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COVID-19 and 'Conspiracy Theory': Who Decides What's 'Misinformation'?

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.

During this time of COVID-19, the term “conspiracy theory” has been bandied about too casually by the mainstream media sources. It is true though that we are living 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 does the media acknowledge that “conspiracy theory” can become weaponized; the charge becoming a means to stifle free inquiry into a topic. Who decides what is valid information versus misinformation? And who decides what distinguishes a conspiracy theory from real corruption?

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.

A sample list of these COVID-19 conspiracies include:

       The COVID-19 cases are the result of health effects from 5G wireless technology as opposed to a virus.

       Bill Gates, in conjunction with the Deep State, is manipulating the COVID-19 response for his personal gain.

       The virus responsible for COVID-19 was bioengineered in a Wuhan lab and was either accidentally or intentionally released.

The key question here is: who, ultimately, is the decider of what constitutes a conspiracy theory? The commonality in the above is that the decision regarding what to think about the above stories has been decided a priori for us. We are presented with an illusion of choice in which we are emotionally pressured to join with the views of the author.

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 and rightly deserves the term of conspiracy theory. And sometimes the story reveals there are wrongdoings hiding behind the shadows.

A framework will be presented here for how to think about conspiracy theory versus real conspiracy. Before accepting the point of view of an author as fact, there are important questions that need to be considered.

By using this framework, you will be able to distinguish the two, between honest reporting and propaganda, and better be able to voice your opinion on such matters. It is the public's right to voice its concerns, and the citizen’s duty to ensure the government serves the people.

What is a Conspiracy?

We need to carefully examine the meanings of the words, conspiracy and conspiracy theory,  to tease out their actual definitions from any loaded emotional connotation. 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.”

To build on this definition. 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 conspiracy.” Often, there are motivations for conspiracy that include personal or economic gain, sometimes too though the aim is the advancement of ideology (for example to advance the ideology of Communism or to spread democracy).

It should be worth nothing that conspiracies happen all the time. One need not look in the news to find such examples, however typically these are called scandals by media, ie. 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 Theory

Beyond its logical definition, the term “conspiracy theory” has a negative connotation. It is not often acknowledged by users of the term that the term itself can be weaponized to prevent critical lines of inquiry of inconvenient truths in the 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.”

According to author Jovan Byford 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.”

Critical to understanding the weaponization of “conspiracy theory is understanding how narratives are often shaped by powerholders and establishment interests for their benefit. Sometimes these interests benefit from the status quo, and they resist changes from the public to change the status quo. Sometimes, in the case of 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 the ability to create narratives that the public believes. Narratives can then be used to provide a rationale for why dominant interests or establishment interests hold their power. 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 matters of scientific controversy, and it can be used to stifle legitimate scientific inquiry. Academic institutions, corporations, and existing scientists are often invested in current paradigms of scientific thinking.

There are approaches they can utilize to protect existing revenue lines by exaggerating the benefits of medical treatments or drugs they offer, by diminishing harms from certain medical treatments or drugs, and by dismissing alternative non-pharmaceutical approaches. 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.

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.

12 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:

       Ad hominem arguments: attacking the character, motives, or attributes of the person or group bearing a message without attacking the substance of the logical argument. Ad-hominem attacks are often done with pejorative labels, ie. racist, anti-vaxxers, anti-science, Communist, etc.

       Red herring/deflection: brings up tangential information that deliberately misleads or distracts from the important question at hand.

       Strawman: distortion of actual positions held by the opposing party to give the impression of refuting or defeating an opponent’s position.

       Lying by omission: lying by either omitting certain facts, failing to provide critical details, or failing to correct a misconception.

       Cherry-picking: bringing up data or cases which support a particular position while ignoring significant data that contradicts the position.

       Begging the question: use of circular reasoning, or presuming the conclusion to be true, to justify one’s initial premise.

       Appeal to authority: claiming the truth of a premise by citing the testimony of an authority figure as opposed to presenting actual evidence for it.

2. What are the assertions made in the article that the author assumes “every reasonable person must believe”?

Disentangling the half-truths and assumptions in the overall message are critical to understanding the core of propaganda that weaponizes conspiracy theory. Also critical are the assumptions that the author makes about what everyone should believe; for example, “any reasonable person must vaccinate” or “any reasonable person must listen to their doctor.” 

Both of these are examples of the begging the question fallacy, the “reasonableness” is assumed as a consequence to take the action without building an adequate case for it. These also fall under the ad hominem fallacy, as there is the implicit message that anyone who fails to do X 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 that 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 think through 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 in a more favorable light. For example, as will be examined later, the blaming of COVID deaths on 5G technology is a strawman that attempts to hide legitimate health effects 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 would wireless technology would hurt the growth of the wireless market and hurt the technology providers of such equipment. 

5. How credible is the alternative narrative?

This is where you judge the credibility of the alternative narrative by examining the actual arguments used to support their position or to discredit the opposing position. Weaponized pieces work by trying to convince 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 their boundaries. 

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 level of vitriol aimed against those objecting to the official narrative. It is critical to ask yourself just how much the piece allows the reader to make a judgement versus strong-arming the reader into accepting the views of the author. 

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.

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 make us blind to observations that lie outside the explanatory realm of the paradigm. 

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 in editorializing in with their reporting, oftentimes with an ideological bent. When you read a piece, 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 the science’s ability to deal with society’s problems. An example of this would be that the criticism of those who questioned COVID-19 lockdowns or widespread masking. Often those propagating the scientism ideology are scientists or researchers who are vested in a particular viewpoint. 

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 utilize the narrative to increase their power. Companies will promote their products, scientists their research, and institutions, like the CDC or FDA, the importance of 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 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?

It is critical when presenting an issue that the logic be sound and there is supporting evidence for any propositions. If one side makes evidence demands of the other side, then it behooves that side to provide the same level of proof for their side. It is suspicious when one side (often the more powerful side) tells us that the other side is wrong without providing suitable evidence.

In scientific controversies, it is especially important to examine the burden of proof criterion that is applied to both sides. Often 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. 

11. What first-hand evidence do we have for both sides?

It is important to consult first-hand evidence and sources regarding any commentary that is brought up to see if the logic is sound. This is especially the case when one side relies upon its authority or power to make its case. In such cases, it becomes all the more important to consult the first-hand evidence provided by the other side.

Another thing to be aware of is that sometimes mainstream news sources will cite a source but misrepresent the source’s meaning to advance a given narrative or ideology. This is a mistake that happened with a New York Times article which 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 or if 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 especially important when dealing with claims of conspiracy theory. Remember that you, the reader of the piece, need to be the ultimate decider of truth versus falsehood

Applying the 12 Questions to COVID-19 Conspiracies

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, each of the below examples has the same patterns of attack and the same logical biases are present in many of the other topics. By learning to recognize these patterns, it will make you a more critical reader of many similar pieces. 

Reuters reports: “5G networks are making people sick, not Coronavirus”

We’ll examine this Reuters piece which attempts to debunk the belief that the COVID cases are related to radiation from recently installed 5G infrastructure, rather than the virus.

Ostensibly, the article presents a strawman argument by presenting a more extreme position and attempting to debunk that. The focus is on the position“5G is wholly to blame for the pandemic,” while ignoring the more plausible moderate position, “Is 5G harming people in a way that contributes to the development of severe COVID-19 or in a way that hinders full recovery?” By substituting the more extreme position for the actual concern, the article attempts to hide actual public concerns.

While this issue is presented as a “conspiracy theory,” it is more akin to scientific controversy; a potential hypothesis is attacked by the weaponization of “conspiracy theory” to prevent inquiry as to whether or not it is true from a scientific standpoint. The solution is for us to think like scientists; we must put aside our preconceived notions, assume that we know nothing, and carefully weigh the scientific evidence on both sides of the argument.

The most fundamental question is “Does 5G exposure have negative health effects?” The Reuters article goes through its critical assumptions by presenting “scientific facts,” from a list of authorities including the World Health Organization, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), and a professor emeritus, that attempt to show that non-ionizing radiation, like the kind from 5G cellular technologies, is safe.

It should be noted that there is a subtle application of appeal to authority and appeal to the consensus here. The author implies the following message, “if such credible organizations are not questioning 5G technology then what gives you the right to do so?” Critical inquiry requires though that we dig into the claims and assumptions of the authorities.

We can break down their health claims according to the following assumptions:

  1. The only effect from electromagnetic radio-frequencies is increased temperature from exposed tissue.

  2. There is no evidence that electromagnetic fields are related to health effects like cancer and electro-hypersensitivity.

  3. 5G exposure has no cumulative health effect.

Conspicuously missing from the Reuters piece is an examination of the alternative paradigm that claims that 5G and other forms of non-ionizing electromagnetic forms of radiation do have deleterious health effects. There is no discussion of any objections to 5G nor mention of any problems that contradict the above assumptions. This lack of a discussion is a seeming lie of omission; as we will see, there is data that points to potential harm from 5G and it hasn’t been given any consideration. It is also a form of cherry-picking; only data favorable to the 5G is presented.

At this point, it becomes necessary to do research beyond the original article and to find just what exactly are the objections to 5G as voiced by its critics. Only when we see the actual objections themselves, can we examine their validity on a point by point basis. It then becomes necessary to 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). It doesn’t take much digging to learn that the Reuters piece is seemingly ignorant of the latest news regarding criticism of 5G.

First, the US government, under the auspices of the US National Toxicology Program, conducted a study to find out whether or not negative health effects arose in rats and mice when they were exposed to cellular radio frequencies. Surprisingly to the researchers, the study found that there were 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.

Equally interesting is the following admission by the National Toxicology Program regarding 5G radiation (which falls into the millimeter-wave definition): “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, then why doesn’t the Reuters article acknowledge it? Surely, we should expect a higher standard from a “fact-checker”?

Second, there is tremendous amount of studies 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 position.

A report released by the Bioinitiative Working Group, a working group composed of scientists, researchers, and public health policy professionals, after reviewing 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.“

Finally, we ask the question “who benefits from the dominant narrative?” According to industry analysis, the 5G services global market is very lucrative, reaching $41 billion and growing at a rate of 43.9% each year. The market players involved have tremendous financial incentive to push the benefits of 5G technology while minimizing the public perception of any ill health effects. A study indicates that a significant number of studies on the health effects of mobile phone use are industry-sponsored, and this behooves us to take into account sponsorship bias on the part of the telecommunication providers.

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 fact-check. 

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. It uses an authoritative tone to present the dominant narrative that “the majority scientific consensus is that the virus originated in nature and was spread via the Huanan seafood market and not from the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

It 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. Thus, since a naturally occurring adaption was found, the scientists conclude that it is more likely natural evolutionary mechanisms occurred that led to the SaRs-CoV-2 virus.

The Nature paper also makes the argument that the SaRs-CoV-2 genome has no trace of genetic manipulation. But it doesn’t acknowledge that scientists have the means to genetically alter viruses in ways that leave no traces of manipulation.

It isn’t hard to see that logically this explanation doesn’t necessarily debunk the lab-origin hypothesis of COVID-19. It is a blatant attempt to present another hypothesis, and make a case that it is more plausible.

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 a “conspiracy theory.” Is there something being omitted from the dominant narrative?

There are several lies of omission that the Snopes article does not discuss that a rational person might want to know about and that might change the assessment of probability regarding COVID origins. There are many open questions regarding the role of the NIH in funding gain-of-function research, a kind of research that increases the virulence of pathogens to infect different species including humans, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology; research that was specifically done on coronaviruses from bats.

First, 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, Stat News reported that the amount of the grant from NIH to EcoHealth Alliance was $7.5 million and that the actual amount transferred to Wuhan Institute of Virology was less than this total amount. It stated: “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.”

Might there be more to the story that warrants investigation? The NIH response implies that the Wuhan Institute of Virology would not be open to such an investigation. Stat News continues: “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.”

Might a rational person wonder if blind natural evolution is a simpler explanation when the gain-of-function research was being conducted using the very same virus family as the COVID-19 coronavirus? 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? Since gain-of-function research is controversial, might the NIH have quietly decided to cancel the grant to Wuhan Institute of Virology to prevent further inquiry?

Second, there were safety concerns raised in 2018 regarding the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 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.”

The presence of these two bits of information can change the likelihood estimate for COVID origin quite a bit. It is quite suspicious that a lab origin was quickly dismissed by the media, and that the media does not permit the public to come to its conclusion regarding COVID origins. It is suspicious too that the public scientific support for a natural origin for COVID-19 appears to have been orchestrated by EcoHealth Alliance.

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 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, there are pharmaceuticals and vaccine developers who can make use of gain-of-function research to develop new vaccines.

Third, the US military may have interests in such research. According to Francis Boyle, a lawyer who has for decades argued against bioweapon technology, in his interview with Dr. Mercola, the U.S. government spent $100 billion on biological warfare programs from September 11, 2011, up until October 2015.

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…”

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? It is quite possible.

Should potentially dangerous gain-of-function research that allows better infectivity of infectious disease in humans even be done? Activists organizations like the Organic Consumers Association do not think so and are actively calling for a global ban on gain-of-function experimentation, citing its potential for causing another global pandemic.

Whatever the origins of COVID, the weaponization of “conspiracy theory” is a check on such citizen inquiry. It is clear to see that citizens can play an important role in judging whether moral and ethical guidelines were followed by the authorities. 

Chicago Tribune reports: “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. This Chicago Tribune article is one such piece, and likewise, it can be examined using the discussed framework.

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 (ie. 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. The piece relies upon the ad hominem fallacy by indirectly mocking the “extreme” views held by the anti-vaccine.

The important question to ask is: what are the actual concerns of those who are questioning the COVID vaccine? The article itself laments the fact that “only 47% of Americans plan to get the vaccine.” With so many people questioning the vaccine, the article fails to address the fundamental concern of vaccine safety.

Concerns over vaccine safety have been discussed for over 6 months now and are the leading concern regarding the vaccine for the public. While normally a given vaccine can take up to a decade to develop, COVID vaccines developed under Emergency Use Authorization under the FDA were developed around 8 months under Operation Warp Speed and uses a novel mRNA technology that will utilize the human body’s own cells to develop the antigen.

There are fundamentally complex issues here that the Chicago Tribute piece glosses over.  First, the Chicago Tribune article doesn’t acknowledge that what they term as “Satan’s microchips” actually exists. Billionaire vaccine-proponent Bill Gates, in conjunction with MIT, has unveiled “quantum dot technology” that would store vaccination records under the skin of the recipients and then read by smartphones.

At a time when surveillance is pervasive in our lives, shouldn’t we the public 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?

Second, the safety testing for the COVID vaccine does not address long-term health effects. Is there the possibility for long-term health effects from the novel mRNA technology?

According to Tal Brosh, head of the Infectious Disease Unit at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital, when asked about COVID vaccine safety, he acknowledged that “there are unique and unknown risks to messenger RNA vaccines, including local and systemic inflammatory responses that could lead to autoimmune conditions.”

Third, the Chicago Tribute piece does not acknowledge the serious adverse effects had been 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 are warning that a certain proportion of people taking the vaccine would experience some sort of adverse effect, including flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and fever.

Furthermore, there are acknowledged problems in the vaccine safety assessment methodology that this piece does not comment on. According to Children’s Health Defense, 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.

Finally, the article does not acknowledge another important question: who decides if the risk/benefit calculation is worth it to take 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?

The CDC’s data indicates the risk profiles for COVID-19 vary dramatically depending on age and pre-existing conditions. Is it ethical for medicine to treat everyone as equally vulnerable when the data indicates this is not the case? Shouldn’t a person be free to choose the right decision for himself or herself, and have all data and transparency to do so?

The COVID vaccine decision is a multi-faceted one that resists oversimplification. The weaponization of “conspiracy theory” seeks to make crucial medical decisions for us, and seeks to limit our free inquiry and critical thinking - critical thinking is especially needed when we bear the long-term costs of those decisions. 

Conspiracy Inquiry – Calling Power into Account

We now live in the time of fake news, at a time when powerful individuals and the authorities can push their political and ideological agendas. We are in an unprecedented time where the Internet has given us amazing amounts of information at our fingertips. At the same time, the speed at which information flows has created the overt incentive for power authorities to control that information.

Propaganda is right before our eyes. Yet it often goes by different names, for example, public relations, fake news, fact checks, and even our search engines manipulate search results to drive ideology. And one of the newest and most effective forms of propaganda is the weaponization of “conspiracy theory.” As news consumers, we should rightfully be skeptical whenever the term “conspiracy theory” is used.

It should be noted too that 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.

At the same time, 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 to critically think through 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? 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.