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How to shut down coronavirus conspiracy theories
The larger the stakes and scope, the less likely a conspiracy theory is to be true.
MICHAEL SHERMER: Whenever there's a high level of anxiety and uncertainty in an environment, your personal life or society at large conspiracism goes up. That is to say people find comfort in attenuating the anxiety or uncertainty they're feeling by concocting some overarching plan. This is what's going on. Now I understand it. Now I don't have to feel so uncertain about the environment. So people concoct conspiracy theories for that main reason. Now, people differ on, different groups believe different conspiracy theories and so on but let's set that aside for the moment and just think about with the coronavirus this is, we know pandemics happen historically. We know about more recent ones like SARS and the avian flu and so on and what that causes. This appears to be at least that bad if not worse. In a way it's a real event that people should fear. We should have a certain amount of paranoia and anxiety about that and respond accordingly. So there it's only a small step to making a paranoid conspiracism claim that well, it was invented by the Chinese or in the case of the Chinese they say well, it was invented by the U.S. military.
And we've all seen enough of the movies about bioterrorism that that's not completely crazy. It could happen. In this case there was just a paper published in Nature this last week about that it's not. There's evidence and genetics to show that it was derived from animal DNA, not manipulated in a lab with human DNA. Okay, so we can set aside that conspiracy theory. But finally, we know that governments do bad things on occasion, especially autocratic governments. But even our own, the U.S. government. If you look at the history of the things we've done to attempt to assassinate foreign leaders or manipulate elections in South American countries in the 1970s, for example, a lot of this has come out in the Pentagon Papers and the Wikileaks that our government was doing things that we didn't know they were doing. Congress didn't even know. So we know that happens. Again, my point is that I don't think this applies to the coronavirus example. I think those conspiracy theories are wrong. But worrying about that is not completely crazy because sometimes that sort of thing does happen.
Another factor with conspiracy theories is politics. I mean we're very tribal and it's gotten worse since the 1990s. The left and right have become more polarized. The centric middle has shrunk as the two bimodal curves have gotten a larger on the far left and the far right. More people are identifying with extreme positions. So the moment something like a coronavirus conspiracy theory erupts the only question is who's going to accuse which side and it ends up both sides are accusing each other. You go to certain sites and Trump gets hammered all day long for his inadequacy in responding to coronavirus crisis. Then you go to another media source and it's just the opposite. It's the left that's failed this and Trump is going to save us. Then you have the really far out ones about the deep state and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the voice of reason here is actually just a pawn to destroy Trump. I mean the further out you go in the extreme nature of a conspiracy theory the less likely the theory is to be true. The more people that have to be involved in the conspiracy theory, the less likely it is to be true. The more elements that have to come together just at the right moment to make the conspiracy work, the less likely it is to be true. And the more global it is, world domination, that sort of thing, the less likely it is to be true. Conspiracies usually are very narrowly focused, like insider trading, or corporate manipulation, like Volkswagen with the emissions, or some government attempting to manipulate an election. It's a very specific thing that the conspiracy is really about.
- During times of high anxiety, not unlike the situation we find ourselves in now, there is a rise in conspiracism. Conspiracy theories provide comfort where there is uncertainty.
- As author Michael Shermer points out, history has shown that this way of thinking is sometimes warranted, but not in the case of coronavirus. One factor that has helped recent coronavirus conspiracy theories grow, he says, is the shrinking political middle and an increased polarization to the far left and far right.
- "The further out you go in the extreme nature of a conspiracy theory the less likely the theory is to be true," says Shermer. Actual conspiracies happen on a more localized, more narrowly-focused level.
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.