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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 ›
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."