for me, which I respond to below. This is another long one.
I want to address, specifically, the first thirteen seconds of the “Plandemic Documentary” conspiracy video, because that’s all I watched. It starts by saying Dr. Judy Mikovits “has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation”. Snopes did a good article on who she is: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/scientist-vaccine-jailed/
Basically she had done some reasonable science at some point, some of it on HIV, and then published a paper in Science about XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome. The paper was retracted because nobody could replicate the findings, and it was concluded that the XMRV came entirely from laboratory contamination. Someone else wrote a poorly-sourced paper about how XMRV could have gotten into humans via vaccines, and the anti-vax/plague-enthusiast community jumped on this as a possible way that vaccines hurt people. Mikovits also ran into some troubles with the law for allegedly stealing lab equipment after being fired. She’s now basically off the deep end and popular in the anti-vax community. I would say that pretty much anything she says should be taken with SERIOUS skepticism.
The problem with a lot of conspiracy theories/videos usually comes down to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop
It takes a lot more effort to refute and argue against false claims than it does to make them. I’m sure that somebody at some point will come up with a comprehensive point-by-point refutation of this video, it just takes a while. One of the bigger mistakes we’ve made as a scientific community (and keep making) is that we let shit like this go unchecked for too long. It can be pretty obvious to someone with a scientific background (like the Bakersfield doctors bullshit) and still spread widely in the population.
-From what I can tell, a big claim in this video is that the pandemic isn’t that dangerous, and that the measures we’re taking are an overreaction. First off, I’d like to say that I have a very legitimate concern about the potential authoritarian consequences of what it’s going to take to track and treat patients. I have very serious concerns about the economic impact of what’s going on. I don’t think there’s a good way out of this, and I don’t think there are any completely good options. This shit sucks a LOT and it makes me really sad. What I don’t have time for is the infantile fantasy that those choices somehow don’t exist and that there’s some reason that this situation doesn’t actually suck as badly as it does. It’s possible that we’re overreacting as a society! It just really doesn’t seem likely. As I’ve said before, anyone claiming certainty about what to do here is somewhere between being overconfident and just plain lying. What I can say is that the overwhelming evidence so far indicates that the measures we’re taking are going to mean the American death toll of this disease being hundreds of thousands instead of millions.
–SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t engineered in a lab:
People have been studying viruses for a long time. Part of that study involves manipulating them. There was a whole controversy a while back about making more lethal flu strains. That doesn’t mean SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t naturally occurring. It may seem suspicious that this pandemic is happening, but we as a scientific community have talked about this possibility for DECADES. SARS-CoV-1, MERS, recent flu pandemics, etc. weren’t this big just because we were lucky. Nobody is talking about how we made those in a lab (they weren’t) because nobody cares about them.
-I generally agree that nobody should profit off a vaccine. That’s a problem with capitalism, and the US specifically, and is true of everything in the medical community.
-About MDs being incentivized to report coronavirus cases (from a prior comment of mine):
This is a common conspiracy theory. People who claim physicians are over-reporting deaths typically point to the (true) fact that hospitals get paid a bonus for Covid patients, so there’s a financial incentive for claiming that a person died from Covid. This has a few major holes in it:
- Falsifying a medical record is illegal, hospitals get audited by CMS (Medicare) all the time to make sure the charts are accurate, and there are huge fines for lying.
- Hospitals do get paid extra, but physicians don’t, which is something people seem not to understand. This theory assumes that physicians are willing to put themselves at legal risk for the sake of a hospital (we almost always aren’t).
- There’s a huge list of conditions that allow hospitals to get paid more for admissions – low sodium, malnutrition, diabetes, etc. We don’t lie about these conditions either, because of 1 and 2 above.
- The extra money for Covid patients is for medical notes, not death certificates. This is a subtle distinction to people outside the medical field, but putting a cause of death on a certificate is a separate process from documenting in a note, and falsifying those is ALSO illegal.
The other thing that I would say is that if you have Covid, it exacerbates underlying conditions. Literally almost any other cause of death would be worsened by having an infection that lowers your blood oxygen levels. It can trigger heart attacks, COPD exacerbations, asthma exacerbations, set your lungs up for pneumonia, and (yes actually) make you more likely to die from a trauma. If you have an infection and die from almost anything else, you died in part from Covid. Just like if you have a pneumonia and die from almost anything else, you died in part from pneumonia. That’s how medical causes of death work, and they always have.
If people are coming at this from the perspective that physicians are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get more money, it feeds into their pre-existing biases, so it’s easy to see how that get amplified. I don’t know of any respectable scientists working on this project who think deaths are being over-counted – I’ve only seen it pushed by people who are already engaging in motivated reasoning to come to the conclusion that this epidemic isn’t as bad as we’ve been led to believe.
-Hydroxychloroquine probably doesn’t work, no matter how much anyone wants to believe it does. It’s still being studied, but preliminary data aren’t positive. Not sure what to say about that except that we do studies on these things for a reason – the plural of anecdote is not data.
-Apparently there’s a claim that people are holding off on developing effective therapies because they want to vaccinate everybody. The only way this thought begins to make sense is if you’re coming from a world view in which vaccination or the avoidance of a vaccination is a goal in and of itself. So again, anti-vax bullshit.
–There’s some confusing claims in there about animals and the way vaccines are made. I’m going to chalk that up to crazy anti-vax bullshit and move on. If anyone has a better response, please feel free to jump in.
-There’s some stuff in there about how masks don’t work, how we develop immune responses from exposure to our environment, that sheltering from the rest of the world will hurt our immune systems, etc. This is, again, standard anti-vaxxer bullshit and does not comport with reality. Staying inside for a few months isn’t going to nuke our immune systems.
Like I said before, as far as I can tell this video is a tsunami of unrelated conspiracy theories and anti-vax talking points. Nobody is going to be able to address all of them satisfactorily. But if your position is “well 80% of this is clearly refutable but I wonder about that 20%”, at some point you’re going to have to realize that the most likely explanation for this entire video is that it’s politically motivated, written by anti-vaxxers, and that your baseline assumption should be that none of this is scientifically sensical. For example, there are no “good microbes” on beaches that we’re somehow specifically keeping people away from.
Conspiracy theories don’t take hold if they don’t appeal to people. Since a lot of the claims being made can’t possibly be falsified in a way that people will listen to, the question is whether or not this fits into the listener’s worldview. And the truth is, as far as I can tell, that it’s more comforting for many people to believe that someone is in charge (even with malignant intentions) than it is to see the world as an essentially chaotic system in which horrible things happen for no good reason.
Except there’s an actual reason this happened the way it did, at least in the US. It’s because we have the worst administration this country has ever seen, our president disbanded all the early warning systems, ignored everybody with relevant expertise, and as far as I can do has done very little on a national level besides steal hospital supplies from states.
Just a few quick things to add since this blew up a bit:
– I have a PhD in public health, I do research on antimicrobial resistance among bacteria. I’m not a virologist or epidemiologist, although I’ve taken classes in these disciplines.
– I’m an ICU doctor, and I see people dying from this disease every day I’m at work these days.
– I’m usually not interested in debating you or your friends on Facebook. This is a line I’ve set for my mental health.
– If we don’t have any mutual friends, I almost definitely won’t accept your friend request.
Thanks for being reasonable!
God Help Us All. Stay Safe!
Bee Man Dave