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How mass hysteria happens (and how to avoid the COVID-19 panic)
Can a real pandemic (such as COVID-19) turn into mass hysteria?
- Mass hysteria, also known as epidemic hysteria, occurs between two or more people who share beliefs related to symptoms suggestive of organic illness.
- Research suggests that real pandemics can lead to mass hysteria.
- A key factor that creates hysteria around pandemics is that the population's ability to remain calm and react logically to the situation at hand is blurred and unfocused due to the anxiety and fear felt by large groups of people.
A pandemic, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is defined as a "global outbreak of a new virus". When dealing with a pandemic such as COVID-19, we need to be extremely cautious in the information we share. Pandemics (such as the Swine Flu pandemic of 2008) can very easily turn into mass hysteria cases, even though the threat is very real.
Mass hysteria, also known as epidemic hysteria, is a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic illness but without an identifiable cause. It occurs between two or more people who share beliefs related to those symptoms, and has been described as a "social phenomenon involving otherwise healthy people."
Mass hysteria has been well-documented throughout history, below are two separate cases from the 1900s that better explain what it's like to be in the midst of mass hysteria.
The June Bug Epidemic (1962)
60 workers in an American textile factory reported symptoms that included numbness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Originally, the patients thought they had contracted a virus that was transmitted by the bugs in the factory.
However, several doctors and health care experts from the U.S Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center could find no evidence to support this theory. Eventually, they concluded that the "illness" was really a case of hysterical contagion and that the symptoms were caused by the anxiety that surrounded the factory over potentially contracting this virus that didn't really exist.
The Kosovo Student Poisoning (1990)
More than 4000 young students became ill with symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, and even convulsions. Their eyes were inflamed and faces flush. The first area to be affected was a high school in Podujevo, only a few students at first - but in the days passing this number grew exponentially. Soon, it passed to many other schools, some even in cities as far away as one or two hours by car. During this time, a mass panic arose that spread throughout the nation.
The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Pristina organized a group of doctors to announce it was epidemic disease, but they could not give any other information, simply because they didn't have it. The toxicological reports (analysis of blood and urine of the affected patients) were unclear. The samples did not appear to contain any poison. The Chief of Epidemiology of Kosovo Jusuf Dedushaj explained in a letter that he wrote later that year that the disease had psychic causes. The Federal Commission Head (a Slovenian doctor by the name of Anton Dolenc) agreed, declaring the incident having nothing to do with poisoning, but instead calling it a "psychological reaction", as this was the only explanation for what happened.
In many cases, hysteria is caused by some kind of incident. This can anything - a news story about contaminated water supply or a virus that's going around (similar to what we're experiencing in 2020 with COVID-19.)
The mind is a powerful and complex thing - it can play tricks on you.
Consider the Mandela Effect, for example. The Mandela Effect is a collective misremembering of common events or details named after the 2010 notion and rumors that spread when the online masses falsely remembered Nelson Mandela to have died. Many people at this time believed that Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s, when in reality, he was actually freed from prison in 1990 and didn't die until a few years after the Mandela rumors, in 2013.
The internet was ablaze with people who claimed to remember seeing clips of his funeral on TV or news articles about the man's death, even though none were ever found (because he hadn't in fact passed away).
Mass hysteria is quite similar to the Mandela Effect in that you unwittingly trick your brain into believing something that isn't real...however, in the case of mass hysteria surrounding very real infections or viruses, we can convince ourselves we have the symptoms of the disease or that the disease is more deadly than it really is.
Can a real pandemic (such as COVID-19) turn into mass hysteria?
Pandemics (such as the Swine Flu pandemic of 2008 or COVID-19 outbreak of 2020) can very easily turn into mass hysteria cases, even though the pandemic is very real.
Image by Gustavo Frazao on Shutterstock
A study conducted by the University of Michigan proved that Swine Flu, also known as H1N1, did lead to mass hysteria. The experiment, conducted in May 2009, found that people perceived the H1N1 disease to be even more deadly than the Ebola outbreak in Africa, when the opposite was true.
The results of the experiment proved that when the perception of risk increases, the feelings and anxiety around our risk also increases, even if there is no actual increased risk involved.
We can see the same Swine Flu-esque hysteria beginning to happen in 2020 with COVID-19.
Mass hysteria isn't only about your mind convincing you that you have symptoms of a non-existent disease or virus – it's a collective state of mind that can convince entire populations of things that aren't based in evidence or logic.
This is dangerous when the virus doesn't exist like with most mass hysteria cases, but it's even more dangerous when we're talking about a real virus that does exist. The fear and paranoia around catching the virus leads to panic-purchasing and the spread of misinformation, which furthers the anxiety and fear in the general public.
Staying calm and logical during the COVID-19 pandemic
Stay calm, be vigilant, take care and most importantly, stay logical.
Photo by tockfotografie on Shutterstock
Staying calm and logical during a pandemic can help prevent mass hysteria, panic-purchasing, and product shortages, and can ultimately help curb the spread of infection.
Find real facts from trusted sources - don't share information you haven't fact-checked.
According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the trajectory of COVID-19 suggests people will be exposed to this virus over the next two years, however, most will not develop serious illness.
The CDC has explained that, as with most other viruses, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions or people who have impaired immune systems are at the highest risk.
To find relevant information on COVID-19 and stop the spread of misinformation, you can trust sources such as WHO (World Health Organization) or the CDC (Center for Disease Control). This interactive map from a team at Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) also shows up-to-date progress on the virus with real statistics.
Perspective matters - influenza compared to COVID-19 helps us understand more about the statistics.
While COVID-19 has taken the world by storm this year, it's important to understand everything we can about this specific strand of coronavirus in regards to other diseases in order to stop the spread of panic and fear.
Coronavirus has 7 other strains that commonly infect millions of people each year. COVID-19 is a new strain that used to solely infect animals but has now been transmitted to humans (CDC estimates that 3 out of every 4 emerging infectious diseases around the world are Zoonotic diseases, meaning they occurred first in animals and then were transmitted to humans).
The Johns Hopkins map shows 184,407 confirmed cases worldwide (as of March 17, 2020) with 7,154 total deaths. While these numbers seem daunting, it's important to note other factors as well - 79,433 people have fully recovered from the virus, and the CDC has issued a statement explaining that elderly people ages 80+ are at the highest risk.
Compare these numbers with the influenza statistics released by the CDC: In the U.S alone, the flu has caused an estimated 350,000 illnesses and over 20,000 deaths this flu season alone. Researchers have suggested the new panic around coronavirus stems mainly from the fact that while we have studied the flu for years, this strand is new to humans, therefore many people consider it more dangerous.
Stop contributing to societal panic - stay vigilant but remain calm.
Another key factor in pandemics is that the population's ability to remain calm and react logically to the situation at hand becomes blurred and unfocused.
Instead of taking the recommended precautions set forth by reputable places such as the CDC, people are panic-buying weeks worth of groceries and spreading information online that hasn't been verified. This only leads to more panic and hysteria.
At times like this, it's human instinct to be anxious, to feel fear and to worry about what the outcome of this fast-spreading virus could be. However, take a moment to consider the consequences of panic buying or spreading misinformation without fact-checking. There are real-world consequences, such as a lack of product for those who need them.
Stay calm, be vigilant, take care and most importantly, stay logical.
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.
This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.
For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.
The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.
The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.
One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.
Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.
Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).
Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.
A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.
We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.
"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.
What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.
The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.
A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.
This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.
If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.
Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.
"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."
A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.
On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.
The military has rebranded unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena – UAPs – in part to avoid the stigma that has been attached to claims of aliens visiting the Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947. The report presents no convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been spotted, but some of the data defy easy interpretation.
I'm a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. I do not believe that the new government report or any other sightings of UFOs in the past are proof of aliens visiting Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs. Specifically, it encourages the U.S. government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more.
Three videos from the U.S. military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
What's in the UFO report?
The No. 1 thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights from the slender nine-page report, covering a total of 144 UAP sightings from U.S. government sources between 2004 and 2021:
- “Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP."
- Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception."
- “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security."
- Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained."
- “Some UAP many be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity."
UFOs are taboo among scientists
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less. You'd think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, and so unexplained reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists think there is less to most reports than meets the eye, and the few who have dug deeply have mostly debunked the phenomenon. Over half of sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus.
Another reason for the scientific hesitance is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a landscape of conspiracy theories that includes accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles. Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked. In 1968, Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado published the first major academic study of UFO sightings. The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge."
However, a review in 1998 by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that deserves scientific study. Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with higher interest among younger and more well-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs – and believe some cases deserve study with academic rigor – what's holding them back? A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists hasn't helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method, it has not had the core of skeptical, evidence-based reasoning that demarcates science from pseudoscience.
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation finds none addressing UFOs or related phenomena. I've served on review panels for 35 years, and can imagine the reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote not to fund.
A decadeslong search for aliens
While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided engaging with UFOs, a much more mainstream search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been going on for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have, to date, discovered over 4,400 planets orbiting other stars. Called exoplanets, some are close to the Earth's mass and at just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces – meaning they might be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each one is a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. Indeed, most astronomers think it very unlikely that humans are the only or the first advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. It has been unsuccessful so far. As a result, researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?" to “Where are the aliens?" The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox. First articulated by the physicist Enrico Fermi, it's a paradox because advanced civilizations should be spread throughout the galaxy, yet we see no sign of their existence.
The SETI activity has not been immune from scientists' criticism. It was starved of federal funding for decades and recently has gotten most of its support from private sources. However, in 2020, NASA resumed funding for SETI, and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to pursue the topic of UFOs.
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. However, it notes the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets a goal of moving from anecdotal observations to standardized and scientific data collection. Time will tell if this is enough to draw scientists into the effort, but the transparency to publish the report at all reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding U.S. government reports on UFOs.
I don't see any convincing evidence of alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained gets closer study. Scientists are unlikely to weigh in if their skepticism generates attacks from “true believers" or they get ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
This article has been updated to clarify that the report was produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Gain-of-function mutation research may help predict the next pandemic — or, critics argue, cause one.