The media dismisses any questioning of the lockdown measures as "conspiracy theory," but we are the final judge of how the authorities managed the COVID-19 response.
Guest Blogger: Nate Doromal is a MBA/MS and spends his time thinking about society.
PART 1: The Weaponization of Conspiracy Theory During this time of COVID-19, the term "conspiracy theory" has been bandied about too casually by mainstream media sources. It is true, though, that we live in an "age of misinformation," a time when it is legitimately hard to tell what exactly is true and what isn't. But during this time, how do we make sense of the non-stop flood of contradictory COVID-19 information? And what do we make of alleged COVID-19 conspiracies?
But seldom do the media acknowledge that "conspiracy theory" can become weaponized, the charge becoming a means to stifle free inquiry into a topic. Who decides between valid information versus misinformation? And who decides what distinguishes a conspiracy theory from real political or financial agenda?
The mainstream media, often acting in concert with business or government, have decided it is their responsibility to be the official purveyors of news, the anointed ones to tell you what is authoritative versus what is not; and they have decided to tell you what stories constitute conspiracy theories.
These COVID-19 conspiracies include:
So, as news consumers, how are we to know what to think when certain information is dismissed entirely as "conspiracy theory"? Sometimes a story is unfounded, but sometimes the story reveals wrongdoings are hiding behind the shadows.
Before accepting the point of view of an author or a media authority, there are important questions that need to be considered. We present these questions in the form of a framework that can help you make sense of the charge of conspiracy theory.
By using this framework, you will be able to distinguish between honest reporting and propaganda, and the better you will be able to voice your own commentary. It is the public's right to voice its concerns, and it is the citizen's duty to ensure the government serves the people.
What is a Conspiracy?We need to carefully examine the meanings of the terms conspiracy and conspiracy theory to tease out their actual definitions from any loaded emotional connotations. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to conspire means to "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement."
More generally, a conspiracy then is an "agreement among conspirators." Then, finally, a conspiracy theory is "a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a conspiracy." It is worth keeping in mind Merriam-Webster's second definition, "to act in harmony toward a common end" - a conspiracy may not necessarily involve illegal activities.
Often, there are motivations for conspiracy. These could include personal or economic gain, the advancement of ideology (for example, to advance the ideology of Communism or to spread democracy), or the belief that one's actions are best for society.
It should be worth nothing that conspiracies happen all the time. One need not look far in the news to find such examples; numerous scandals have been reported in the media, i.e., the Enron Scandal, the Theranos Scandal, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme, and Facebook Data Privacy Scandal. In these cases, the events fit the definition of conspiracy: a group of people colluding in secret for economic gain. Each of these conspiracies was investigated and exposed by the mainstream media.
The Weaponization of Conspiracy TheoryBeyond its logical definition, the term "conspiracy theory" has a negative connotation. It is not often acknowledged by those who use it that the term itself can be weaponized to prevent critical lines of inquiry of inconvenient truths in public. This weaponization can be observed in Wikipedia's definition, which explicitly states that the "appeal to a conspiracy is based on prejudice or insufficient evidence," but this is a tautological fallacy as the label of "conspiracy theory" impedes the necessary effort to gather the very evidence needed to determine whether the theory is substantiated or not.
As author Jovan Byford states in his book Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction, "'conspiracy theory' is not a neutral label used merely to describe a certain type of explanation. It is an evaluative term with significant pejorative connotations. To allude to an account as a 'conspiracy theory' is to make a judgment about its epistemic status; it is a way of branding an explanation untrue or insinuating that it is based on insufficient evidence, superstition or prejudice."
Power-holders and establishment interests utilize the weaponization of "conspiracy theory" to shape narratives that benefit their collective interests. Sometimes these interests benefit from the status quo, and they resist changes from the public to change the status quo. Sometimes, in the Iraq War and Vietnam War, power interests benefit from building the case for necessity for predetermined actions they want to take. In both cases, power interests seek to stifle public inquiry into matters which affect their interests.
An important use of power in society is creating narratives that the public believes, thereby creating a rational justification for the power that dominant interests or establishment interests hold their wield. Thus, the use of power builds on itself. The more people who believe in a given narrative, the more power it lends to those whose interests it serves.
The weaponization of "conspiracy theory" plays an important role in scientific controversies, stifling legitimate but inconvenient scientific inquiry. Academic institutions, corporations, and existing scientists are often invested in current paradigms of scientific thinking.
These players have an incentive to control narratives for their benefit. For example, they can protect existing revenue lines by exaggerating the benefits of medical treatments or drugs they offer, diminish the harms from certain medical treatments or drugs, or dismiss alternative non-pharmaceutical approaches to treating medical conditions.
Even the label of "conspiracy theorist" can work as a form of character assassination that seeks to discredit scientists or independent researchers willing to explore or advocate for an alternative perspective. Being labeled as a "conspiracy theorist" can make it harder for a researcher to secure funding for their research.
Since the term 'conspiracy theory' can be weaponized as a means to control your thinking, when confronted with it, you need the means to evaluate the information and distinguish honest reporting from propaganda." The following section presents a framework to help you do just that.
PART 2: 6 Questions to Help You Assess Claims of Conspiracy Theory Typically, when confronted with the claim of a 'conspiracy theory' in the news media, the embedded message is that "we are the authorities, and we have done the thinking for you – just stop thinking about this now." To counter this, we need to apply our critical thinking, and the following framework can help.
1. Are there any uses of logical fallacies or rhetorical devices present in defending the "official narrative"?Critical to assessing credibility is to be aware of logical fallacies and rhetorical devices used to influence your beliefs:
Both of these are examples of the begging the question fallacy: if you do the prescribed actions, then you are "reasonable"; otherwise, you are not. These also fall under the ad hominem fallacy, as there is the implicit message that anyone who fails to take the given action is unreasonable.
You should also be aware of "peer pressure" techniques to get you to conform to the dominant view. These can include the appeal to authority, and a similar variant, appeal to the consensus belief. Of course, the number of people who believe a given idea, even if a large majority, is not an actual indication of its truth.
3. Who benefits from the official narrative?The official narrative is the one that predominates in the mainstream discourse, propagated both by government officials and the mainstream media. It is useful to identity powerholders and/or establishment interests and imagines how they might benefit from the official narrative. For example, the defense industry is a player that benefits from the sale of munitions, and it has an incentive to lobby for continued investment in military technology.
4. How accurate is the portrayal of the alternative narrative, and whose interests are harmed by it?First, we must identify how accurately the alternative narrative is being portrayed. Sometimes, the alternative narrative is deliberately presented as a strawman to make the dominant narrative appear more favorable. For example, as will be examined later, the blaming of COVID-19 deaths on 5G technology is a strawman that attempts to hide legitimate concerns regarding 5G behind a more questionable charge.
There is another variant to the strawman argument to be aware of. Oftentimes, there are various gradients or possibilities to an alternative narrative. One trick is to deliberately select the most extreme or implausible of these alternatives and focus solely on refuting that version. We will later examine a piece on the COVID-19 vaccine that utilizes this pattern.
Second, we must judge whose interests are harmed by the alternative narratives and to what extent. When the harms of smoking were becoming more widely known, the tobacco companies had numerous financial incentives to deny or downplay these concerns. Similarly, health concerns about wireless technology would hurt the wireless market's growth and hurt the technology providers of such equipment.
Some useful questions to consider are the following. How large in dollars is the market relevant to the dominant players' interests? Does the alternative narrative damage any existing revenue lines of existing players? Does the alternative narrative change the environment in a way that would hurt the existing players? And does the alternative narrative damage the ability of the existing players to influence society?
5. How credible is the alternative narrative?This is where you judge the alternative narrative's credibility by examining the actual arguments used to support their position. Weaponized pieces work by convincing you that the probability of the alternative narrative is so low that it cannot be reasonable. It helps to question the assumptions made by the piece and to clarify the limits of such assumptions.
6. How much questioning is permitted or how much intimidation is used against those that object to the official narrative?Biased pieces and propaganda pieces can be distinguished by their vitriol level aimed against those objecting to the official narrative. It is critical to ask yourself just how much the piece allows the reader to make their own judgment versus intimidating the reader into accepting the author's views.
PART 3: 6 More Questions to Help You Assess Claims of Conspiracy Theory 7. If the official narrative were untrue, what paradigms would this invalidate?This is a useful exercise to judge the assumptions under which the official narrative is made. It is also useful for clarifying our assumptions regarding the state of reality. As an example, later on, we examine how the defense of the 5G technology assumes that non-ionizing radiation has no health effects, a critical assumption used to justify the label of "conspiracy theory."
It is important to note that scientific and sociological beliefs exist within a paradigm, a set of thoughts and concepts about a given phenomenon. A paradigm is useful in clarifying reality, but it can blind us to observations that lie outside the paradigm's explanatory realm.
8. Is there a political or ideological agenda being served? If so, what is this agenda?We see increasingly that news and media organizations are blending reporting with editorializing, oftentimes with an ideological bent, such that it becomes difficult to get the facts. When you read a piece, it is up to you to separate fact from opinion and keep your mind attuned for potential political or ideological biases.
A new but relevant ideology that is becoming increasingly common is the scientism ideology, the promotion of science in a way that over-glorifies it or discourages criticism of science's ability to deal with society's problems. This ideology leads to the situation where non-scientists blanketly accept any recommendations or conclusions by science without questioning the underlying reason behind them. An example of this would be the blanket acceptance by policymakers for COVID-19 lockdowns and widespread masking to deal with the pandemic without sufficient verification as to whether those recommendations met the stringent evidence-based criterion.
Those propagating the scientism ideology are scientists, researchers, or companies who are vested in a particular viewpoint. An example of this mindset is pharmaceutical companies who attack natural remedies as lacking in evidence or who characterize their users as lacking in scientific literacy.
9. What financial interests or power agenda is served by those propagating the narrative?Furthermore, it is useful to question how those propagating narratives financially benefit or otherwise utilize the narrative to increase their power. Companies will promote their products, scientists will promote their research, and government institutions will promote their mission. These incentives create pressure to bias or tell only one side of the story.
For example, incumbent news media organizations, part of the mainstream media, wish to be seen as the dominant authority for news information. Jeremy R. Hammond, in his article "Who Will Tell the Truth About the So-Called 'Free Press'?" writes, "The [New York] Times, in other words, wishes for the corporate media to preserve their oligopoly in determining what information the public should and should not be made aware of. The Times editors wish to preserve their leadership in determining for us what we should think about any given issue and to determine for us which issues we should regard as important."
10. Is the burden of proof applied equally for both sides?If one side makes evidence demands of the other side, it behooves that side to provide the same level of proof. It is suspicious when one side (often the more powerful side) tells us that the other side is wrong without providing suitable evidence.
With scientific controversies, it is essential to examine the burden of proof criterion applied to both sides. Oftentimes, dominant players will cherry-pick the evidence used to justify their position while ignoring or discounting the evidence against their position. In doing so, incumbent players seek to move the burden of proof to those making the novel claims and then demand stringent evidential proof to uphold these claims. Any doubt that is cast is then claimed as a lack of evidence, and then the incumbent players assume that their position is the default one without having to provide any evidence to support it.
11. What first-hand evidence do we have for both sides?It is important to consult first-hand evidence, and sources regarding any commentary brought up to see if the logic is sound. It is vital when the dominant side relies upon its authority or power to make its case.
Another thing to be aware of is that sometimes mainstream news sources will cite a source but misrepresent its meaning to advance a given narrative or ideology. This mistake happened with a New York Times article that made a case for the flu vaccine but deliberately ignored the modest conclusions over efficacy in an important source it cited, the Cochrane Collaboration.
12. How likely are "alternative paradigms" to be true?Author Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, once remarked, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." When presented with two sides of a story, we must ascertain whether the dominant paradigm explains all of the observed phenomena. If it doesn't, and unanswered questions remain, we must consider the possibility that there may be some truth to the alternative paradigm.
In summary, the above 12 questions help you to critically evaluate news and media stories and help you better sift through truth and falsehood. They are critical when dealing with claims of conspiracy theory. Remember that you, the reader of the piece, need to be the ultimate decider.
PART 4: Critical Thinking about COVID-19 Conspiracies - Reuters’ “False claim: 5G networks are making people sick, not Coronavirus."Now we can apply the framework above to examine some COVID-related conspiracies that are discussed in the media. While the selected topics below do not form a complete list of COVID-related conspiracies, the same attack patterns show up in many pieces. By learning to recognize these patterns, it will make you a more critical reader.
First, we will examine this Reuters piece, which attempts to debunk the belief that the COVID-19 cases are related to radiation from recently installed 5G infrastructure rather than the virus.
The article ostensibly presents a strawman argument by positioning this claim as a binary representation; you either believe the deaths are from 5G or COVID-19, but not both. By substituting the more extreme position for a more moderate concern, the article attempts to hide or minimize legitimate concerns regarding 5G technology's biological effects.
We must recognize that there are gradients of truth between two polarized positions and that we can do much for our understanding by reconciling these viewpoints. A more balanced question is: Is it possible that negative health effects from 5G could be contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic, or in a way that hinders full recovery?
In answering this question, we can ask a more fundamental question: Does 5G exposure have negative health effects? This is a wholly legitimate question and, one would think, an important question that authorities should answer before the widespread deployment of 5G technology in society.
The Reuters article tries to make the case that 5G is safe. It goes through its critical assumptions by presenting testimony from a list of authorities, including the World Health Organization, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), and Marvin C. Ziskin, Professor Emeritus of Radiology and Medical Physics. The above authorities say that non-ionizing radiation, like the kind from 5G cellular technologies, is safe.
There is a subtle application of appeal to authority and appeal to the consensus that occurs here. The quotation by Dr. Ziskin is worth examining: "I would add that there have been no health agency warnings about possible health risks of RF energy including millimeter waves at exposure levels that an average consumer would experience from communications technology. This is consistent with assessments of the issue by standards-setting groups such as IEEE and ICNIRP."
Dr. Ziskin is essentially using his authority as a scientist to appeal to authority to other agencies. The author of the piece implies the following message:" What gives you the right to question 5G technology when such credentialed authorities say 5G is safe?"
The question is an important one. We cannot be an expert on everything, so we often defer our thinking to scientists or other experts. We might ask ourselves a very plausible question: "isn't trusting the scientific authorities the best strategy for us, the public who are not well-versed in the science of a given topic?"
However, often scientists and experts can disagree. Though open questions remain, articles like this present a dominant narrative or paradigm and then implicitly assert that these are the scientific consensus's beliefs. This begs the question – scientific consensus can only be arrived at after full examination of open questions and contrary data. And as we will see later, there is much contrary data that has not been considered.
Furthermore, science only works when the scientific process is fair and unbiased. In appealing to scientific authority, it assumes the fairness of this process. However, we live in a time when conflicts of interest are pervasive, and, unfortunately, as the case with what happened with the biased science around the dangerous drug Vioxx, all too often, public safety is subordinated to industry interests. The public is an important check-and-balance for the fairness of the scientific process.
Thus, in cases of new science and technology, especially ones that are pervasive in our lives, we have a right to hold authorities to a higher safety demonstration. Critical inquiry requires us to dig into the claims and assumptions of the authorities.
In this case, we can break down their health claims according to the following assumptions:
Rather than accept these assumptions as fact, we can research the original article to find just what exactly are the actual objections to 5G as voiced by its various critics, who may themselves have pluralistic views. Certainly, this is the case with COVID-19 and 5G - there is a continuum of views on the possible association, ranging from none to possibly to fully. Only when we see the objections as voiced from multiple perspectives can we assess their validity and, subsequently, synthesize the information so that we can arrive at our own beliefs on the issue at hand.
To help our thinking, we can dig into first-hand sources cited by both sides, including medical or research studies, or statistical data (resources like PubMed.gov or a fairer search engine like duckduckgo.com are helpful). Far too often, we content ourselves with surface-level thinking (such as scanning just the headlines or accepting the premises of material we already agree with) rather than examining if its source material supports the article's premises. It doesn't take much digging to learn that the Reuters piece's authors are seemingly ignorant of the latest news regarding criticism of 5G.
First, under the auspices of the US National Toxicology Program, the US government conducted a study in which rats and mice were exposed to cellular radio frequencies, and any health effects were noted. Surprisingly to the researchers, the study found associations of tumor incidence in male rats when exposed to these energies. The study also found that there was evidence of DNA damage in the animals. Such a finding challenges the conventional understanding of the science regarding non-ionizing electromagnetic field radiation and challenges all three of the above assumptions.
Regarding 5G radiation (which falls into the millimeter-wave definition), the National Toxicology Program stated: "scientists do not know if millimeter waves may cause toxicity in the skin and other human tissues. Since the NTP's studies have demonstrated that there is some interaction between RFR exposure at the tested frequencies and cancers of certain tissues, there is a need to understand the interaction between RFR and biological tissues and the factors that affect that interaction."
If the question of safety regarding 5G radiation is still open, why doesn't the Reuters article acknowledge it? Surely, we should expect a higher standard from a "fact-checker," especially when public safety is concerned?
Second, there is a tremendous amount of research regarding the negative biological effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic field radiation that go back over 50 years. The Reuters article does not acknowledge any of these studies, but instead, it cherry-picks the testimony used to justify its predetermined position.
A report released by the Bioinitiative Working Group, a group composed of scientists, researchers, and public health policy professionals, citing hundreds of studies in the literature, reported: "In the last few decades, it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that bioeffects and some adverse health effects occur at far lower levels of RF and ELF exposure where no heating (or induced currents) occurs at all; some effects are shown to occur at several hundred thousand times below the existing public safety limits where heating is an impossibility. "
It is clear from looking at the Bioinitiative Working Group report that it collates and references a large body of research regarding health effects from radiofrequency radiation. It is a lie of omission that the Reuters article does not acknowledge this larger body of research, and instead, it bases its "fact-check" on a seemingly shallow treatment of the issue. This lie of omission thereby contributes to the illusory view that a scientific consensus exists.
Finally, we ask the question, "Who benefits from the dominant narrative?" According to this industry analysis of the 5G market, the 5G services global market is very lucrative, reaching $41 billion and growing at 43.9% each year. The market players involved have a tremendous financial incentive to push the benefits of 5G technology while minimizing the public perception of any ill health effects.
With such a lucrative market and pressure on the telecom industry from Wall St. to deliver earnings growth, there is the incentive for the industry to sponsor research that paints 5G technology in a favorable light. Unfortunately, there is evidence that the telecom industry does utilize its power to influence science; this study indicates that a significant number of studies on the health effects of mobile phone use are industry-sponsored and may be prone to sponsorship bias, the tendency for a study to reflect the interests of its funder.
Upon deeper examination, this story presented as "conspiracy theory" is actually more akin to scientific controversy, a substantial debate among scientists on the science state. The occurrence of scientific controversy itself creates its own winners and losers among the established stakeholders. In such a case, the dominant interests have an incentive to weaponize conspiracy theory; inconvenient hypotheses are attacked to prevent inquiry that could damage vested interests.
While it can become tempting to blame science for these problems and cast it aside, we actually need more science to escape this conundrum - we should think like scientists. We must put aside our preconceived notions, try to conceive the possibility that the other side might have a valid argument, and carefully weigh the scientific evidence on both sides of the argument. The greater the financial incentives, the higher standard is needed for objectivity.
When examined in this light, with a more detailed examination of both sides, it becomes easier to see the logical biases and problems in the Reuters ostensible "fact-check."
PART 5: Critical Thinking about COVID-19 Conspiracies - Snopes’ “Fact-check on the Origins of COVID-19”In this section, we'll examine this piece by Snopes, which attempts to debunk the hypothesis that COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was accidentally released to the public. This hypothesis is termed the lab-origin hypothesis.
Something critical worth noting immediately - the Snopes piece does not actually debunk the lab-origin hypothesis for COVID-19, but it argues that a natural origin for COVID-19 is more likely. But the article presents an authoritative tone, backed with seemingly scientific rhetoric, to give the impression that it has "debunked" the lab-origin hypothesis. To accomplish this smoke-and-mirrors effect, it relies heavily upon weaponization of "conspiracy theory."
The Snopes article presents a biased characterization of the lab-origin hypothesis through several mechanisms. First, it presents a series of non-sequiturs that appear to be authoritative facts but have nothing to do with the lab-origin hypothesis's veracity. It states: "While SARS viruses have escaped from a Beijing lab on at least four occasions, no such event has been documented in Wuhan." The conclusion here is silly - just because viruses have escaped from other Chinese labs, it cannot happen in Wuhan.
The non-sequiturs continue. The article states, "In two instances, this researcher properly self-quarantined either after being bitten or urinated on by a potentially infected bat, he told reporters." So, a researcher was bitten by a bat but took precautionary measures. Then the article states, "The paper also asserts without evidence that infectious waste was merely tossed out of the lab closer to the market as regular trash." So, we need better proof that the laboratory does indeed dispose of trash. These have nothing to do with disproving the lab-origin hypothesis but sound scientific while serving as distractions.
The Snopes article continues with its biased characterization through its commentary on the interview between Dr. Joseph Mercola and lawyer Francis Boyle. Several ad hominem fallacies are used to discredit both these men; Mercola is termed as an "alternative medicine guru" without acknowledging his status as an osteopathic physician. Francis Boyle is termed a "lawyer with no formal training in virology" without acknowledging that he is a Harvard-trained lawyer who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989. The biased term "pseudoscientific internet personalities" is used as an attack.
Satisfied with its attack on Dr. Mercola and Francis Boyle, the Snopes piece then refutes the possibility of the lab-origin COVID hypothesis by citing a Nature paper and an accompanying commentary by National Institute of Health director Francis Collins in which a different virus with a spike-binding protein adaption similar to the one used by SaRs-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) was found in pangolins.
The Nature paper argues that natural evolutionary mechanisms could have led to the actual SaRs-CoV-2 virus. The Nature paper also makes the argument that the SaRs-CoV-2 genome has no traces of genetic manipulation.
It isn't hard to see that the Nature paper's hypothesis doesn't necessarily debunk the lab-origin hypothesis of COVID-19. It is a blatant attempt to present another hypothesis and make a persuasive case that it is the most probable of possible COVID-19 origin accounts. Neither does the article acknowledge that scientists have the means to genetically alter viruses in ways that leave no traces of manipulation.
The key question remains, is the natural origin hypothesis for COVID-19 the more likely cause? The Snopes article would like us to believe that science has settled the question for us via an appeal to the scientific consensus. But we should first consider the following question, do we have all the evidence we need to decide one way or the other?
It is glaring that the Snopes article engages in several lies of omission by failing to discuss material info that would influence our judgment regarding what is plausible versus not. By cherry-picking the facts and arguments that it wants, the Snopes piece tries to influence our beliefs in a way to accept its conclusion.
First, the Snopes article fails to discuss the gain-of-function research (a kind of research that increases the virulence of pathogens to infect different species, including humans) that was being done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the fact that the research was specifically being done on coronaviruses from bats, and the fact that the NIH was instrumental in funding this research.
Second, our own government appears complicit in the Wuhan gain-of-function research. The Washington Times reported in April 2020 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was given $3.7 million under the auspices of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, via the organization EcoHealth Alliance, to perform this gain-of-function research.
Later on, a Stat News article reported, "EcoHealth had previously established a partnership with a virology laboratory in Wuhan, China — the city where the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to have begun — under the terms of a five-year grant from the NIH. That grant was due to run through 2024 but was abruptly canceled in April."
Regarding the sudden cancellation of this grant, Stat News stated: "Earlier this summer, the NIH told EcoHealth its grant could be restored if the organization met a number of prerequisites, including securing access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for U.S. investigators, and a virus sample from Wuhan — conditions the organization is unlikely to be able to meet."
There appears to be a reluctance by the government players even to entertain an investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In a similar vein, the Snopes article dodges any notion of investigation or verification of its assumptions — the lab-origin hypothesis cannot be touched.
Third, regarding the plausibility of an escape of a pathogen from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it is interesting to know that government officials raised safety concerns in 2018. According to Washington Post, "Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats."
It is quite strange that the Snopes piece would overlook these safety concerns and these other material facts, all of which can change our likelihood assessment of SaRs-Cov-2 origin quite a bit. Shouldn't we at least wonder about the potential for accidental release of such a virus and whether or not it is related to the SaRs-Cov-2 virus? Given the controversial nature of gain-of-function research, might the NIH have quietly decided to cancel the grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to prevent further inquiry?
All in all, the quick media dismissal of the lab origin hypothesis is suspicious. The non-profit U.S. Right to Know commented on this premature dismissal: "To date, there is not sufficient evidence to definitively reject either zoonotic origin or lab-origin hypotheses. We do know, based on published research articles and U.S. federal grants to the EcoHealth Alliance for funding WIV's coronavirus research, that WIV stored hundreds of potentially dangerous SARS-like coronaviruses, and performed GOF experiments on coronaviruses in collaboration with U.S. universities, and there were biosafety concerns with WIV's BSL-4 laboratory."
It becomes all the more suspicious given evidence that the public scientific support for a natural origin for COVID-19 appears to have been orchestrated from within EcoHealth Alliance. U.S. Right to Know reported that "a statement in The Lancet authored by 27 prominent public health scientists condemning 'conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin' was organized by employees of EcoHealth Alliance."
It is important to ask who benefits from the dominant narrative offered here. First, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, as NIAID director, has the power to approve the funding dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, would want his role in the affair to be downplayed. Second, pharmaceuticals and vaccine developers can make use of gain-of-function research to develop new vaccines. Third, might the US military have interests in such research?
During an interview with Dr. Mercola, Francis Boyle, a lawyer who has for decades argued against the use of bioweapon technology, stated that the U.S. government spent $100 billion on biological warfare programs from September 11, 2011, up until October 2015. Though attacked in the Snopes article, the point stands that the military would be interested in gain-of-function research.
Francis Boyle stated in the interview, "As for the CDC, it has been involved in every … BSL-4 biological warfare death science you could possibly imagine … It's a matter of public record that during the Reagan administration, the CDC and the American Type Culture Collection sent 40 shipments of weapons-grade biological warfare agents to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, in the hope and expectation that he would weaponize these agents and use them against Iran…"
To rule out the lab-origin hypothesis, an actual investigation would have to be done on the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But to date, no such investigation has been done. It would seem strange that any inquiry into COVID-19 is dismissed as "conspiracy theory."
Is it possible that government authorities want to stifle any questioning of COVID-19 origins to avoid drawing attention to gain-of-function research and its use in our government's bioweapons development efforts? Should gain-of-function research that allows better infectivity of infectious disease in humans even be done?
Activists like the Organic Consumers Association do not think so. They are actively calling for a global ban on gain-of-function experimentation, citing its potential for causing another global pandemic. Vested government and scientific interests have an incentive to limit citizen inquiry to prevent damage to its interests.
Whatever the origins of COVID, the weaponization of "conspiracy theory" hinders such citizen inquiry and transparency. Citizens can play an important role in judging whether authorities are adhering to moral and ethical guidelines.
PART 6: Critical Thinking about COVID-19 Conspiracies - Chicago Tribune’s "No, COVID-19 vaccines don't contain Satan's microchips (and other scary conspiracy theories aren't true either)"With COVID-19 vaccination being deployed across the country, there is a spat of media stories regarding COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies, purportedly to increase vaccine uptake. This Chicago Tribune article is one such piece, and, likewise, it can be examined using the discussed framework.
Like the other pieces, this piece exemplifies the strawman argument. Rather than presenting the actual concerns that most people have regarding the vaccine, it presents a series of deliberately extreme views (i.e., the COVID-19 vaccine will contain Satan's microchips, and the COVID-19 vaccine will spread COVID), and then knocks them down, claiming triumph in the end.
First, the language used in the article is weaponized to divert from real concerns. The public's concerns are termed "vaccine fabrications" and "misinformation" without separating the actual concerns from the scientific inaccuracies. Moreover, the public's concerns are deliberately painted as "extreme views" of a minority "anti-vaccine" group. This is a sophisticated use of the ad hominem fallacy; it uses indirect mockery to attack those with concerns while pressuring the reader to diminish their own concerns regarding the vaccine.
The term "anti-vaccine" is a deliberate attempt to use language to create an us-versus-them mentality. It utilizes social pressure to discourage an individual from holding views that would place them in a purported minority group without acknowledging just how common these concerns are. Ironically, rather than being a minority, the majority of the populace seems to be questioning the vaccine. The article itself laments the fact that "only 47% of Americans plan to get the vaccine."
Similarly, the term "Satan's microchip" is weaponized language and an ad hominem fallacy used to mock and diminish digital vaccination surveillance concerns. The article fails to mention that the term refers to a real technology unveiled by Bill Gates in partnership with MIT to store vaccination records in a "quantum dot" below the skin. This "quantum dot" technology is akin to an implantable microchip - it encodes information and is stored below the individual's skin.
We ourselves must ask the important question that the article does not: "what are the actual concerns of those who are questioning the COVID-19 vaccine?" And, according to the Wall Street Journal, this leading concern is the question of vaccine safety.
While normally, a given vaccine can take up to a decade to develop, Operation Warp Speed launched the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in around 8 months, releasing it under FDA Emergency Use Authorization in 8 months under and using a novel mRNA technology that will utilize the human body's own cells to develop the antigen. This fact makes it more akin to gene therapy than a traditional vaccine.
Second, the safety testing for the COVID-19 vaccine does not address long-term health effects. Is there the possibility for long-term health effects from the novel mRNA technology? More generally, should novel medical technology be held to a higher standard of safety?
According to Tal Brosh, head of the Infectious Disease Unit at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital, when asked about COVID vaccine safety, acknowledged that "there are unique and unknown risks to messenger RNA vaccines, including local and systemic inflammatory responses that could lead to autoimmune conditions."
Given the novelty of the mRNA technology, doesn't the public have a right to question novel gene therapy applied in the context of preventing infectious diseases? Shouldn't the regulators apply a higher standard of safety study before rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine at warp-speed?
Third, the Chicago Tribute piece does not acknowledge the serious adverse effects observed in COVID vaccine safety trial participants. A number of the phase 3 trials, including Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, were stopped when participants experienced serious adverse effects. The vaccine manufacturers themselves warn that a certain proportion of people taking the vaccine would experience some adverse effects, including flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and fever.
Organizations like Children's Health Defense have sounded the warning that there are acknowledged problems in the vaccine safety assessment methodology. These are problems that the Chicago Tribune piece does not comment on.
Some of these problems include the lack of testing vaccines against an inert, saline placebo, short observational periods that do not capture long-term effects of vaccination, and lack of individual safety studies regarding ingredients within vaccines, including mercury, aluminum, and PEG, which scientists say could be responsible for some of the severe allergic reactions in COVID-19 vaccine recipients.
Finally, the article does not acknowledge another important question: who decides if the risk/benefit calculation is worth taking a vaccine? The article seems to presuppose that the calculation has been made for us and that a "rational" person would take the vaccine. But is this the case for everyone?
An assessment of benefits from the vaccine depends critically upon the amount of risk that the individual faces from COVID-19. Given that the CDC's data indicates that risk profiles from COVID-19 vary dramatically depending on age and pre-existing conditions, presenting uniform benefit to the populace is not entirely accurate.
And what of the risks from the vaccine? As the COVID-19 vaccination campaign rolls out across the nation already, there are many reported cases of vaccine injuries.
Journalist Sharyl Attkisson reported that, as of Dec. 19, more than 5000 individuals had experienced a "health impactful" event, roughly 2.3% of COVID-19 vaccine recipients. There are reports of untimely deaths not too long after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine (such as the death of a Florida doctor several weeks post-vaccine receipt) and over a hundred reports of emergency room visits post-vaccine receipt.
Shouldn't the public have the right to know of COVID-19 vaccine injuries and to take them into account in a risk/benefit calculation as to whether to take the vaccine? Shouldn't a person be free to choose the right decision for themselves and have all data to do so?
There are fundamentally complex issues here that the Chicago Tribute piece glosses over. The COVID vaccine decision is a multi-faceted one that resists oversimplification.
Regarding Bill Gates' "quantum dot" implantable technology, at a time when surveillance is pervasive in our lives, shouldn't we, the public, have the right to question the moral and ethical implications of such technology? Moreover, what right does the Chicago Tribute have to question the validity of religious views of those against widespread digital-tagging of the populace?
Given the bias in media-reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine, the fundamental question is whether or not people have the final say as to whether to take the vaccine.
In articles like these, the "correct" decision has already been decided for the reader and the American public. These articles serve as propaganda for the agenda of public health, government officials, and by extension, the pharmaceutical industry that manufactures vaccines.
The weaponization of "conspiracy theory" seeks to make crucial medical decisions for us and seeks to limit our free inquiry and critical thinking, crucial considering we ourselves bear the long-term costs of those decisions.
Conspiracy Inquiry – Calling Power into AccountCrucial to democracy is the public's perception that the system is fair, transparent and that the concerns of the minority are discussed in the public sphere. The propaganda that uses the weaponization of "conspiracy theory" is an attempt to control public opinion and, in the long-run, ultimately harms democracy.
We now live in the age of information overload, a time when we are bombarded with advertisements, marketers trying to get our attention to push our beliefs in one way or another. While the Internet has given us amazing amounts of information at our fingertips, power authorities have an overt incentive to control that information and our perceptions surrounding it.
Propaganda is right before our eyes. Yet it often goes by different names, for example, public relations, fake news, fact-checks, etc. Even our search engines manipulate search results to drive ideology. One of the most effective forms of propaganda is the weaponization of "conspiracy theory."
The weaponization of "conspiracy theory" favors the power holders, who use their power to create and define the dominant narratives promulgated in society, which then creates a self-justifying loop for their power. Inconvenient narratives are too often termed "conspiracy theory" to prevent unwanted, intrusive inquiry. It now falls to the individual to ascertain the veracity of a news article.
We should be wary and avoid seeing conspiracy at every turn. To do so would lead us down paranoia and further exacerbate the tribalism that is affecting America. This is where the above framework can help us critically think through the media messages we are presented with. We should be willing to apply the same questions to our thinking, and we should uphold the same standard for the burden of proof to both sides.
How can democracy thrive when overt propaganda is used to limit the thinking of the public? When our societal views are so polarized, we should rightly question just how much the authorities and power holders allow us to exercise dissent and our intellectual opinion-making.
When transparency is lacking, we must demand it. Where information is omitted, we must point it out. And when authorities tell us we cannot think a certain way, we must make a stand to express our thoughts. This is how we end up with a stronger democracy with greater equality for all.