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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 ›
Some mysteries take generations to unfold.
- In 1959, a group of nine Russian hikers was killed in an overnight incident in the Ural Mountains.
- Conspiracies about their deaths have flourished ever since, including alien invasion, an irate Yeti, and angry tribesmen.
- Researchers have finally confirmed that their deaths were due to a slab avalanche caused by intense winds.
In February 1959, a group of nine hikers crossed through Russia's Ural Mountains as part of a skiing expedition. The experienced trekkers, all employed at the Ural Polytechnical Institute, were led by Igor Dyatlov. On the evening of February 1, all nine appear to have fled their tents into the Arctic temperatures, for which they were unprepared. None survived.
Six of the members died of hypothermia; three suffered from physical trauma. Some members were missing body parts—a tongue here, a few eyes there, a pair of eyebrows for good measure. According to reports, no hiker appears to have struggled or panicked. They were likely too quickly overtaken by the hostile environment in Western Russia.
All the members were young, mostly in their early twenties; one member, Semyon Zolotaryov, was 38. Good health didn't matter. Given the uncertain circumstances—what made them flee into the bitter cold?—the incident known as Dyatlov Pass has long been the type of Area 51-conspiracy theory that some people love to speculate about. A vicious animal attack? Infrasound-induced panic? Was the Soviet military involved? Maybe it was the katabatic winds that did them in. Local tribesmen might not have liked the intrusion.
Or perhaps it was aliens. Or a Yeti. Have we talked about Yeti aliens yet?
These theories and more have been floated for decades.
a: Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent. b: Broken tent covered with snow as it was found during the search 26 days after the event.
Photographs courtesy of the Dyatlov Memorial Foundation.
Finally, a new study, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, has put the case to rest: it was a slab avalanche.
This theory isn't exactly new either. Researchers have long been skeptical about the avalanche notion, however, due to the grade of the hill. Slab avalanches don't need a steep slope to get started. Crown or flank fractures can quickly release as little as a few centimeters of earth (or snow) sliding down a hill (or mountain).
As researchers Johan Gaume (Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF) and Alexander Puzrin (Switzerland's Institute for Geotechnical Engineering) write, it was "a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results."
Conspiracy theories abound when evidence is lacking. Twenty-six days after the incident, a team showed up to investigate. They didn't find any obvious sounds of an avalanche; the slope angle was below 30 degrees, ruling out (to them) the possibility of a landslide. Plus, the head injuries suffered were not typical of avalanche victims. Inject doubt and crazy theories will flourish.
Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder. Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow (with deposition flux Q).
Photo courtesy of Communications Earth & Environment.
Add to this Russian leadership's longstanding battle with (or against) the truth. In 2015 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation decided to reopen this case. Four years later the agency concluded it was indeed a snow avalanche—an assertion immediately challenged within the Russian Federation. The oppositional agency eventually agreed as well. The problem was neither really provided conclusive scientific evidence.
Gaume and Puzrin went to work. They provided four critical factors that confirmed the avalanche:
- The location of the tent under a shoulder in a locally steeper slope to protect them from the wind
- A buried weak snow layer parallel to the locally steeper terrain, which resulted in an upward-thinning snow slab
- The cut in the snow slab made by the group to install the tent
- Strong katabatic winds that led to progressive snow accumulation due to the local topography (shoulder above the tent) causing a delayed failure
Case closed? It appears so, though don't expect conspiracy theories to abate. Good research takes time—sometimes generations. We're constantly learning about our environment and then applying those lessons to the past. While we can't expect every skeptic to accept the findings, from the looks of this study, a 62-year-old case is now closed.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.