Sunday, April 5, 2020

Oh, the COVID conspiracies. Can all be true? Can any?

Okay, the COVID-19 conspiracy industry, if it had a stock symbol, would now officially be the hottest stock on the market.

They can’t all be true. There’s considerable evidence that none of them is.

5G stratagem

There are radiation-phobes who are using COVID-19 to advance their anti-5G agendas. (5G is a high-speed cellular data network.)

It is painful to have to repeat this, but clearly 5G doesn’t cause viral disease. If nothing else doesn’t debunk this bizarre position, keep in mind that 5G still doesn’t exist in most of the world. And doesn’t exist at all in many of the places with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. So, (sigh), if 5G caused COVID-19, how can COVID-19 exist when the vast majority of the world has no 5G?

Another 5G conspiracy theory is that COVID-19 doesn’t exist. That it is really just a hoax to cover up something called “5G Syndrome,” which is presumably a kind of radiation sickness. Again, that doesn’t explain people getting sick in areas that are absent 5G. And it doesn’t explain how the worldwide medical community, using different tests, somehow erroneously found viruses that weren’t there.

Depopulation scheme

There are folks who believe this pandemic is a secret plot to depopulate the world or a certain portion of the world. But wasn’t that AIDS/HIV? Or Ebola. Or SARS. Is it that the folks trying to kill off much of the world just aren’t that competent?

Realistically, pandemics have been with us for a long time. Think of the 1918 Spanish Flu. And much earlier, the Black Death. And before that the Justinian Plague. Both of the latter were likely bubonic plague. Smallpox and cholera have also caused historic pandemics. You don’t need an evil conspiracy to have pandemics.

Vaccination plot

There’s a weird one that COVID-19 is just a means to an end, a long game, a conspiracy to force everyone to accept vaccines. Well, dude, you can always not take the shot. But when a working vaccine is developed, you should.

Police state incubator

I heard a suggestion that this pandemic is a scheme aimed at putting a permanent police state into effect. Doesn’t China already have one of those? Why would they launch this?

Reelection intrigue

Some conservative pundits argue this is a Democrat conspiracy to reduce President Trump's likelihood of being re-elected. That wouldn’t explain why the disease is not only in the U.S. but everywhere else as well, or why Democratic mayors and governors appear to be working far harder than the President on responding to it.

Another theory

But maybe a new theory would be that COVID-19 is a secret government scheme to bring down organized governments, liberal, socialist, capitalist, communist, whatever. That’s it, a Greenie plot to solve climate change and save the planet by destroying the global economy.

It’s as random as the others. On its face, it might make sense, except for lack of evidence.

Debunk your own conspiracy

There’s a fun resource on conspiracy theories that can help you recognize one when you come across it. It is “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook,” by cognitive psychology professor Stephan Lewandowsky of University of Bristol and John Cook of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

The booklet can be downloaded free from here.  

My favorite clue recognizing a conspiracy is its invulnerability to evidence. This is the “but that’s what they want you to think” argument. If every piece of contrary evidence is met with that response—that’s a clue.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2020

Friday, April 3, 2020

COVID-19 conspiracy theories: Hoofbeats and zebras?

Lots of conspiracy theories about the new coronavirus make little sense, and if you actually apply a little scientific rigor to the issue, they fall apart.

They even contradict each other. If it came from a Chinese lab, why? They got hit first. If, as some
Russians say, it came from America, why are we Americans also sick? Whoa, what about the fact that
Russia seemed to be largely free of the disease, isnʻt that suspicious? Well itʻs not, any more--they've got a growing number of cases as well.

The philosopical theory known as Occamʻs Razor suggests that the simplest solution is generally the
right one. There's the old line that if you're in the American west and hear hoofbeats, your first thought should not be zebras.

A group of researchers looked into whatʻs likely and whatʻs not about the origins of COVID-19, also
known as SARS-CoV-2.

1. They found that we know of seven previous cases of this class of disease getting into humans;
2. They found that itʻs highly unlikely that this was a human-engineered virus.

Their study was published in the journal Nature Medicine. The authors are American, Australian and British researchers Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, W.vIan Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes and Robert F. Garry.

"Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated," they wrote.

One clue, they said, is that when you look at the genetics, this virus behaves more like a random
mutation than a purposeful construct. In other wordS, if someone had engineered it, theyʻd have done a better job, or at least would have done it differently.

Which is not to say that labs donʻt work on viruses. They do. But not like this. "The genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone," the authors wrote.

The most likely pathway is one of two, Anderson and his co-authors said. Either the virus evolved into its current form in an animal and then was passed to humans, or an earlier form of the virus passed from animals to humans and then evolved into its current form in humans.

You may have heard that many of the early victims of the virus had visited live-animal markets in
Wuhan, China. And that the animal host might have been bats, or pangolins or birds.

So far, none of those animals has been found with a form of the virus that looks close enough to be the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said, but they admitted that the animal population has been "massively undersampled." Pangolins seem to have the virus version closest to the pandemic version.

Alternatively, it is possible an early version of the virus jumped repeatedly to humans in a version that did not spread from human to human. Until one evolved the ability to be transmitted between people.

It is not yet possible to determine which of these things actually led to the outbreak, but there is lots of study going on, and at some point, it will be possible.

"We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible," but more research will doubtless show which of the natural mechanisms was the more likely culprit.

One of the best arguments against a laboratory conspiracy to infect the world: Animal-to-human transfer of disease has been a common source of human misery since long before sophisticated laboratories were set up. There is even a term for it, zoonosis. That link is the Centers for Disease Control site on zoonotic diseases.

We have had lots of zoonotic diseases in Hawai`i, like leptospirosis and dengue, but most of these diseases require an animal-to-human infection path for each sick human. The difference with COVID-19 is that once it crossed the species barrier, it could be transmitted directly human to human.

This has happened repeatedly. Think of bird flu and swine flu. The source of the devastating 1918 "Spanish" flu, is not well known, although it almost certainly didn't come from Spain. It went on to infect a third of the world population and to kill an estimated 50 million people. Some suggest it might have crossed from birds.

Thus, this is neither new nor rare. "More than 60% of the roughly 400 emerging infectious diseases that have been identified since 1940 are zoonotic," wrote the authors of this 2012 paper in the journal The Lancet, which has the ominous title, "Prediction and prevention of the next pandemic zoonosis."

© Jan TenBruggencate 2020