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The anti-vaxx agenda of 'Plandemic'
A clip of this disingenuous documentary is making the rounds.
- A new documentary, "Plandemic," states that it is uncovering a global cabal trying to implement forced vaccinations.
- The first clip's interview subject, Judy Mikovits, is a known anti-vaxxer.
- This agenda-based film features contradictory evidence and false claims while being championed as a beacon of truth.
In 1990, American attorney Mike Godwin coined "Godwin's law," which states that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." When Nazis are invoked the debate is over. Godwin has made some exceptions, such as the Trump administration's implementation of refugee detention centers being compared to concentration camps. In general, little actually lives up to the horrors of the Holocaust, though anyone without credible evidence trying to win a debate foolishly invokes Hitler.
Over the past two days my social media feed has been dominated by a clip from the forthcoming documentary, "Plandemic." It only takes until the third paragraph of the film's description to discover that the current forced global vaccination program is rooted in Hitler's Germany. A few sentences later we "flash forward to 2020" to find out the "masters of the Pandemic" are finally finishing the job—on us.
Said clip features former researcher Judy Mikovits, who has become a minor celebrity on the anti-vaxx circuit. Her interview doubles as a promotion for her latest book, which is based on an ongoing war she's waging with Dr. Anthony Fauci. Her Twitter feed is filled with anti-Fauci rhetoric alongside glee that Donald Trump is now listening to her. She has explicitly called for the entire leadership of the COVID-19 response team to be fired.
Mikovits' story is not unlike Andrew Wakefield's, the discredited British physician who was paid to invent the vaccine-autism "conspiracy." In 2011, Mikovits attempted to link a newly discovered retrovirus to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, only to partially retract the paper after the study could not be replicated. The journal, Science, later fully retracted Mikovits' paper, just as The Lancet had done with Wakefield's research (which also could not be replicated). In 2017, Mikovits published a book on retroviruses and...autism.
(Interestingly, in "Plandemic," Mikovits wants to end the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows federal funding recipients to file patents on inventions they've created. She cites a conflict of interest regarding Fauci. There is no mention of Wakefield's filing a patent for a measles vaccine while he was trying to discredit existing vaccines.)
As I wrote about last week, we've entered a strange territory where the far Left and far Right are converging. Truth is colliding with truthiness. "Plandemic" is based on a serious problem in our market-based system: pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of for-profit health care. We also, as Mikovits recommends, need to take care of our immune system. But to claim that we don't need a vaccine because our immune system will take care of us overlooks people born with pre-existing conditions, as well as the fact that this virus is unpredictable. Her "contrarian" attitude sells books and get clicks. What it doesn't do is help our situation. Contrary to the film's stated goal of waking people up, it accomplishes the opposite: by spreading misinformation, it's making people more fearful and ignorant of the scientific process.
The overall premise is true: Big Pharma is one of modernity's most lucrative industries. Billions are made on our suffering. For example, I've spent the last six months researching the chemical imbalance theory of mental health, which, beginning in the fifties through the present day, has been one of health care's greatest failures. There are real conspiracies that need to be addressed, such as this administration's complete failure to test Americans. But instead of putting our time and energy into, say, voting, we spin our wheels over invented conspiracies that are only furthering fear and confusion.
Below are seven instances that display how conspiracy theories are baked into "Plandemic." To borrow from Mike Godwin, perhaps Beres' law is number eight: "As an online discussion about vaccines grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Bill Gates approaches 1." Because obviously, he's in there too.
1. Anti-vaccination agenda
The film opens with Mikovits' new book, Plague of Corruption, published by Skyhorse Publishing. This house has skin in the anti-vaxx game. The house's founder and publisher, Tony Lyons, said in 2014 that "my main focus in the publishing field has become books about autism and the connection between autism and vaccines." Skyhorse has published two of discredited physician Andrew Wakefield's anti-vaxx books. (Note: my last book was published by Carrel, a division of Skyhorse. I was not aware of the anti-vaxx connection until after it was published.) Mikovits' co-author, Kent Heckenlively, is a known anti-vaxxer and a founding editor of the anti-vaxx website, Age of Autism. The book's foreword was written by Robert F. Kennedy, a leader in the anti-vaxx movement. So when Mikovits states in "Plandemic" that she takes no issue with vaccinations, she sure hangs around plenty of people that do.
2. The flu vaccine linked to coronavirus
Mikovits links COVID-19 with the flu vaccine based on a January 2020 study of Department of Defense personnel. Indeed, getting the flu vaccine appeared to result in an increased risk of being infected with a coronavirus. The problem: the coronavirus studied was the common cold, not COVID-19. This study was also based on one flu season. A previous, larger study covering six flu seasons found no such association. In the film you're led to believe that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting COVID-19. There's no evidence of that.
3. The ongoing debate over hydroxychloroquine
Mikovits expresses consternation that the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, is not being used more. She states that it's been on the WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines for 70 years. Almost: it was approved for medical use in America in 1955. While it has been successfully used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, evidence of its efficacy in treating COVID-19 is conflicting. This does not mean that it might not work in combination with other drugs. The way the film is edited, however, makes it appear that Fauci is stating that evidence of hydroxychloroquine's efficacy is anecdotal in regards to any usage. His clip, specific to COVID-19, is right after Mikovits' citation of the WHO list. In this case, Fauci is right: evidence of hydroxychloroquine's efficacy in treating COVID-19 is, to date, anecdotal. The film then flashes to a doctor berating Fauci's assessment. He then angrily asks Fauci if he's going to clinically test a vaccine. Considering over 70 are in various phases of clinical trials around the world, the answer is likely yes, but the film makes it seem the opposite.
4. The Bakersfield doctors
Here they are again. Dr. Dan Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi, the team that runs an urgent care center in Bakersfield, were forceful in their assessment that sheltering in place is nonsense. Their videos were taken off of social media for spreading misinformation, yet that makes perfect fodder for "Plandemic." To be fair, in one clip they make a good point: humans needs to be exposed to bacteria. Our immune systems require exposure. In normal times, we've gone overboard with antibacterial soap. Kids need dirt.
The problem is that this point is conflated with sheltering at home. What we're avoiding is not bacteria, but overwhelming our health care system. Sure, a large percentage of those infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Doctors are still trying to understand why that is. We're protecting vulnerable populations whose immune systems cannot handle it as well as doctors and nurses. The film's editing is disingenuous. It makes it appear that if we only got a little COVID, we'd all be alright. The debate over herd immunity is a separate conversation. The short-term solution is sheltering at home. It's not about taking away our freedom. It's buying researchers and hospitals time. These doctors should know better.
Judy Mikovits in "The Plandemic."
5. Shady montage
The film claims that we're being driven to hate one another by our media outlets. That is a debatable but important point. Social media is certainly polarizing. We know that. This claim is made over a montage featuring Alex Jones (who recently contemplated cannibalism) and Sean Hannity (a leading voice for the sheltering at home protest movement) alongside comedians Trevor Noah and John Oliver. Sure, the latter are politically liberal. But since when is cannibalism a conservative principle? This montage makes you feel as if all media is flawed. The implication is that you can only turn to films like "Plandemic" for the truth. In criticizing the "us versus them" mentality, the filmmakers are trying to win viewers over to "their" side.
6. Cult dog whistling
The company behind this film made its mark by distributing and marketing the documentary that led to the book, "The Secret." Barbara Ehrenreich said it best when stating that the self-help techniques inside this book—"ask, believe, receive"—promotes a failure to engage with reality while promoting political complacency. The author, Rhonda Byrne, tows a very old myth: You're the only reason that you're in the shape you're in. If you're having problems, that's on you. You're not asking hard enough. "Plandemic" relies on a tried and tested cult technique: the world is toxic, but we have the answers. This is indicated when Mikovits says, "Hopefully this is the wake-up call for all America to realize this makes no sense and we win because it will take down this whole program." You're either with us or against us. The same mostly white and affluent demographic targeted by Byrne makes up a large portion of the anti-vaccination movement. Magical thinking is easy when you're not poor or oppressed.
7. Surprise outbreak
The clip ends with Fauci speaking at a 2017 commencement address. He states there is no doubt there will be a surprise outbreak due to a pandemic. This theatrical ending implies that he's been in on this the whole time (wink, wink). But let's consider a 2007 review by a team of scientists in Hong Kong:
"Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination, which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the re-emergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored."
Obama warned of a potential pandemic too. In fact, a lot of researchers have been sounding the alarm. This Larry Brilliant interview from 2017 is rather timely today. That does not fit the anti-Fauci rhetoric Mikovits is banking her career on, however. Every agenda has a target. While "Plandemic" says the goal is our freedom, the reality is anything but.
- How to change an anti-vaxxer's mind - Big Think ›
- Do anti-vaxxers really think differently than others? - Big Think ›
- Dr. Fauci: We could have Covid-19 vaccine by end of 2020 - Big Think ›
- The dangers of anti-vax rhetoric - Big Think ›
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.
The great theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg passed away on July 23. This is our tribute.
- The recent passing of the great theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg brought back memories of how his book got me into the study of cosmology.
- Going back in time, toward the cosmic infancy, is a spectacular effort that combines experimental and theoretical ingenuity. Modern cosmology is an experimental science.
- The cosmic story is, ultimately, our own. Our roots reach down to the earliest moments after creation.
When I was a junior in college, my electromagnetism professor had an awesome idea. Apart from the usual homework and exams, we were to give a seminar to the class on a topic of our choosing. The idea was to gauge which area of physics we would be interested in following professionally.
Professor Gilson Carneiro knew I was interested in cosmology and suggested a book by Nobel Prize Laureate Steven Weinberg: The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. I still have my original copy in Portuguese, from 1979, that emanates a musty tropical smell, sitting on my bookshelf side-by-side with the American version, a Bantam edition from 1979.
Inspired by Steven Weinberg
Books can change lives. They can illuminate the path ahead. In my case, there is no question that Weinberg's book blew my teenage mind. I decided, then and there, that I would become a cosmologist working on the physics of the early universe. The first three minutes of cosmic existence — what could be more exciting for a young physicist than trying to uncover the mystery of creation itself and the origin of the universe, matter, and stars? Weinberg quickly became my modern physics hero, the one I wanted to emulate professionally. Sadly, he passed away July 23rd, leaving a huge void for a generation of physicists.
What excited my young imagination was that science could actually make sense of the very early universe, meaning that theories could be validated and ideas could be tested against real data. Cosmology, as a science, only really took off after Einstein published his paper on the shape of the universe in 1917, two years after his groundbreaking paper on the theory of general relativity, the one explaining how we can interpret gravity as the curvature of spacetime. Matter doesn't "bend" time, but it affects how quickly it flows. (See last week's essay on what happens when you fall into a black hole).
The Big Bang Theory
For most of the 20th century, cosmology lived in the realm of theoretical speculation. One model proposed that the universe started from a small, hot, dense plasma billions of years ago and has been expanding ever since — the Big Bang model; another suggested that the cosmos stands still and that the changes astronomers see are mostly local — the steady state model.
Competing models are essential to science but so is data to help us discriminate among them. In the mid 1960s, a decisive discovery changed the game forever. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), a fossil from the early universe predicted to exist by George Gamow, Ralph Alpher, and Robert Herman in their Big Bang model. (Alpher and Herman published a lovely account of the history here.) The CMB is a bath of microwave photons that permeates the whole of space, a remnant from the epoch when the first hydrogen atoms were forged, some 400,000 years after the bang.
The existence of the CMB was the smoking gun confirming the Big Bang model. From that moment on, a series of spectacular observatories and detectors, both on land and in space, have extracted huge amounts of information from the properties of the CMB, a bit like paleontologists that excavate the remains of dinosaurs and dig for more bones to get details of a past long gone.
How far back can we go?
Confirming the general outline of the Big Bang model changed our cosmic view. The universe, like you and me, has a history, a past waiting to be explored. How far back in time could we dig? Was there some ultimate wall we cannot pass?
Because matter gets hot as it gets squeezed, going back in time meant looking at matter and radiation at higher and higher temperatures. There is a simple relation that connects the age of the universe and its temperature, measured in terms of the temperature of photons (the particles of visible light and other forms of invisible radiation). The fun thing is that matter breaks down as the temperature increases. So, going back in time means looking at matter at more and more primitive states of organization. After the CMB formed 400,000 years after the bang, there were hydrogen atoms. Before, there weren't. The universe was filled with a primordial soup of particles: protons, neutrons, electrons, photons, and neutrinos, the ghostly particles that cross planets and people unscathed. Also, there were very light atomic nuclei, such as deuterium and tritium (both heavier cousins of hydrogen), helium, and lithium.
So, to study the universe after 400,000 years, we need to use atomic physics, at least until large clumps of matter aggregate due to gravity and start to collapse to form the first stars, a few millions of years after. What about earlier on? The cosmic history is broken down into chunks of time, each the realm of different kinds of physics. Before atoms form, all the way to about a second after the Big Bang, it's nuclear physics time. That's why Weinberg brilliantly titled his book The First Three Minutes. It is during the interval between one-hundredth of a second and three minutes that the light atomic nuclei (made of protons and neutrons) formed, a process called, with poetic flair, primordial nucleosynthesis. Protons collided with neutrons and, sometimes, stuck together due to the attractive strong nuclear force. Why did only a few light nuclei form then? Because the expansion of the universe made it hard for the particles to find each other.
What about the nuclei of heavier elements, like carbon, oxygen, calcium, gold? The answer is beautiful: all the elements of the periodic table after lithium were made and continue to be made in stars, the true cosmic alchemists. Hydrogen eventually becomes people if you wait long enough. At least in this universe.
In this article, we got all the way up to nucleosynthesis, the forging of the first atomic nuclei when the universe was a minute old. What about earlier on? How close to the beginning, to t = 0, can science get? Stay tuned, and we will continue next week.
To Steven Weinberg, with gratitude, for all that you taught us about the universe.
Long before Alexandria became the center of Egyptian trade, there was Thônis-Heracleion. But then it sank.
Before Alexander the Great established Alexandria around 331 BCE, one of Egypt's primary ports on the Mediterranean Sea between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE was a place called Thônis-Heracleion.
Now researchers from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), the same organization that first found the city in 2001, have announced the discovery of a couple of fascinating items from the city's heyday. Pinned beneath fallen temple stones is a surprisingly intact Egyptian military vessel from the second century BCE, and researchers have excavated a large cemetery from the fourth century BCE.
Thônis-Heracleion was one of the two primary access points to ancient Egypt from the Mediterranean. (The other, Canopus, was discovered in 1999.) For millennia, experts assumed Thônis-Heracleion were two different lost cities, but it's now known that Thônis is simply the city's Egyptian name, while Heracleion is its Greek name.
Thônis-Heracleion had been the stuff of legend before it was located, mentioned only in rare ancient texts and stone inscriptions. Herodotus seems to have been referring to Thônis-Heracleion's temple of Amun as the place where Heracles first arrived in Egypt. He also described a visit there by Helen with her lover Paris just before the outbreak of the Trojan War. In addition, 400 years later, geographer Strabo wrote that Heraclion, containing the temple of Heracles, had been located opposite Canopus across a branch of the Nile. Today we know Thônis-Heracleion's location as Egypt's Abu Qir Bay. The sunken port is about 6.5 kilometers from the coast and lies beneath ten meters of water.
Both Thônis-Heracleion and Canopus were wealthy in their day, and the temple was an important religious center. This all ended when the Egyptian dynasty created by Ptolemy set out to establish Alexandria as Egypt's center. Thônis-Heracleion and Canopus' trade — and thus wealth — was diverted to the new capital.
It was perhaps just as well, given that natural forces eventually destroyed Thônis-Heracleion. Located on the Mediterranean, the ground upon which it was built became saturated and eventually began to destabilize and liquefy. The temple of Amun probably collapsed around 140 BCE. A series of earthquakes sealed the cty's' fate around 800 CE, sending a 100 square-kilometer chunk of the Nile delta on which it was constructed under the waves. The Mediterranean's rising sea level over the next couple thousand years completed the drowning of Thônis-Heracleion.
Researchers have recovered a large collection of Thônis-Heracleion's treasures revealing an economically rich culture. Coins, bronze statuettes, and over 700 ancient ship anchors have been pulled from the waters. Divers have also identified over 70 shipwrecks. A giant statue of the Nile god Hapi took two and a half years to bring up.
An ancient vessel and a cemetery
Gold mask found in a submerged Greek cemetery.Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiques
The newly discovered ship was found beneath 16 feet of hard clay, "thanks to cutting-edge prototype sub-bottom profiler electronic equipment," says Ayman Ashmawy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiques.
The military vessel had been moored in Thônis-Heracleion when the temple of Amun collapsed. The temple's enormous blocks fell onto the ship, sinking it. The boat is a rare find — only one other ship of its period has been found. As underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, one of the scientists who found the city, puts it, "Finds of fast ships from this age are extremely rare."
At 80 feet long, the boat is six times as long as it is wide. Like its dually-named city, it's an amalgam of Greek and Egyptian ship-building techniques. According to expert Ehab Fahmy, head of the Central Department of Underwater Antiquities at IEASM, the boat has some classical construction features such as mortar and tenon joints. On the other hand, it was built to be rowed, and some of its wood was reused lumber, signature traits of Egyptian boat design. Its flat bottom suggests it was built for navigating the shallows of the Nile delta where the river flows into the Mediterranean.
Also found alongside the city's submerged northeastern entrance canal was a large Greek cemetery. The funerary is adorned with opulent remembrances, including a mask made of gold, shown above. A statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiques describes its significance, as reported by Reuters:
"This discovery beautifully illustrates the presence of the Greek merchants who lived in that city. They built their own sanctuaries close to the huge temple of Amun. Those were destroyed simultaneously and their remains are found mixed with those of the Egyptian temple."
Excavation is ongoing, with more of Egypt's ancient history no doubt waiting beneath the waves.