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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

In Conclusion

Along with a life-threatening pandemic, we are afflicted with an equally insidious malady these days, widespread disinformation and intentional mis-direction in the form of conspiracy stories and Internet mediated propaganda posing as fact. There is nothing new of course about superstition, false narrative and fear mongering. They have been with us as long as humanity has existed, and as long as we have tried to make sense of what we do not understand. Despite the extraordinary breadth of information modern humans possess about so much of our universe, the degree to which this knowledge is applied seems to be diminishing rapidly. In its place we have beliefs posing as conclusions supported by manufactured information, search engine results posturing as research, and our old friends, fear, uncertainty, and doubt being fed by hucksters in the media and some pulpits.

Conspiracy narratives are easy to spot, and equally easy to debunk—although as I wrote recently, do not expect the ignorant or the faithful to abandon their beliefs in the face of mere fact. Every conspiracy begins with a simple premise and a powerful energy that plays on human weakness. Conspiracies begin at the end—that is they begin with the conclusion and work their way back building ‘proof’ upon proof with evidence carefully selected to support the conclusion at which the originator has already arrived. Anything which does not support the conspiracy narrative is promptly ignored or discounted in favor of half-truths or outright lies. They don’t need to be especially convincing –because the purpose of such narratives is to provide those who are already of a certain opinion with the proof that they are indeed right; right to be suspicious, to believe dark forces are at work, to believe the worst. Real proof to the contrary is rejected—the source is suspect, a nameless faceless them in the tens of thousands –perhaps millions has managed to keep a secret so hideous that any evidence to the contrary is itself part of the conspiracy. Conspiracists take it as an article of faith that large numbers of people can keep things hidden over long periods of time, a belief that defies everyone's experience.

Paranoia is rampant, but of course it's said even the paranoid are sometimes right and seemingly rational people can still harbor lingering doubt if they are inundated with a false narrative long enough. Our rational intelligence may tell us it is safe to walk down that dark street we have walked a hundred times before but once doubt and fear have been introduced even the stalwart can become unduly cautious. Let us not forget that there are those whose malice is intentional, who use this powerful medium of the web –a force we once believed would bring information and insight to every dark corner, to obscure, and distort the truth.

This form of manipulation can be subtle or difficult to spot in some cases. Take for example a web site referenced in dozens of Facebook posts that purports to offer real scientific evidence in support of a Covid medication that has been found to have little to no therapeutic value and a high degree of risk. The site’s premise is nonsense from the get go to anyone who ever studied high school biology or took a single science course in college. It suggests that a lack of evidence in support of the medication is not an impediment but rather a demonstration of the conspiracy to deny its benefits to the public. In muckraking tones the site claims to provide factual data that shows legitimate scientific studies to be flawed while supportive studies have been suppressed. Having set aside all legitimate studies—of which there are a great many concluding that the drug is useless and harmful, the site substitutes its own collection. With a few exceptions—they are papers that were subsequently withdrawn from publication either due to fundamental errors or falsified data, the remainder are hastily developed single institution studies that cannot be replicated, involving a handful to at most a few dozen participants .

There is a reason that legitimate scientific study of medications –often take years or longer to conduct and involve tens of thousands of randomized participants as well as control groups that receive only placebos. Not only is the safety of the medication of paramount concern, its effect on a wide array of recipients with various health and physical conditions is necessary to determine how a drug might act under real world conditions. The web site in question uses a slight of hand trick—suggesting that by aggregating a number of these small studies that came to positive or benign conclusions it has not just equal evidence of the drug’s efficacy, but incontrovertible proof that the large-scale well regulated scientific studies are wrong. This is nothing more than quackery. The studies offered on this site were conducted under different conditions, with varied doses, a haphazard makeup of participants, no controls —in fact nothing about them is the same except the drug. Worse yet, none were conducted in the situation we now face, and that actually matters—on real patients who are hospitalized and in life threatening circumstance.

It does not matter, however, to desperate people who want to believe in a hail Mary pass, a drug that will magically save them from a disease they chose to downplay, and vaccines that they rejected for a variety of reasons not least of which was the claim that they were insufficiently studied. To those who point to this site as proof positive of a genuine conspiracy—a plot to withhold a life-saving medicine, no amount of reason or fact will prove sufficient.

And just when you thought things could not get more bizarre, an influential conservative media outlet—one that has propagated more than its share of conspiracy narratives recently observed that a high percentage of deaths of unvaccinated Covid patients is occurring in far greater numbers among those on the political right, that is among the unvaccinated. The editors of this magazine note that disproportionately greater numbers of those on the left are vaccinated and conclude that they are intentionally goading conservative voters to avoid the vaccine. Apparently the editors do not watch or listen to right wing media where dozens of personalities—all of whom are vaccinated —boldly tell their viewers to avoid the jab, lest democracy crumble and the devil prevail.

Apparently, the left has also enlisted the aid of a number of conservative Governors in this devious plan and it is working brilliantly in their states. In Florida alone they have been so successful that they have sent over 50,000 to their grave and counting. But you need not worry—according to the conspiracists all those who have taken the vaccines will be dead in three years due to DNA corruption, or some other made up nonsense. Among those who believe that the vaccine is a crime against humanity—one that will kill you either immediately or eventually perhaps an anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory will emerge that those on the left mocking the unvaccinated are secretly conspiring to save them. It’s hard to tell these days.

You see that’s the problem, there are so many conspiracies that they are beginning to collide with one another and the constant introduction of new ones has resulted in a fragmented and incoherent picture of just who is out to get whom. It would all be just another example of politicians and theocrats off the rails if hundreds of thousands of lives, millions worldwide, were not at stake. We have already surpassed the death rate of the 1918 pandemic and tens of millions of people in the US and elsewhere remain unvaccinated. It puts me in mind of a saying i heard from one of my pundit friends regarding the fools and instigators pedalling this nonsense, “ it’s not that they shoot themselves in the foot, it’s that they reload so quickly.”

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