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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 ›
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- The dangers of anti-vax rhetoric - Big Think ›
- COVID-19: What are immunity passports? Will they work? - Big Think ›
- How often are vaccines actually profitable? - Big Think ›
- How coronavirus conspiracy theories are impacting public health - Big Think ›
- How anti-vaxx groups became a billion-dollar industry - Big Think ›
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>