The Paradoxical Appeal of Conspiracy Narratives

Becca Robinson has been teaching college-level rhetoric and writing since 2008 and raising backyard chickens since 2011. She lives in Eastern Idaho.

By now anyone who reads this blog has probably seen someone they know share the “Plandemic” video on social media, or at least seen references to it. This post is adapted from a Facebook post I wrote in response to several of my own family members and friends who had shared it (with varying degrees of credulity) on their social media feeds within the past few days. While it is important to address the video’s falsehoods, that’s not what this post is really about. Rather than respond to the specific claims of the video, my purpose is to explain why sharing it is dangerously irresponsible (which is why I haven’t linked to it here) and why conspiracy theories like it flourish especially in times of crisis.

Among the reasons I’ve heard for sharing the video or for criticizing YouTube and other social media platforms for taking it down, one of the more common is that we should be willing to hear “all sides” of an issue. But while being open to multiple perspectives is a generally valuable and often essential intellectual capacity, wanting to hear “all sides” is not inherently virtuous. It is not an excuse for sharing debunked paranoia-mongering viral content during a global emergency. That said, I don’t think everyone who shares the video are conspiracy-minded fools. “Plandemic” is a slick production with enough of the appearance of authority to capture the interest of more-or-less well-educated, generally reasonable people who are suffering from a frustrating lack of solid information and who lack the expertise either in rhetoric or relevant branches of science to have their BS radar triggered by it. In some cases, people are sharing the video in hope that better-informed friends might help them get a sense of its credibility. Nonetheless, I maintain that sharing content like “Plandemic” broadly, even if only to ask for others’ take on its claims, is irresponsible.

Before we lend any degree of credibility to such far-fetched and potentially harmful nonsense as the “Plandemic” video peddles, let alone help to spread it, we have an ethical duty to look very carefully into its claims. And there is no shortage of evidence, easily available through a Google search, that this particular video was made by a discredited anti-vaxxer with a history of spreading misinformation and seeking personal gain. There are also plenty of sources that will explain why the central claims made in the video are scientifically baseless. Yet it still spreads like wildfire. Why do otherwise reasonable, thoughtful people get sucked into conspiracy narratives like the one presented in “Plandemic?”

Conspiracy theories flourish in times of great uncertainty like these because they give people the illusion of order and control: they are a paradoxically comforting counter-narrative to our lived reality that sometimes terrible, earth-shaking things just happen, and we cannot guarantee the safety or predictability of our lives and the lives of those we care about. Even though conspiracy theories place outsized control in the hands of shadowy, malevolent others, they allow us to imagine that the world is more orderly than it actually is—that stuff like this pandemic isn’t a consequence of the relative insignificance of individuals and institutions against the chaotic power of nature, but that it happened by someone’s design. And they offer the further emotional comfort of allowing people to believe that although they are relatively helpless against something like a highly contagious and lethal virus, at least they have special knowledge that other people lack.

This particular conspiracy theory is especially insidious because it aims to persuade people not to take reasonable precautions against contracting or spreading COVID-19. In so doing, it’s not just an interesting perspective. Sharing it can lead people to physically endanger themselves and others—and not just by refusing to wear masks, socially distance, seek testing, or eventually get vaccinated. Just this past week, there have been at least two cases of retail and restaurant workers being shot–one fatally—because customers were angry about being required by private businesses to abide by those private businesses’ pandemic mitigation policies. In Utah, two small businesses demanded that COVID-19-positive employees report to work on-site, and now half their staff are ill. Statistically speaking, some of those employees or those whom they have infected will almost certainly die. Elsewhere, paranoid protesters have conspicuously displayed their very large guns inside the Michigan state capitol building as legislators—some wearing bulletproof vests—deliberated and voted about whether and how to continue pandemic-related restrictions. Other protesters have shown up at the homes of local law enforcement and public health workers to threaten not only them but their families.

This is not simply a matter of freedom of speech or hearing “all sides.” Spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about coronavirus is akin to shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, because it is likely to lead others to endanger themselves unnecessarily out of fear. It’s also like throwing gasoline on a fire, because it lends moral support to people like those armed protesters and the would-be customers who were willing to use lethal force against people who were just doing their jobs trying to keep themselves and everyone else safe.

The best defense we have against not only coronavirus but potential government overreach in its pandemic mitigation efforts is good information. Therefore, as citizens, we have a moral duty to seek out and share only the best information we’re able to access, if we choose to share information at all. This can be hard to do, since the novel coronavirus only came on the scene a few months ago and actual experts are quick to acknowledge the limits of what we know about it so far. While experts acknowledge their own uncertainty even as they make informed recommendations based on the limited data available, conspiracy theorists pretend confidence and offer their audience an illusion of certainty.

As we do what we can to counteract bad information with good, it can be helpful to understand not only what is factually wrong about conspiracy theories like the one in the “Plandemic” video, but also what makes them seem persuasive in the first place. Below I share a handful of sources that may be helpful in these efforts (in MLA bibliographic format, because I’m a nerd like that). There are a great many other quality sources, but if you’re contemplating how to talk to a loved one who is buying into “Plandemic” or related coronavirus conspiracies, these are a good place to start. (If the person you’re thinking of arguing with is not a loved one, you might just want to block them and save your energy.)

Halle, Tara. “Why It’s Important To Push Back On ‘Plandemic’—And How To Do It.” Forbes. 8 May 2020. www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2020/05/08/why-its-important-to-push-back-on-plandemic-and-how-to-do-it/#1f5b934a5fa3.

Shermer, Michael. “The Conspiracy Theory Detector.” Scientific American, 1 December 2010. www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-conspiracy-theory-director/.

Skwarecki, Beth. “If You Found that ‘Plandemic’ Video Convincing, Read This Too.” Lifehacker, 8 May 2020. vitals.lifehacker.com/if-you-found-that-plandemic-video-convincing-read-th-1843339002.

Comments

  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’d never heard of it until this post. From skimming a few sites it seems like the kind of thing I’d normally skip over shaking my head at. The problem is the people that push these kinds of things are often the same ones that won’t trust the correct information you provide them with.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to put these thoughts down Becca. A video like this may seem convincing to some because of all the sciencey jargon, but as someone who spent 5 years doing postdoc research in a coronavirus lab at ASU, I can attest that it is full of nonsense.

  3. Wheat and Tares also has a conspiracy post.

  4. I wonder how many people would believe that Hitler was conspiring to round up all the Jewish people across Europe and put them in showers promoted pumped toxic gas into them.

    Seems like such a conspiracy theory would have been thought impossible and even ludicrous during most of Hitler’s rule. Are we more or less capable than him?

    Anyway, not interested in the video or watching it or defending or attacking it.

  5. It would be more powerful and helpful if each falsehood or inaccuracy in the video was categorically addressed.

  6. “This particular conspiracy theory is especially insidious because it aims to persuade people not to take reasonable precautions against contracting or spreading COVID-19.”

    Go for it! This is how natural selection works, survival of the unstupidest. Recommended reading: On The Origin of Species, 1859,Chas Darwin. It’s been around for a while. Too bad more of us have not read it.

  7. Villate says:

    Todd, there are numerous fact-based debunkings of the Plandemic video by experts in several fields. They are easily Google-able. Most of the debunkers introduce themselves and their qualifications and sources, so you can decide for yourself whose information is most trustworthy.

  8. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I don’t think you get it, p. The ‘unstupidest’ are dying of this, due to the callous insensitivity of those who refuse to take it seriously. The disease is being spread to those most vulnerable, yet mostly innocent. Many of the stupidest will be left, unscathed, to spread disease, falsehoods, and stupidity to future generations.

  9. it's a series of tubes says:

    Many of the stupidest will be left, unscathed, to spread disease, falsehoods, and stupidity to future generations.

    hmmmm….

    The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

  10. Thank you. My sis-in-law shared “Plandemic”, and my husband had some choice words for her – hopefully it won’t start a family feud, but the irresponsible sharing of crazy videos like this one is so dangerous, he had to speak up. This is an excellent resource.

  11. @Suit

    I wonder how many people would believe that Hitler was conspiring to round up all the Jewish people across Europe and put them in showers promoted pumped toxic gas into them.

    That’s the importance of journalism. If you first heard that from your wife who heard it from her hair dresser who heard it from her cousin, etc, you should put little value into it. But if you heard from a journalist whom you’ve found to be correct before, and in a newspaper which has strived for accuracy and sends out correction notifications when they find themselves to be incorrect, you should put lots of value into it. It’s why the Free Press is not the enemy of the people.
    Years ago I was in a Sunday School class and the teacher was talking about the importance of the Book of Mormon. One student responded with “Well what about [I forget exactly what, but it would have been the Salamander letters or something similar]?” The teacher said that they didn’t know what they were talking about, and the student replied that it was some document which cast doubt on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but it turns out that they author of the document said that he made it up so it was fake. The teacher replied with “So if it was fake, why does it matter?” The student paused for a moment, mulled it over for a bit and said, “Oh… yeah.” I have found this to be very instructive, and have concluded that there must be a certain personality trait which prioritizes scandalous information above its correction. There must be something so exciting about the scandalous information that we want to remember it more than we want to remember its counterpoints.
    I believe that another factor which makes conspiracy theories so enticing is that it gives you a feeling that you are some kind of freedom fighter, fighting against oppression. If you start to fantasize enough about freedom fighters in the past, you might subconsciously want to be one yourself, but what to do when you live in a democracy? Fighting against a predominant narrative (regardless of how fact based) provides of sense of doing the right thing inspite of it being difficult.

  12. Becca,
    You say “The best defense we have against not only coronavirus but potential government overreach in its pandemic mitigation efforts is good information.” I completely agree. Yet you and several commentors that agree with you, imply several untruths above. You rightly point to the unwise Utah small businesses that required sick employees to come to work on-site, leading to 68 confirmed cases among the workers there. Yet in the very next sentence you allege: “Statistically speaking, some of those employees or those whom they have infected will almost certainly die.” If this causes a mass outbreak and it grows way past the infected employees, then what you say is true. However, there is no evidence that that has happened in the news article or other related articles I have seen. The actual death rate is around 1 in 1,000 for the general working age population. 68 confirmed cases is a long way from a “statistically … certain” death.

    Reading Charles Darwin, I don’t think that a disease with a low fatality rate for those of reproductive age will impact the general population very much. Alcohol and painkillers both have a higher mortality than that demonstrated by Covid-19.

    Although I have not seen the referenced video, your primary argument against it is that was produced by “a discredited anti-vaxxer with a history of spreading misinformation”. Although President Trump and some scientists are hopeful for different results, there has never before been a commercially available, effective, vaccine developed in less than 5 years. I would be very skeptical of any “effective vaccine” that is being tested in 2020. History shows that is very unlikely to happen.

  13. This woman does have a background in virology and speaks with a lot of technical language which can sound convincing. If you aren’t an expert it that field, it’s worth consulting with someone else who is that can verify before giving it your stamp of approval on social media. So for anyone interested, the journal Science did a review of some of the claims in the video. It’s worth a read here: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/fact-checking-judy-mikovits-controversial-virologist-attacking-anthony-fauci-viral

  14. “Even though conspiracy theories place outsized control in the hands of shadowy, malevolent others, they allow us to imagine that the world is more orderly than it actually is—that stuff like this pandemic isn’t a consequence of the relative insignificance of individuals and institutions against the chaotic power of nature, but that it happened by someone’s design.”

    Very well said. Several of my wife’s friends have become fierce evangelists for “Plandemic,” and that is what it comes down to: all the scary, bad stuff happening out there can be fully understood and wrapped up with a neat little bow through some “research” on social media sites. The current state of affairs has nothing to do with factors beyond our control; its just easily-understood collusion between bogeymen Tony Fauci, Bill Gates, George Soros, and “Big Pharma.”

    This is a fraught issue. People don’t like to hear that the video they find compelling is thinly-veiled quackery to others. Defenses go up very quickly in this debate. Important to be kind and measured in our conversations.

  15. Geoff - Aus says:

    el oso,
    You say 1 in 1000 deaths for working age people. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/
    This shows 24% of resolved cases in America died. Does this disagree with 1 in 1000?
    Interesting that the same figure is 2% in Australia.

  16. Nate GT says:

    Shut Plandemic down. It is false and relies on the opinion of a discredited scientist with a history of lying. Let’s go with what leading experts say. I’m pleased at how quickly peoplehave risen to debunk this misinformation. This gives me hope. But unfortunately conspiracy theories are spreading and gaining acceptance in the age of Trump. It is incumbent upon mainstream media to have a team of debunkers on hand to search out and readily investigate conspiracy theories as they arise and not broadcast debunking right away (lest they inadvertently draw fodder and attention to the conspiracy theory, the preferred tactic is to ignore conspiracy theories), but in the event that the conspiracy theory starts gaining traction, like the Plandemic, have anchors and newspeople be ready to swiftly and immediately debunk. Conspiracy theories and disinformation is, unfortunately easier to concoct than it is to debunk. But we can fight the loons off more effectively with a little bit of better preparation and planning.

  17. Nate GT says:

    “The actual death rate is around 1 in 1,000 for the general working age population.”

    Stats published yesterday from Italy (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1106372/coronavirus-death-rate-by-age-group-italy/)

    Death rates by age group:

    20-29 – .1%
    30-39 – .3%
    40-49 – .9%
    50-59 – 2.6%
    60-69 – 10.2%

    These figures may not factor in all who have tested positive, but the death rate is like to be higher than 1 in 1000 for working ages. Still this isn’t just about saving lives (we don’t stop the economy because of flu season). This is about saving the healthcare systems around the world, to which coronavirus poses a massive risk.

  18. Geoff-Aus and Nate GT,
    I am basing my 1 in 1000 number on the antibody studies of the general population taken in various states in the US. There have been others that show similar results in other countries. There have been at least 5 studies published in the US that show similar ratios of positive Covid-19 infection tests to antibody tests. I will take the USC study of LA county residents as an example. They estimated 300,000 county residents were infected back in mid-April when the tests were done. Results were published on April 20. To date, there have been a little over 1,500 deaths in LA county. That is 1 death for every 200 infected persons. If you apply the ratio of deaths by age group to this number, there is much lower than a 1 in 1000 chance of death for working age adults. The deaths skew to the older, retired age cohorts in a big way.

    Geoff-Aus,
    Yes, the US numbers show a huge death rate versus resolved cases. This is massively skewed by New York City data. (There is suspicion of overcounts there and of course they had the ridiculous policy of forcing nursing homes to admit Covid-19 patients) Other areas, like my state show less than 10% death of positive infections cases, still much higher than what I claim because the deaths are compared to positive Covid-19 infection tests, versus the antibody tests that presumably show positives on people who were never sick at all and had no reason to get a test for infection.

    I notice that the CDC website talks about antibody tests, but does not have any results on their website that I could find. I have heard several critiques of these types of tests, but the largest test, conducted by NY state health authorities has been vigorously defended by those same health officials.
    I imagine that the lack of mention of the lower death rate implied by the antibody studies by the CDC is one reason that conspiracy narratives gain so much traction. There have also been non-conspiracy news reports which downplay the lethality of coronavirus that are censored by youtube and other social media platforms. Presumably on-line media want to feed the fear and keep people at home where the on-line world can fill the void in peoples lives.

  19. Nate GT says:

    el oso,

    You said “working age” deaths are 1 in 1000. Working age is 20-60. Age group 40-60 are higher risk and 60-70 even higher, and 70-80 even higher. I found a synopsis of the USC study you mentioned. It doesn’t appear to divide it into age group. On April 20 it mentions that these results are preliminary and have yet to be peer reviewed by other scientists. It’s based on testing results from 863 adults. Provide links for the other studies.

    “There is suspicion of overcounts”

    Quite the opposite. Experts are saying that coronavirus deaths are likely undercounted. Here is data from New Jersey’s Center for Health Statistics and Informatics released on May 9th: https://nj.gov/health/chs/documents/2015-2020%20Deaths%20by%20Month%20and%20County%20of%20Residence.pdf.

    “Presumably on-line media want to feed the fear and keep people at home where the on-line world can fill the void in peoples lives.”

    And you jumped the shark here. This suggests that you have a proneness to conspiracy-mindedness. The big bad “on-line” (love the spelling) media wants to keep people at home. Ooh, the media. Scary. There is no such thing as the “media” in the sense that you use it. There is no central cabal that controls all media and shapes/dictates its narratives. Media that denies the severity of the coronavirus, isn’t based on expert opinion, and informs the gun-toting protesters is just as much media as the media that is based on expert opinion, facts, and hard data.

  20. Nate GT,
    There is no need for a widespread conspiracy to make my statement true. Greed is plenty of reason to do some of this. For example, Bill Gates is very intelligent and may have been one of the most ahead of the curve thought leaders in dealing with some aspects of coronavirus. There is still reason to be suspicious of what he is saying because of the massive financial gain that he and his company could realize during extended periods of remote work. There is no secret cabal or conspiracy required for many others to think and act similarly, they have similar financial interests.
    Your New Jersey data shows an increase in deaths in the state. There is plenty of data that show an increase in deaths in some areas. There is also lots of testimony by medical professionals that they fear that people are dying of untreated heart disease, other infections, etc. because the patients fear going to the hospital, doctor’s office, etc. There is massive amounts of data showing that use of institutional healthcare providers is way down. The deaths have increased, but coronavirus infection is not necessarily the cause. There is also direct testimony from NYC morgues that any death with unknown cause is counted as coronavirus death. Testing is not even required.
    Type in NY coronavirus antibodies study in your search engine, links pop up high in the list. There was a Marin county one in CA, plus Florida and at least one mid west state.

  21. Chadwick says:

    I’ve not watched any of Plandemic and don’t plan to.

    That being said, this COVID-19 thing really is a struggle.

    For example, I’m not sick. But my leaders say I can’t go about normal life because I might be asympotamic. I can get tested for antibodies, but my leaders say the antibody tests aren’t reliable. So essentially the message is it doesn’t matter if you are sick or not, you just have to stay home. For 9+ weeks. Of juggling homeschooling with working in a tiny house with no yard. For a virus that only has a 14-day life cycle.

    I was told in April that wearing a mask was irresponsible. I’m being bold in May that not wearing a mask is irresponsible.

    I was told if I stayed home we could flatten the curve. Here in CA our numbers have only gone up. So we have to keep staying home until the numbers go down (sounds very much like “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”)

    I was told we need to keep staying home so that the hospitals don’t run out of beds. Yet in CA we never ran out of hospital beds in the first place. We never even came close to running out of beds. Hoag hospital today announced that only 3% of hospital patients are COVID patients and only 1% of patients are in the ICU.

    I’m told antibodies may not provide immunity. I’m also told we should social distance for two years for a vaccine because it will give me antibodies (which may not give me immunity).

    Beaches are shut down because I could catch the virus at the beach. But the line at my local Costco is way more crowded than any beach. In my neck of the woods, beaches were closed because some irresponsible journalist used a stock photo of a crowded July 4th holiday to sell their story that we were not taking this thing seriously.

    I was told to stay home while we ramp up testing. Yet testing is flat. So the government is actively not doing what they said they would do, while I do what I said I would do.

    Do you see why people are actively looking for reasons for this pandemic to be a hoax? The leadership isn’t there. The messaging is unbelievably confusing. The media is being dishonest in order to increase circulation. Politicians are holding unemployment payments hostage in an election year.

    The goal of this post shouldn’t be to say that Plandemic is stupid. Most of us reading this site agree. The point should be how we help people buying into the story of Plandemic to see a better worldview. That won’t come by shaming them or calling them uneducated. It will come by actually affirming that some of their concerns are indeed valid.

  22. Nate GT says:

    “There is no need for a widespread conspiracy to make my statement true.”

    And then you proceed to tell me that Bill Gates, one of the richest men and one of the most generous philanthropists in the world whose companies have no problem generating profit, can’t be trusted because he’s out for money? Please. His opinion is in line with what leading epidemiological experts say and have been saying. I trust Bill Gates even though he isn’t a medical expert.

    I googled antibody tests. What I found is data indicating part of what you say. I also found lots of articles (for instance: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/12/health/covid-19-antibody-test-explained-wellness/index.html) saying that too much is read into these tests and that they yield lots of false positives, lack testing oversight (FDA has said that there are over 130 unvetted tests in use), and that there is a lack of evidence that antibodies can actually provide protection against SARS-CoV-2. What you say is based on a lot of wishful thinking. I hope it is true, too, that coronavirus isn’t a big deal and will just go away and that we’re all developing antibodies to it quickly, as does everyone. But I’m not seizing on stories that are convenient to a predetermined narrative that I seek to confirm with non-expert opinion and fringe media and then accusing experts of being wrong and persisting in wrongness because of profit motives. I’m consulting the experts, and I try to consult them directly on a regular basis. You’re finding cheap excuses to disregard them as misguided, wrong, and motivated by profit and fame. The implications of your argumentation are conspiratorial. And you probably think yourself to be open-minded. Hardly. If you were truly open-minded, you would be slower to rush to judgment against experts and seek to inform your opinion mostly on what they say rather than innuendo and some random renegades in fringe media and pick and choose tidbits in mainstream sources that confirm your biases while ignoring a mountain of other information that do not confirm your biases (or dismiss it all as a media conspiracy then) in those very sources.

    On the death count: the CDC and Anthony Fauci have clearly stated that coronavirus deaths are undercounted (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/12/fauci-puts-it-bluntly-coronavirus-deaths-are-undercounted/). I’ll trust experts who have experience analyzing macrodata and who are put under constant scrutiny over some random doctor (out of the 1.1 million doctors in the US) in some random place telling anecdotes. In fact, I think it is more likely that that random doctor who goes to Fox News or underground media to deny the severity of the coronavirus outbreak is going out on a limb for profit and prestige than the body of established experts. Judy Mikovitz, having suffered irreparable damage to her reputation and career because of publishing discredited research in the past, has much, much more of a profit and prestige motive by being a contrarian to a well-established worldwide expert opinion than Bill Gates.

  23. Nate GT says:

    Chadwick, you’re right that a cursory glance at directives can be confusing. Since I read quite a bit on the coronavirus, I don’t find them confusing. Instead, what I see is a body of ideas with varying degrees of confidence. Experts are very confident that coronavirus poses a threat to healthcare systems (this is well-evidenced in areas of the world, such as Brazil, where social distancing recommendations are being disregarded), but less confident in how to best impose social distancing. Are masks that effective? Probably, but we’re not sure how effective they are. Still, erring on the side of caution is paramount.

    I agree that we should sympathize with denialists, but some of them are so hardened that we have to shut them down and ignore them. The right thing is being done with Plandemic. Quickly debunk and deplatform from private platforms. This isn’t an infringement on freedom of speech. Fringe ideas have a right to be expressed and not be censored by the government. But they don’t have a right for private platforms to feature them and aid their spread. Governments are also not infringing upon free speech by encouraging private platforms to shut these ideas down. Let’s not get carried away with worrying about what fringe elements say and how they feel. Let’s go by the facts. Let’s go by the expert opinions. If someone expresses a fringe idea, be polite by all means. Sympathize with why they think that way for sure. And then inform them about ideas that debunk the fringe ideas and what experts say. If they get offended, then ignore them.

  24. Chadwick,

    I agree that the combination of lack of information, changing information, and seemingly contradictory information is frustrating, can be confusing, and is likely contributing to some members of the public being more vulnerable to conspiracy thinking about coronavirus. I alluded to this problem in my original post, but I am glad that you elaborated on the problem in your reply. However, as Nate GT says, it’s possible to untangle the information and advice we’re being given from reputable sources. Furthermore, there are readily available answers to most (if not all) of the concerns you specifically noted. For example, we were told that wearing masks was irresponsible because there was a great deal of warranted concern about shortages for health care workers whose need for PPE was much greater than the general public’s, especially since at the time there wasn’t as much community spread. Since then, there have been grassroots efforts to make reusable masks which, while not effective as PPE for health care providers, should offer limited protection to the public. So now we’re being asked to wear those kinds of masks.

    “Do you see why people are actively looking for reasons for this pandemic to be a hoax?”

    Yes, I do–that’s what my post was about, after all.

    “The leadership isn’t there.”

    Certainly at the federal level, I agree. And it’s also true in many states, both because the lack of federal leadership makes more local leadership more difficult and because some governors and mayors are just botching it. I feel fortunate because Idaho’s messaging and leadership has been relatively good, yet we’re still functioning in a dearth of information. In my own county, there were huge problems because of weird restrictions about how tests had to be routed and verified before they could be officially counted or announced, which enabled some community spread.

    “The messaging is unbelievably confusing.”

    Yes, the messaging has been very poor, again, especially at the federal level. They’re not even following their own preparedness and response strategies.

    “The media is being dishonest in order to increase circulation.”

    Such a sweeping generalization without corroborating evidence is neither credible nor useful. “The media” is not a coherent entity. Certainly, some members of the media and some outlets are guilty of being dishonest, whether for financial or ideological reasons. But the vast majority of journalists and reputable news outlets are doing their best to provide helpful, timely, and accurate information to the public. And overall, they are doing a better job of doing that than the White House administration.

    “Politicians are holding unemployment payments hostage in an election year.”

    I’ve heard that allegation and looked into it a little bit. It does seem probable that some of the political strategies being used with regards to economic relief are intended to further an ideological agenda rather than to best serve the public during a global crisis. But again, the claim as you’ve stated it is too sweeping to be verifiable or useful.

    “The goal of this post shouldn’t be to say that Plandemic is stupid.”

    I agree, and that wasn’t the goal, which is why I spent virtually no time at all addressing the specific content of that video.

    “The point should be how we help people buying into the story of Plandemic to see a better worldview. That won’t come by shaming them or calling them uneducated. It will come by actually affirming that some of their concerns are indeed valid.”

    I agree, and that’s part of why I wrote this post. Please note that I did not call anyone uneducated. In fact, I wrote that “I don’t think everyone who shares the video are conspiracy-minded fools. “Plandemic” is a slick production with enough of the appearance of authority to capture the interest of more-or-less well-educated, generally reasonable people who are suffering from a frustrating lack of solid information and who lack the expertise either in rhetoric or relevant branches of science to have their BS radar triggered by it. In some cases, people are sharing the video in hope that better-informed friends might help them get a sense of its credibility.”

    If people feel shamed by my post (because I argued that sharing the video for any reason is irresponsible), it’s probably because they find my argument that they were irresponsible to share it persuasive. But I didn’t set out to shame anyone.

  25. Nate GT
    Wow. I think you misread or misinterpreted every major point I have made. I will go in order of your last post.
    I never alleged that Bill Gates is not a generous philanthropist, I merely suggested that he had a profit motive in lots of people working from home. This may impact his current statements, and they need to be viewed in this light. Are you implying that one cannot be both a profit motivated capitalist and a generous philanthropist at the same time? Rockefeller and Carnegie come immediately to mind as noted historical counter examples.
    In you paragraph on antibody tests your chosen article does not directly address the main point that I was making with the antibody test data. I am not saying that antibody tests show complete immunity, I was suggesting that they show previous exposure to coronavirus. The article does not address this issue. You then accuse me of “seizing on stories that are convenient to a predetermined narrative that I seek to confirm with non-expert opinion and fringe media” while quoting a CNN article (far more fringe than ABC, CBS, Fox News, etc. based on their ratings). The article also quotes the WHO (their coronavirus track record is very shaky) and cites incompetent Chinese labs as evidence of suspicion of some antibody tests. I think that my citing of Stanford and USC medical studies is far closer to expert scientific opinion than what you used. Do you think that these doctors used tests with a 40% failure rate, published results over 3 weeks ago, and no one has mentioned it anywhere?

    For the death count, you cite a Washington Post article, but the quote of Dr. Fauci inside the article does not say what you allege, or the headline says. The article quotes Fauci as saying: “But most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number.” and “I think you are correct that the number is likely higher,”. You say that he “clearly stated that coronavirus deaths are undercounted” the article headline implies that, but does not quote Fauci as saying that. You say that I cite one random doctor, but he did give concrete facts of an overcount. Fauci is only giving feelings and hedging based upon some anecdotes as well (near as I can tell). Very likely, both Fauci and my source are both correct in the data. It may well be that Fauci or other experts pointed out this issue to NYC authorities and they then changed policy and swung the pendulum too far in the overcount direction. I have not cited death data from NYC, because it is likely not as reliable as places where their medical systems have not been as stressed by high rates of Covid-19 infection. For the excess death issue, I will give you another anecdote, but with lots of hard data that supports it. A family friend has a young daughter that needs a life-saving medical procedure very soon. That procedure is currently not on the “approved” list in her state. The girl may very well die soon, but not from coronavirus infection. The BLS states that 1.4 million healthcare workers filed for unemployment in April. While many of them may work in fields that are not truly lifesaving, at least in the short term, it is a certainty that many others would have saved lives if their normal patients had been going to see them over the past 2 months. That is a concrete statistic backing up my assertion that at least some excess deaths are not directly due to coronavirus infection.
    And finally, you say that Judy Mikovitz probably has a profit motive for putting out her contrarian video. Glad you can apply at least one of my statements correctly. Her opinions should be given appropriate weight with that in mind. Note that I have not mentioned either her or any of her main points directly before.
    To summarize all of my statements above:
    1) There is around a 1 in 1000 chance of death for working age adults who are infected with coronavirus if you believe the antibody studies show that many more people have been infected than the actual infection tests have shown to date. (For comparison, in areas with low to moderate infection rates, the death rate from coronavirus for working age adults is about the same as the death rate from traffic accidents over the past few years. I.e. around 60 working age adults have died from coronavirus in my state. This is the historically expected number of deaths from traffic accidents for the same age cohort over 2 months)
    2) The chance of an effective vaccine being available this year is extremely low. It has taken 5 years or more to develop all of the previous vaccines that are widely used.
    3) There are excess deaths in some parts of the US over the past 2 months. It is not clear if they are mostly attributable to coronavirus infection or to other causes like deferring medical care for other problems.
    4) People and organizations with a vested interest in some part of the current conditions due to the coronavirus response, for example, profit motivated capitalists who make more money when people work from home or stay home looking for entertainment options, may have those motives influencing what they do and say. Just because 5 or 10 different organizations are doing things we do not like during this time does not mean that they are all conspiring together, they may just all have the same basic motive.
    5) One new point: The Washington Post headline writer slants the testimony of Dr. Fauci and Nate GT either did not read the article or notice the slant. You should “seek to inform your opinion mostly on what they (experts) say rather than” biased media sources.

  26. Nate GT says:

    Wow, still with Bill Gates. So he is secretly pushing extreme economic pain on people because he is going to profit a little more from them staying home (no evidence that he is profiting more from this anyway)? You live in a world of delusion. And then you try to pull a motte and bailey tactic on me saying all mealymouthed, “I was just trying to say that he has a profit motive.” Bull. You were saying we shouldn’t trust him because he is secretly trying to profit from the crisis. Outrageous.

    1) Based on loose, unconfirmed data.
    2) Maybe
    3) Experts, in great numbers beyond just Fauci, are saying coronavirus count is undercounted. You’re suggesting it is overcounted. Conspiracy.
    4) Anyone with a profit motive has to be insane to think that social distancing measures with its extreme economic uncertainty is going to magically work in their favor because then people stay at home. This idea is dishonest lunacy. Social distancing policies are in place because a consensus of epidemiological experts have with well-tested peer reviewed models forecast massive calamity on the whole world due to coronavirus. And still have overwhelming evidence
    5) This is a dishonest tangent and diversion. Fauci has clearly said that the numbers are undercounted. And then you mock me for citing and trusting experts????? And then ask me to trust your untrained assessment of statistics and ad hoc collection of news articles (I thought you didn’t trust the big bad “media” anyways, I guess you trust it when convenient, huh?). This is nothing more than an extraordinary display of assclownery and deep intellectual dishonesty. Absolutely irresponsible and reckless. You’re a nutjob conspiracist. People like you are making this crisis worse.

  27. Nate GT says:

    Another note on the dishonest and misleading tactics of conspiracists like el oso. They want us to believe that they are these keen-minded folks who are just good at noticing errors and discrepancies in mainstream explanations and consult first-hand sources to inform themselves and then just try to put together a puzzle and have discovered that some pieces don’t fit (and this is why we call them conspiracy theorists, because this sort of thinking implies that there is a conspiracy among experts and authorities to pull the wool over people’s eyes for a profit or power motive). What they don’t reveal is that they are constructing their narrative through second-hand sources like Fox News, Epoch Times, or other fringe and conspiracy outlets.

    There is of course, nothing wrong with consulting second-hand sources. In fact, most of what we know and say comes from these second-hand sources. Yet it is dishonest and misleading to construct a narrative that clearly reflects one already widely constructed and put forth in second-hand sources and then not attribute your thinking to those sources. The reason that conspiracists like el oso avoid attribution of their ideas to second-hand sources (and he can’t even be bothered to reference near anything he claims) is that this allows him to pounce on me for referencing mainstream sources like the Washington Post and claim that I am naive and dronishly informing myself through mainstream media (which I confess, I rely heavily on well-established, heavily scrutinized reporting like the Washington Post to inform myself about the coronavirus, but guess what, this media regularly consults actual experts and doesn’t rely on innuendo and fringe “experts” who sit and take potshots on the sidelines and move around and dodge when anyone tries to hold them accountable). They don’t reference these websites and media outlets because they know that they are not credible and that we could completely discredit their argument and label them as mindless drones for relying on these narratives. So they avoid attribution altogether.

    See how el oso was just waiting to ensnare me with a reference from the Washington Post. I only referenced this article to show that Dr. Anthony Fauci has strongly claimed that the coronavirus death count is undercounted, which is common knowledge, and I could cite dozens of other credible sources to back up. Yet el oso already had his mind made-up and was just waiting for the opportunity to play gotcha when I referenced a mainstream source. All of sudden he is yelling about how the source is slanted and how I didn’t notice the slant and the bias. Wow. That trap failed so badly it was just embarrassing.

    But alas, there is a second scourge plaguing the US besides the coronavirus. And it is conspiracism and conspiracists of the likes of el oso. Folks who tell us not to trust the experts. Folks who inject doubt into well-established, fact-based narratives trying to save us from pandemics. Folks who support Trump and automatically express distrust in the mainstream simply because it is the mainstream, without even reading what these narratives say. Because of these clowns we have not been able to contain the virus. South Korea is already planning opening baseball arenas. Why? Because the general populace there trusts the system. El oso and people of his ilk need to be put to shame. Because of them we in the US will suffer gravely because of the virus. How dare you.

  28. 1) I now have more hard data that most thinking people will acknowledge. As of today, it has been 14 days since the state of Georgia reopened. Tested infection rates (and deaths) are still falling. How can you explain that other than the actual chance of severe sickness and death for most people is much lower than the initial widespread reports indicated? There are possibly other hypotheses that might be valid besides the one I gave, but the bottom line on the actual risk to working age population is the same.
    2) I agree a vaccine is a maybe, just lower probability than many believe or hope.
    3) Is there an overcount or undercount in your state or country? Is there a way to be sure? In my state, most health experts believe that there are additional deaths due to lack of use of medical services. They say so on various media outlets. Are you saying that the over 1 million unemployed healthcare workers would not have saved lives? You introduced the data of excess deaths as a way to prove the undercount. I gave you an alternative theory that may explain most of the excess deaths. I am not saying that there in not an undercount, but that it is not well proven.
    4) So you are saying that profiting from economic uncertainty that you do not understand is magic and that any industry leader who thinks that he can profit from it is insane? You are way into unthinking conspiracy here. ANY executive of a large company who does not try to profit from these changed economic conditions is not doing his job well. Many do see opportunities in these conditions. This does not make them untrustworthy, but does mean that they have other possible motives that should be taken into consideration. Also, I see little evidence of “massive calamity” around the whole world without economic dislocation. Sweden has not taken nearly as many steps that cause economic dislocation that most experts said were mandatory. Yet, they do not have nearly the highest infection rate or death rate in Europe. They are nowhere near “massive calamity” as predicted by the “best” peer reviewed models from 2 months ago. Were these models all inherently faulty or the scientists all corrupt and conspiring? No, the models used incorrect assumptions. If you input the newer data from the antibody tests that I referenced, the models predict close to what has happened in Sweden and seems to be happening in Georgia.
    5) You still misread the linked article and seem to have little comprehension of my clear exposition of how this Post article headline indicates media bias. Fauci has hedged his words saying that “most of us feel” and “I think” I am mocking you for believing the Post spin and not the actual words of the more expert Dr. Fauci. I am mocking you for implying that the WHO is a more trustworthy expert than the USC and Standford doctors that did the studies I referenced. The WHO said at the end of January that there was no evidence of human to human spread of Covid-19. They have parroted Chinese propaganda from the beginning of this outbreak up to today. The article also noted the Chinese test that had a 40% failure rate as evidence that antibody tests are not trustworthy. Did you think that all of the US studies are using that type of test? That is laughable. It would be headline news, and the honest researchers involved would have withdrawn their findings.

    Also, how do you know that I am untrained in this area? I have more training than most doctors in computer modeling. I also got better grades in our joint technical classes than most pre-med students in college. Medical professionals make mistakes, have axes to grind, and disagree about research findings just like most everyone else.
    I also used to work as a contractor for the Washington Post. I have seen many, many instances of the type of spin I pointed out printed in that paper.

  29. Nate GT says:

    Last time, then I’m done with you, you clown. I won’t read anymore repetitive nonsense from you.

    “I now have more hard data that most thinking people will acknowledge”

    Posing as expert. You’re not an expert, el oso. Even if it is true that you are an expert computer modeler and worked as a contractor for the Washington Post, you’re not a published and accomplished epidemiologist. Have you published anything on pandemics or even modeling of them? I highly doubt that you have. Have you published anything that has been peer-reviewed and accepted in by a major, reputable publisher? Maybe, that is unlikely. Most people haven’t published anything of the sort. You appear to be nothing more than a guy taking irresponsible potshots from the sidelines, that you refuse to be held accountable for, and playing a game of whack-a-mole.

    “most health experts believe that there are additional deaths due to lack of use of medical services”

    Red herring. Most health experts say that deaths due to coronavirus are undercounted. You don’t get to dismiss health experts and then appeal to them when convenient.

    “So you are saying that profiting from economic uncertainty…”

    Acknowledge what you wrote, which is that Bill Gates cannot be trusted because he is profiting from the crisis. There is no evidence for this. You’re being dishonest and throwing out an extreme unevidenced accusation.

    “You still misread the linked article”

    Pfff. The article clearly shows that Fauci believes that deaths are undercounted, which is the only reason I referenced the article. I could cite about a dozen other articles from reputable sources that show the same. That you persist in trying to trap me somehow shows your ridiculous desperation. You jumped the shark. Show’s over, pal.

    “If you input the newer data from the antibody tests”

    You don’t listen, do you. Antibody tests are inconclusive tests with lots of false positives. They don’t show much. Health experts know about these tests and their not jumping on them to claim that we’ve defeated coronavirus. Far from it. They continue to tell us that there is a major threat looming.

    “They have parroted Chinese propaganda from the beginning of this outbreak”

    Baseless conspiracy theory.

    “Medical professionals make mistakes”

    Red herring, motte and bailey fallacy. Do professionals make mistakes? Well, duh. Does a consensus of leading professionals make a massive mistake that a random anonymous guy (computer modeler, oooh) on an internet forum can just call out that no one else knows? No. You’re the one making the mistake. There is a consensus of epidemiologists on the threat posed by coronavirus. This is not a mistake. You live in a world of delusion and are a complete phony. You subscribe to conspiracy theories and are pushing ideas that suggest that a consensus of experts is wrong and acting conspiratorially for profit and power. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. You cherry pick data (that you don’t even reference) that fit your pre-existing biases (informed by second-hand sources that you do not disclose). You’re a smoke-and-mirrors tactician and a fraud.

  30. Nate GT says:

    “I also got better grades in our joint technical classes than most pre-med students in college”

    Haha. Just so laughable. OK, who in their right-mind would regard a college student who got really good grades in some college classes to be an expert???? Just so dumb and pathetic it is funny. I literally broke out laughing hysterically when I read this. Experts are the ones writing those tests that you took. And then again, not even the test writers would be regarded as experts, but the folks with the grant at a big-name university with a lab and with a long list of peer-reviewed publications who informed the material for that test writer to actually create the test. That guy’s the expert. You seem to be absolutely clueless about what an expert is or how big a deal it is when you have an entire body of experts across the globe all in agreement about the threat of something. That rarely happens. And when it does, we should take what they say very seriously and if we are to disagree with that, it has to be a lot more hefty and researched that some random potshots published on a random blog. I’m done. You have wasted my time with your nonsense.