Links and Comments: Conspiracies! Conspiracies!

Over the past several weeks there’s been an outbreak of stories and articles in the various legitimate media (New York Times, NPR, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, et al) about conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus pandemic. So many articles! Could this be mere concidence? Or perhaps… a conspiracy! By mainstream media to fool people into thinking conspiracy theories are bogus? Or real? Pick and choose whatever you want to believe, and if so-called “experts” dispute want you want to believe, than clearly there’s a conspiracy theory going on.

I’ve linked a bunch of articles recently on Facebook, captured in this post (with more to follow), mainly to challenge a bout of posts by a couple of my Facebook friends, only a couple of them out of 500 or 600.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life — something I’ve truly changed my mind about, since a couple decades ago — is that you can’t change someone’s mind by patiently showing them evidence and expecting them to reach logical conclusions. That’s not how people work. People are concerned with group identity, and with *winning*, not with identifying truth. This informs much current politics (e.g. the conservative cry of “owning the libs”).

Conspiracy theories, is my provision conclusion, are the extreme, malignant forms of the natural human instinct for narrative. How human perception of the world around them turns everything into a story. This thing happens *because* of that thing. How children think rain happens *in order* to water the plants, and so on; adults, some of them at least, understand that the world is not fraught with agents. Still, the popularity of stories, everywhere, in literature, movies, political analysis, theology. The idea that everything happens for a reason. I’ll develop this theme more in my book, because it is a key idea in epistemology, how we know what is true, why people think they know what is true.

For now: items I’ve posted on Facebook in recent weeks.

The Atlantic: The Coronavirus Conspiracy Boom: Nearly a third of the people we polled believe that the virus was manufactured on purpose. Why?

The piece ends:

And if the one in three Americans who believes that the effects of COVID-19 have been exaggerated choose to forgo crucial health practices, such as social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and wearing a mask, then the disease could spread faster and farther than otherwise, and could cost many thousands of lives.

More generally, this:

New York Times: Why Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Flourish. And Why It Matters. Subtitle: “Unseen villains. Top-secret cures. In their quest for reassurance during the pandemic, many people are worsening more than just their own anxiety.”

Since this article isn’t free to non-subscribers, I’ll quote a few passages:

The belief that one is privy to forbidden knowledge offers feelings of certainty and control amid a crisis that has turned the world upside down. And sharing that “knowledge” may give people something that is hard to come by after weeks of lockdowns and death: a sense of agency.

The conspiracy theories all carry a common message: The only protection comes from possessing the secret truths that “they” don’t want you to hear.

“People are drawn to conspiracies because they promise to satisfy certain psychological motives that are important to people,” Dr. Douglas said. Chief among them: command of the facts, autonomy over one’s well-being and a sense of control.

The belief that we have access to secret information may help us feel that we have an advantage, that we are somehow safer. “If you believe in conspiracy theories, then you have power through knowledge that other people don’t have,” Dr. Douglas said.

Italian media buzzed over a video posted by an Italian man from Tokyo in which he claimed that the coronavirus was treatable but that Italian officials were “hiding the truth.”

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro suggested that the virus was an American bioweapon aimed at China. In Iran, officials called it a plot to suppress the vote there. And outlets that back the Russian government, including branches in Western Europe, have promoted claims that the United States engineered the virus to undermine China’s economy.

One of the crucial things I’ve learned in my life is that you cannot show someone authoritative evidence and expect them to change their minds. There is good evidence, and bad evidence; conspiracy theorists can find evidence online to support any idea, no matter how outlandish. Just as the Flat-Earthers do.


Forbes: Why It’s Important To Push Back On ‘Plandemic’—And How To Do It

Plandemic is part of a disturbingly successful trend in which deep-pocketed purveyors of pseudoscience produce slick, professional videos as credible-appearing documentaries. The lighting, narrative structure, the pacing, use of imagery, camera angles, editing techniques—these are all common documentary filmmaking conventions that we’ve come to associate with factual information.

The people producing this video know what they’re doing, and they’re very good at it. On a subconscious level, no matter what words are being said, this video feels factual simply because of how it was produced. It’s intentionally manipulative. It’s a textbook example of effective propaganda.”


Conspiracy theories like those in this video are actively, directly harmful and dangerous. They can influence people’s behavior in ways that harm those people and public health—including you personally—in general. We can’t afford to let these ideas run unchecked.

If you don’t push back on them, even to those you love or don’t want to upset, you’re enabling them. You’re allowing people to spew harmful, dangerous nonsense that kills people and demoralizes the millions of health care providers trying to save lives.

The bottom of the article has various debunking resources that address the claims in the film.


Slate, Dahlia Lithwick: Whose Freedom Counts?. Subtitle: “Anti-lockdown protesters are twisting the idea of liberty.”

My take: those insisting on re-opening are doing so in defiance of, or oblivious of, the inevitability of further spreading of the virus and increasing the number of deaths. It’s like a parable I’ve seen a couple times, once recently, which I’ll paraphrase: a man offers you $3000, on the condition that, if you accept it, someone in the world, somewhere, someone you don’t know, will die. Would you accept it? Now, the $3000 is the personal “liberty” to escape lock-down, to force a re-opening that would oblige many people to go back to work, and inevitably, to spread the infection and increase the number of deaths.

My prediction is that, despite the re-openings of many states underway, most people will continue to stay home (as I certainly will do), and the economies of these states will not magically rebound. Those who insist on going out will spread the infection, because some of them are infected but asymptomatic, and will infect others, some of whom will die.

This is an unprecedented event in all of our lives, and I understand why many people have trouble coming to terms with it.

Here is Dahlia Lithwick, who further down this essay invokes another writer about the difference between “freedom to and freedom from.” Lithwick:

The words freedom and liberty have been invoked breathlessly in recent weeks to bolster the case for “reopening.” Protesters of state public safety measures readily locate in the Bill of Rights the varied and assorted freedom to not be masked, the freedom to have your toenails soaked and buffed, the freedom to open-carry weapons into the state capitol, the freedom to take your children to the polar bear cage, the freedom to worship even if it imperils public safety, and above all, the freedom to shoot the people who attempt to stop you from exercising such unenumerated but essential rights. Beyond a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between broad state police powers and federal constitutional rights in the midst of a deadly pandemic, this definition of freedom is perplexing, chiefly because it seems to assume not simply that other people should die for your individual liberties, but also that you have an affirmative right to harm, threaten, and even kill anyone who stands in the way of your exercising of the freedoms you demand. We tend to forget that even our most prized freedoms have limits, with regard to speech, assembly, or weaponry. Those constraints are not generally something one shoots one’s way out of, even in a pandemic, and simply insisting that your own rights are paramount because you super-duper want them doesn’t usually make it so.

May 9:

Science Magazine: Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy video.

Politifact: Fact-checking ‘Plandemic’: A documentary full of false conspiracy theories about the coronavirus

Daily Beast: Discredited Doctor and Sham ‘Science’ Are the Stars of Viral Coronavirus Documentary ‘Plandemic’: Coronavirus Grifters.

Washington Montly: Do Republicans Have a God-Given Right to Infect You?: The “Open-Up-Now” crowd’s flawed constitutional reasoning.

New York Times, Jamelle Bouie: The Anti-Lockdown Protesters Have a Twisted Conception of Liberty.

It seems many of us are living in alternate worlds, simultaneously.


May 11:

Three more.

The Atlantic: If Someone Shares the ‘Plandemic’ Video, How Should You Respond?

The Week: The making of a coronavirus conspiracy theory

And here’s the New York Times summary, buried in today’s print edition on page B4, because it’s a fringe story. If there were any truth to it, all the reputable news sources would be all over it, because they’re in competition with each other, and would want to be first to expose any actual conspiracy (cf. Watergate).

Virus Conspiracists Elevate a New Champion, subtitled, “A video showcasing baseless arguments by Dr. Judy Mikovits, including attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been viewed more than eight million times in the past week.”


And finally, if anyone hasn’t noticed, disgruntled, fired employee Judy Mikovits is on this tirade because she’s *promoting a book*! Plague of Corruption: Restoring Faith in the Promise of Science, with a foreward by notorious anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. And indeed, in the week after “Plandemic” was released, the book was #1 on the Amazon Bestsellers page.

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