Wayland, the author of Drama of Covid! is a friend and member of La Cruz Writers’ Group. Over the years he has impressed me with his scientific thinking and creating problem solving. Drama of Covid! is well researched and this complex issue is synthesized into a fast reading thought provoking article. Comments encouraged.
Lynn Bradshaw, La Cruz Writer’s Group facilitator.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Drama of Covid-19! 2
Covid-19! True or False 2
Scientific Facts 2
Evaluating Emerging Scientific Information 2
Political ‘Facts’ 3
Herd Immunity 3
Vaccine Testing 7
Cause of Death 8
How did Epidemic Start? 9
- A) Those Making A Fortune From This Pandemic 10
- B) To Be Able to ‘Mind Control’ Populations 12
- C) To Gain a National Primacy 13
- D) An Accident 13
- E) A Terrorist Attack 14
- F) Zoonotic Origin 14
Conspiracy Theories 15
Evaluating Conspiracy Theories 16
We All Decide for Ourselves 19
Drama of Covid-19!
by Wayland Combe Wright
I have been amazed during the last few weeks by the variety explanations and interpretations my friends are giving to the Covid-19 pandemic. They range from what I call “Covid cautious” through degrees of “Covid doubtful” and onto the more extreme “Covid hoax” convictions.
At this point I must confess that I myself am ‘biased’, I come from a science background which might explain why I am automatically “Covid cautious”. So my first reaction was to be baffled that anyone can think differently followed by curiosity to find out how this could be. The following is the result of my efforts.
I noticed two basic areas of discussion, one is about whether Covid-19 is actually serious, or even a complete hoax. The other discussion is about how and where it started. Since it is already upon us, the first discussion is the most immediate one and I will start there.
Covid-19! True or False
I have faith, meaning trust and confidence in science which stems from the overall success science and technology has had in the world around us. I don’t have faith in any idea that is unproven or unprovable, I simply see such things as possibilities. If somebody just told me about such intangible concepts as atoms and quantum mechanics, I wouldn’t believe them but I would take note. Then when these ideas evolve into hands-on technology like cell phones and computers I start to believe. In the same way I have faith in the science of epidemiology.
This examines the causes of epidemics which have plagued humanity from time immemorial, how they are spread, and how to contain and stop them. Recently there was an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in what is to me, remote Africa. Even though there was no Ebola vaccine at that time, the epidemic in this largely uneducated and superstitious population was successfully stopped just by wearing masks, social distancing, and quarantine. I was impressed. As a result I have confidence that there are people who can advise on how to avoid contamination for this disease and important details like effective mask design.
Evaluating Emerging Scientific Information
Scientists’ prestige relates to the number of papers they have published, in consequence there is a huge amount of new papers being published. In 2006 1.3 m were published by 23,750 journals all of which say they peer-review the articles they publish. An experiment that has been peer-reviewed is one that has been checked by fellow scientists and repeated by other researchers in their laboratories. There is absolutely no way that many papers could be peer-reviewed. There are only about half a dozen high status journals such as Nature, the Lancet, the Scientific American, and the New Scientist that can be relied upon to publish genuinely peer-reviewed papers.
This is why anybody who calls himself a scientist can get published. Some of these may be bona fide and go on to be published in a recognised scientific journal. Since absolutely everything gets onto the Internet one has to be very cautious about how one interprets the findings. The first thing to check is to see how the experiment has been peer-reviewed. If it is statistical in nature, the key thing to look for is the population size and type, often for lack of funds these are pilot experiments examining only small populations that may not even be representative.
This explains why such diverse “discoveries” are reported, for example; one team finds that a glass of wine a day promotes long life and the next day another team finds that it is better not to consume any alcohol whatsoever. To do all this is a drag which is why many people don’t check and come to incorrect conclusions. This is important, especially because sometimes a fraud is committed as when Andrew Wakefield linked autism with the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine. The alarm this caused led to parents not vaccinating their children and many died from measles.
For more information click the Guardian
The next big issue I notice is the confidence we place in ‘facts’ given to us by politicians who we have learned are inveterate liars, some more than others. This is in contrast to facts given by recognised scientists who have a record of being more reliable. The thing with Covid-19 is that the two sources of information have converged and got tangled up with the result that we hear politicians telling us what scientists are saying! A real mess that is difficult to unravel. Many of us, myself included, resist been told what to do by a government official whilst I am more likely to take our doctor seriously
Pharmaceuticals are another issue. I was brought up in England under the National Health System so I never had to worry about the cost of medicine. In other less fortunate countries like the US pharmaceuticals are big business and the development of new drugs can be unscrupulous. Sometimes they test new drugs on people with dire consequences which are often not reported. Hence films like “The Constant Gardener”. Very occasionally a drug does get into the market that causes a true disaster like phalidamide. I can easily understand how people can be suspicious of pharmaceutical companies which have earned a diabolical reputation for their disregard of human lives for profit. However my experience with vaccines has always been very positive.
Depending on how contagious a disease is, a sufficient proportion of the population needs to become immune before it dwindles out of existence. Hence the now famous term ‘herd immunity’, and for which the R number is estimated to link the number of new infections created by each sick person to contagion. The reasoning is that if the R number is low enough, herd immunity can the obtained, and the percentage of people in a population that need to be immune for the disease to fizzle out can be calculated. For a milder contagion like Covid-19 this could be an easy solution, we would continue living and working as normal and there would be no quarantine or lockdown required.
All things being equal, to judge whether to go for herd immunity or to take preventive measures while waiting for a vaccine depends on the relative cost in terms of human lives lost. For a mortal disease this means that a certain proportion of the population will die before reaching herd immunity.
As it turns out all things are not equal, the R number is constantly varying. It also varies widely from area to area within a country, being higher in urban areas, how people are living, how social they are, and the variation in the precautions they are taking or getting tired of taking. For example, across the US the R number varies from 0.3 to 5.00.
More importantly, using the R number is not so useful for coronaviruses because they mutate so frequently. This is because immunity to one strain does not confer complete immunity to the next. No coronavirus has ever been stopped by herd immunity. Viruses normally become less mortal as they mature because the more deadly strains kill the victims which then cannot spread the disease. At present there are indications that immunity to Covid-19 lasts 5 to 9 months.
The oldest viruses, like herpes 1 and 2 (over 6 million years old) infects 80% of us, usually asymptomatically, and when the symptoms do appear they are annoying rather than life-threatening. On the other hand a novel virus such as the Spanish flu was in 1918, denominated H1N1, killed around 50 million people and it did not disappear, it mutated becoming less deadly. It is now no just another flu virus.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Asian countries near to China who had already experienced SARS and Mers were prepared and took preventive measures immediately. Because there were still few infections they could implement rapid testing and tracking to isolate infected people. This was very effective, and without needing to impose a total lockdown many of these countries are succeeding in containing the disease.
Other countries, like England and Sweden purposely started off going for the herd immunity route but sooner or later the human cost was seen to be far too great. The hospitals were overloaded and more had to be built. The staff was overwhelmed and under protected and many died. The West was completely unprepared, they took months to organise tests and when they did, they did it very inefficiently.
They couldn’t even get protective garments and masks! As a result of this chaos reigned and the disease really got a grip on their populations, and in these circumstances testing and tracking is ineffective. Anyone needing hospital treatment for all the normal reasons had to be sidetracked.
Anyone going to hospital was likely to catch Covid-19 if they didn’t already have it. Hospitalised Covid-19 victims could not get adequate treatment causing many more to die, and other patients couldn’t get to hospital for surgery or other treatments they urgently needed causing great suffering and more deaths.
Some countries like Canada which have a generally more disperse population were not so badly hit at the beginning, and since they took better precautions they avoided overloading their hospitals.
For more information please click Nature Research
The chart below gives an idea of how Western Europe and the US compare to most Asian states. For a lot more information please click John Hopkins University
China deaths/million 3.31
South Korea ” 28.74
Vietnam ” 0.36
New Zealand ” 5.1
Canada ” 220
across Western Europe + US ” 1400 – 1800 (except Germany, 760)
The indication is that we will not be able to totally eradicate Covid 19 as we did smallpox for example. The best hope we have is updating vaccines as we have been doing for flue which may not confer total immunity, but will at least attenuate the disease. Simultaneously, drugs that help cure the disease are being developed.
Probably some degree of social distancing and mask wearing in certain areas will be necessary for some time until the disease mutates into milder forms and we develop a degree of natural immunity. At this point, Covid 19 will be no more than just another flue.
For a lot more information on this click Nature Magazine.
In the 50s and 60s I saw many people crippled by polio and others with the incredibly pockmarked faces of smallpox survivors. History is full of terrible stories of people dying horribly from tuberculosis, but none of my generation suffered any of these tragedies, we were all inoculated for polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, tetanus, and even rabies. I never thought twice about getting our child inoculated as a baby, these were lifesavers. Nowadays I never see anyone who’s had polio, smallpox or any of these other diseases so these vaccinations must be effective.
inoculated with factionI understand people’s suspicion of these new Covid-19 vaccines because they were developed and tested so fast. Other vaccines have taken five or six years to develop, the Ebola vaccine was only cleared for use in 2019. HIV AIDS still has no vaccine but here there are complications. Many governments do not prioritise AIDS because of its association with homosexuality and Ebola was not prioritised because it was seen as a tropical disease of Third World countries. The priority given to these new vaccines is of a totally different order of magnitude.
A worldwide calamity is in process, this is not just a humanities issue such as a slave labour but a financial one threatening the sacred corporations of our world, such as the hotel business, casinos, entire airlines, cruise ships, entertainment and tourism in all its aspects; something much worse than the 2008 financial crisis or 9/11. The only real solution is to find a vaccine, so no wonder governments are investing billions of dollars in pharmaceuticals to save their economies. Also philanthropists have been throwing money at this cause for humanitarian reasons.
Add to this the recent dramatic advances in genetics and molecular biology like the genetic editing technique, crispR which has led to the discovery of new, more sophisticated, and faster ways of developing a vaccine. Add a touch of vaccine nationalism to the brew and the amazing speed of vaccine development is understandable.
Unnoticed to the general public, the art of developing vaccines has also made great strides in the past few years. As is always the case, practice makes perfect; for example the first genome analysis took years and now you can get your personal genome analysed in a few days. For example, it was the Oxford University laboratory that with limited funding developed a vaccine for Ebola in 2019.
Then they developed a vaccine for the Mers epidemic of 2018, another zoonotic coronavirus which had jumped from camels to humans. They had developed a new and rapid approach to making a vaccine, and finishing that they noticed the coronavirus outbreak in China. They were able to continue straight on, using the same technique to make a vaccine for Covid-19 when they sensed that this was about to become an epidemic or even a pandemic. They realised that this was related to SARS-CoV-1 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) another zoonotic viral infection that started from bats and probably jumped to civets sold in a Southern Chinese market.
It’s worth noting that bats have a very unusual immune system that allows them to be an asymptomatic host to a whole library of viruses which will infect whatever eats them. Fascinating research has been done into this (Google: bats gene VP35). As a result bats are often found to be the source of infections from zoonotic viruses, often indirectly through other intermediate animal vectors.
By the time the Oxford laboratory had found a vaccine, the British government had finally woken up to the fact that they were looking at a pandemic. So they quickly gave them a grant so that they could move forward and find a company to mass-produce it. They had difficulty doing this because they wanted their virus to be sold at cost price, at least during the pandemic.
Finally they found AstraZeneca, a Swiss pharmaceutical willing to do it but with a disadvantage, they had never before produced a vaccine. The British government then invested heavily in the deal of the century, 100 million doses.
There are two stages in the development of a vaccine, the first is the laboratory research stage to find a vaccine, the second is to find a pharmaceutical company capable of mass-producing it for distribution. Some companies like Pfizer and Moderna incorporate both stages, some universities have laboratories funded by the government as in England.
Microbiologists working in university laboratories are more likely to be open about their discoveries and share information. In contrast, corporate laboratories are sworn to secrecy. Microbiologists tend to be motivated more by humanitarian reasons than financial ones, in this crisis every able-bodied microbiologist was on board working day and night both for altruistic reasons and professional pride.
I don’t know the back story of how the other vaccines were produced but I have a feeling there was some sharing of information between the Oxford University group and the Russian Sputnik V group. Both were quick to develop the more stable the DNA vaccines using adenoviruses as the vector (types of virus that causes the common cold).
All the vaccines we’ve seen so far are so-called ‘second-generation vaccines’. They’re using techniques not used before for making a vaccine which is causing some people concerned. Traditional forms of vaccine development take longer and I’m sure will be available later, but under the circumstances, even if these more recent developments require two shots rather than one and may not last so long they will save millions of lives.
All that was left was to test sample populations to verify the safety and effectiveness of each vaccine. Those governments willing to fast track this lengthy procedure start vaccinating quickly, those risk-adverse like the EU, delay and suffer the consequences.
It’s worth noting that if the science community is to find out the relative efficiency of all the different and new types of vaccines that have been produced, it is necessary to track the history of people who they vaccinate. It is vital that we develop the science of vaccines because this will inevitably happen again.
For information on new vaccines please click New York Times and Futurity and the Guardian.
Another detail is how vaccines are tested. If they are not all tested the same way, they cannot be fairly compared; it’s the apples to apples thing. It’s not just a case of size of population tested, but of its consistency. In general coloured people are being found to be more susceptible than whites with the exception of Indians who are more resistant. Poor people who tend to live closer together, can’t afford the same healthcare, and are more likely to be in the front line working force are extra more susceptible.
Then there is the issue of what you call a vaccine failure; are people who become symptomatically infected counted as a failure? Or do you start counting with the ones who get sick? Or just the ones that go to hospital? The only testing program I know of that counted those that became asymptomatically infected as a failure is AstraZeneca. They also noted that one jab gave good results.
They also did a lot of testing in Brazil where it was not so well managed and some of the test population accidentally got a diluted dose the first time round and the results indicated a much higher efficiency of 90%. Later they realised that it wasn’t the weaker first dose, but a longer interval between the two jabs that caused improvement, from four weeks to 12 weeks.
Most important is that the vaccine proved safe although there was a bump on the road when somebody did get seriously ill. It took them seven weeks to be sure that it wasn’t the vaccine. When comparing the efficiencies of Covid-19 vaccines keep in mind that the generally accepted flu vaccine has an efficiency of only 50%.
Cause of Death
I think that one of the main controversies is the correct diagnosis of the cause of death when Covid-19 is involved. Covid-19 kills a far larger percentage of older people who are more likely to have pre-existing health problem so there is a controversy over what the person really died of. Unfortunately, the same could be said of flue and many other diseases. One could consider it as another disease that can rather drastically shorten a person’s life. It is very rare that a plague, such as the 1918 Spanish flu, prefers to attack younger people.
However I do not consider this as a reason to disregard the importance of this disease, 15% of North Americans are over 65 which is more than 50 million people. Worldwide there are more than 700 million people over 65, so it is easy to see that if Covid-19 were left to run itself out without precautions more than 50 million people would die.
A part of the problem is the interpretation of the information that we do have. Covid-19 falls between two stools: it is neither like a flu that can be brushed off as a nuisance or a deadly epidemic such as Ebola or cholera were everybody around us is falling down like ninepins.
Normally flu kills about 12,000 people a year in North America, but in the worst year it killed 60,000. This last is an average of about 164 deaths per day in a population of 300 million. Compare that to current Covid-19 which averages around 4000 deaths per day. That’s 24 times worse, much more than caused by flue but less than caused by cholera. The result is that in parts of the country where the epidemic is not so evident, people are wondering if there really is any danger.
In fact it is most likely that those parts with low infection rates have been saved by either being isolated from contamination, or protected from it by those people who do take the recommended precautions.
Daily reports of Covid-19 infections and deaths are considered by some much too high and by others much too low. To get a better handle of the situation it is important to realise Covid-19 death rates are generally calculated by epidemiologists into three ways. Although the collection of data in some places seems to be a bit haphazard, corrections are made later and the whole process becomes a very sophisticated statistical analysis.
1) The Immediate Death Rate — For speed to enable rapid response. It is emitted by the National Statistics Agency on the same day. It is the sum of all hospital deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate and this is what you see in the newspapers.
2) 20 day count system — 11% of people die of Covid-19 after release from hospital so these are included in this slower system which is not published. In Britain the delay is 20 days, in the US, 60 days. Countries vary.
3) The Excess Death Rate —This is the gold standard for assessing Covid-19 deaths. It compares deaths with the average number of deaths, over the previous five years, for the same period.
4) The P-score tells you what reliability you can have in each country’s published “immediate death” rates. This is the excess death rate for a given country, divided by the average death rate for the same time period of the previous five years, times a hundred. This gives a good way of comparing the accuracy of the measurement systems that different countries use. The P-score for England is currently 48% for the age group 16 – 65 and 15% for the US.
This means that the actual death rate in England for that week was almost twice as much as the reported one. The North Americans were more accurate, their actual death rate was only one fifth higher than that reported. In Germany the P-score is lower meaning that they are much more accurate in their reporting. In Spain they started wildly underestimated actual death rate but now they are pretty accurate. The P-score for different age groups is calculated for each country.
As a rule of thumb, I conclude that actual death rate in countries where careful records are kept such as the US, Britain, and Europe; actual death rates are around 20% higher.
Please click Our World in Data for complete explanation.
How Did Epidemic Start?
Many people suspect that the pandemic was caused by someone or some government who benefited from it financially.
To get an idea of which pharmaceuticals are profiteering, here is a list of the normal sales prices that they charge. Sometimes the price varies according to quantities bought:
Moderna $25 – $50 (might sell for $3 to Covac)
AstraZeneca $3 – $4 (a member of Covac, a global initiative aiming to distribute 2 billion vaccines doses to 92 low and middle income countries for no more than $3 a dose.)
Johnson & Johnson $10
Sinovac Biotech $60
A) Those Making A Fortune From This Pandemic
Here is a list of the usual suspects:
1) Jeff Bezos’s Amazon is not just a parcel delivery service, but a veritable empire that also includes Amazon Web Services (AWS) that controls 40% or more of cloud services running Netflix, Twitter, the government secret services like the NSA and CIA, big industries like General Electric Unilever and so on including health and medical companies. Check the Guardian.
- a) He has the money; on a good pandemic day he can make more than $10 billion.
- b) He appears to have no altruistic humanitarian ethics and could be capable of doing this.
- a) His ambition in life is to relentlessly increase his online services to fund his dream of space colonisation via Blue Origin to escape Earth which he seems to consider a lost cause.
- b) Over-population does not concern him, thus he is unlikely to do anything to reduce his customer base.
2) Alphabet/Google is another Internet Empire including YouTube, Android, maps etc. but it is also an evolving technological empire and is closely associated with Apple.
- a) They have the money, they are in the $1 trillion club and are doing very well on account of their massive internet presence but nothing like as well as Amazon.
- b) They have the technology to do this.
- a) They would have been smart enough to realise that they would lose too much advertising revenue to make it worthwhile.
- b) Google invests the money it makes into new technologies like driverless cars, robotics, life sciences, and AI. In contrast to Amazon, they show a more positive approach to life and for their employees. Could they really be capable of such a heinous crime?
3) The Facebook conglomerate which includes WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus VR is also one of the biggest and richest Internet companies.
- a) Facebook’s use increased overall by an average of 70%.
- b) Some consider Mark Zuckerberg capable of doing such a thing and he has the money to do it.
- a) Although the use of Facebook companies almost doubled in some cases, it’s only revenue is from advertising which was greatly reduced. Many companies had to cut their advertising, especially small ones some of which went broke.
- b) It is doubtful that he would have thought of it.
- c) Why would he do something so unscrupulous if he already has the tools to do it by using Cambridge Analytic techniques of targeted advertising and influence people?
4) Pharmaceutical companies are notorious for their capacity to mindlessly extort and even maim people in their drive for profit. Could this epidemic be caused by one of them?
- a) Technically, they are in an ideal position to do so.
- b) Drug companies have swindled us before, they could do it again.
- a) One of the most prepared laboratorys was an independent one and went on to produce a vaccine at cost price. Pfizer or Moderna could be suspect but no pharmaceutical has cornered the market. Both will make a lot of money but lose a lot to AstraZeneca and to the Chinese and Russians.
- b) The competition is huge and there are other companies like Alphabet that are making many times more.
6) Microsoft and Bill Gates in particular often accused of playing to inject people with tracer chips to track them and/or control them.
- a) Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world, so he certainly could afford to do so.
- b) Some consider Bill Gates capable of doing such a thing.
- c) Bill Gates moves in the social circles of the ultra-rich across the political spectrum from George Soros to the eternally scheming Koch Brothers so he could have powerful allies.
- a) Neither Microsoft nor Bill Gates would gain anything from a pandemic.
- b) Bill Gates gave a TED talk warning that this would likely happen.
- c) Location chips, small as they are, could not be kept in a liquid suspension, and could never pass down an injection needle.
- d) This would require the total complicity of the pharmaceutical company making the serum and the people giving the injections. That’s a lot of people to organise. It would be impossible to do this without somebody blowing the whistle.
- e) To be effective it would require one pharmacy to supply all the vaccines, at least in the US or in whatever country targeted by this treatment and this hasn’t happened.
- f) Even if it could be done, each injection would be prohibitively expensive to treat a whole population of millions of people.
5) Other winners like Telsa, Zoom, and many healthcare companies, all the way down to porn and sex toy companies who are booming but I find it very difficult to conjure up any suspicion of them.
B) To Be Able to ‘Mind Control’ Populations
We are in an age where there is a CCTV camera on every corner and the NSA is eavesdropping on whoever they please and the Chinese even more so, and everyone is hacking everyone else. At every opportunity governments are forever tightening control over what we do and how we behave. As people increasingly rebel could they have found a way to ensure compliance with an injection? Now we’re getting into the ‘Borg’ zone.
- a) Molecular biology has got to the point where it is possible to accurately edit DNA. Some people with genetically inherited diseases can be cured by injecting them with corrective DNA.
- b) Communists have claimed that if the US were to nationalise Amazon, the US would become a de facto Communist regime.
- c) Big Tech is changing the nature of capitalist government in the US as it becomes increasingly techno-feudal (Yanis Varoufakis). As such, this would be a good way to keep the peasants from revolting.
- a) There are only a few diseases like sickle-cell anaemia that can be controlled by gene editing. There are genes that may increase the probability of you getting a certain kind of cancer or a characteristic like red hair. Qualities like intelligence and behaviour are influenced by complex sets of genes which are not yet understood. However human behaviour is only influenced genetically. Unlike other animals, the human mind is much more plastic, meaning that it is less determined by genes and more by nurture.
It’s possible that people could be genetically engineered to become more friendly by altering a few genes on chromosome 7, and that might not be a bad thing.
- b) To alter our brains the agent would have to cross the blood to brain barrier which cannot be done yet. All gene treatments are limited to correcting blood problems and a few bodily organs.
- c) Even if it could be done, each injection would be prohibitively expensive to treat a whole population of millions of people.
- d) Again, this would require the total complicity of the pharmaceutical company making the serum and the people giving the injections. That’s a lot of people. It would be impossible to do this without somebody blowing the whistle.
- e) This would require one pharmacy to give all the injections, at least in the US or in whatever country targeted subject by this treatment.
C) To Gain a National Primacy
It could be that the pandemic was started by a country such as the US to diminish China’s ranking in world politics.
This would be very much in line with Donald Trump’s policy but not Putin’s.
China’s high level of security would make this very difficult. This would be the trademark of a Russian style attack, not an American one. The Americans forté is a Seal team with helicopters.
D) An Accident
All major countries have laboratories that militarise contagious mortal diseases like anthrax. Could this have been an accidental leak from a Wuhan laboratory?
- a) Unlikely that there would be such a laboratory in or near a big city. Such laboratories are usually placed in remote place just so that this doesn’t happen.
- b) The Chinese are particularly careful in their security. Even in countries like the US and the UK where people are sometimes a little more slapdash and there have been mishaps, but a serious accident has never happened.
- c) Militarised viruses are quick-acting with a high mortality rate like anthrax, smallpox and ebola. Covid-19 would be useless for military use, wonderful for contagion but really sucks at killing military aged young people. It is good at killing older and incapacitated people but that is useless from a military point of view.
- d) If the virus had been created by genetic manipulation another route would have been taken. This virus is derived from a completely new kind of ‘virus of backbone’. For more complete explanation checkout this Nature.
E) A Terrorist Attack
There are various terrorist groups who could be motivated to do this, from fanatical Islamists like Isis to homebred alt-right militants. These are the only realms where I think you could find somebody with a sufficiently high coefficient of craziness to do something like this.
- a) A fanatical Muslim Uighur could be motivated to do this and they would have language and familiarity to act in China.
- b) A homebred alt-right white fanatic like Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber motivated to undermine China to please Donald Trump.
- c) A homebred left-wing fanatic as depicted in the Tom Hanks film, ‘Switch’ to save the world from overpopulation.
- a) All foreigners in China are watched too carefully for an American militant to do this.
- b) All Chinese Uighurs are also carefully monitored so would be very difficult for this to happen.
- c) This would require specialist skills that a terrorist would not have.
F) Zoonotic Origin
The origin of Covid-19 could be zoonotic meaning that it originated in another animal and jumped to humans.
- a) This has happened many times before with coronaviruses like the influenza virus. In 1918 an avian virus jumped to humans, possibly via another vector. Since then there have been the threats of three pandemics involving monkeys, ducks, camels, and pigs as vectors. Genetic analysis of Covid-19 links it indirectly to bats via another vector.
There is ample scientific evidence to show that the Covid-19 virus originated in one of the Chinese horseshoe bats and came to humans via another vector. It would be far too much for me to present this evidence here, please check such an article as in Microbiology Australia.
- b) Apart from wars most disasters have natural causes. Because someone takes advantage of a bad situation doesn’t mean to say that he caused it. He may be unscrupulous but that’s different. There is no causal effect here. “It’s an ill wind that blows no man any good”. Every time disaster, no matter how terrible, automatically creates a situation where some people make a fortune.
Although the pandemic started in Wuhan and animals for sale in the market were found to be infected, the first infected person had never been to that market. So the exact origin of the pandemic is still a mystery. There is a kind of horseshoe bat that carries a Covid 19 like virus that is 96% identical to the human type, and some pangolins are infected with a version that carries a very similar spike protein.
But something more is required before it becomes properly contagious to humans. Perhaps this virus evolved naturally in the human, or perhaps there is another more devious explanation.
These are normally theories that suggest some influential organisation is secretly responsible for an event. If one of these theories becomes widely accepted, which can occasionally happen; then it is no longer deemed a conspiracy theory but simply a part of history. I agree that when mainstream media wholeheartedly promotes an idea, we should not automatically adopt it and vice versa. Ideas need to be evaluated on their own merits. The detail here is how we examine this information. Some people have always had unconventional and wild ideas.
Occasionally they work out to be true and revolutionise our thinking. In the realm of science, Galileo would be a good early recorded example, in the realm of politics, John Locke and Benjamin Franklin. These are examples of people whose ideas were totally rubbished by the mainstream in their day.
Nowadays conspiracy theories start by people spotting inconsistencies in the reported news and finding an alternative interpretation of events. Great care must be taken because the evidence is often only circumstantial which can lead to cruel misinterpretations.
For example, when I was a kid, homosexuals were considered to be perverts who had chosen to, or been seduced into behaving in a criminal way. It wasn’t until more recently that it was observed that all animals have individuals that exhibit homosexual behaviour and that this is entirely normal and genetically transmitted. This kind of mistake is due to a basic human flaw; the ease with which we jump to conclusions and make wrong assumptions.
Now that the Internet has completely revolutionised the availability of information, every idea that anyone has ever had is available to us all thanks to ingenious platforms like Google and other social network providers like Facebook. If you search for something on a browser you will get many items on the same subject. If you look up ‘viruses’ you will get a ton of information from different sources across the world on viruses. If I look up ‘flat Earth’ you will likewise get a ton of information of people that are convinced beyond any doubt that the world is flat.
If you use Facebook or something like it, you will subsequently be able to contact other people with the same views and get more information irrespective of the reliability of that information. In many ways this is a wonderful thing, but it does tend to divide people up into their interest categories.
This makes them more powerful as a group but also isolates them. Unfortunately, the advertising industry takes a leading role in directing the way we think. Before the Internet they were limited to financing newspapers, magazines, and TV shows to advertise their products. Now with the Internet they have gained enormous leverage to manipulate what we buy and what we think.
We see this can have bad consequences clearly illustrated by the Netflix documentaries ‘The Social Dilemma’ and ‘The Great Hack’. Unfortunately we tend to believe in the printed word whether in a book or on the Internet, and especially if it comes from someone who claims to be in a position of authority.
Evaluating Conspiracy Theories
Validating conspiracy theories is another matter. Conspiracy theories have always been around, but with the Internet we get to see them all. They tend to have emotional appeal and to attract people by their “gut feelings”. This makes it more difficult to have sufficient perspective to evaluate. Generally speaking, most conspiracy theorists present a number of reasons to support their idea. Their reasoning may be carefully made and convincing but if you look carefully, nearly always circumstantial.
In my reasoning I look to see if I can find one single absolutely solid indisputable piece of evidence. Nowadays, with the advent of cell phones with cameras, video footage can provide this kind of indisputable evidence as in the case of police brutality reports in the US. Some conspiracy theories can never be convincingly discounted. For example, there was a strong case proposing that the first moon landing was a Hollywood drama. There was a long list of reasons to support this. It needed detailed scientific knowledge to derail them.
However there was one piece of evidence that was more difficult to dismiss; when the lunar module landed using recto-firing rockets, intuition tells you that all the moon dust beneath it should have been blown away, but when the first astronaut set foot on the moon surface’s he left footprints in the dust! But balance this against the fact that over 400,000 people were involved in the enterprise and there was never a whistleblower. I could not believe it was faked. Subsequent events proved that it wasn’t.
In everyday life we find out about what’s going on around us by talking to our friends. The picture we get is guided by hearsay of various degrees of reliability. People tend to embellish their stories to make them more entertaining, some people more than others, possibly even jumping to conclusions and then it becomes gossip. Usually we know our friends well enough to judge who is gossiping and who isn’t. The friends we make tend to be people of similar leanings to ourselves so the picture we build up of the world around us becomes mutually reinforcing.
We quickly find people of our leanings to share information with. But now we are dealing with people we don’t actually know and can’t easily evaluate, we take them at face value. Now with Internet platforms like Facebook similar trends occur, but now it is not limited to local news. It is the most remarkable stories that catch people’s attention which are passed on.
There’s a big difference between a trained journalist and a normal person. I know this from personal experience, I lived in Nicaragua for the last two years of the Sandinista government and witnessed and heard a lot of what was going on. I met a BBC journalist and talked to him for some time and was dismayed by the way he downplayed what I had to say. Gradually I realised how my own emotions were magnified by the shock of what I was seeing and causing me to exaggerate. In the end I concluded that he was a pretty cool character.
Loyalty has always been a highly valued human quality. It is a kind of herd instinct which we express as loyalty to our family, friends, country, and possibly on outwards. It is the source of the passion that regiments people behind their leaders, but also for humans in a more abstract form, behind ideas. It can be the source of friendly competition in games and sport, but also in the extreme, for terrible destruction. By definition, once we commit ourselves to a leader or an idea we will not easily be deterred.
Different shades of loyalty guide us in our everyday life and this enables us to be stable and constant in what we do. But sometimes loyalty can be an obstacle and make it difficult to be fluid when we need to. It is our nature to identify with the ideas we hold, even great scientists tend to do this, for example Albert Einstein believed the universe to be a deterministic one based on cause and effect.
When his successors like Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger proposed the quantum theory, Einstein was wary, claiming “God does not play dice with the universe” and he declared quantum entanglement to be “spooky action at a distance”. The true scientific approach is to only hold an idea until it is superseded by a better one. This is very different from ‘flip-flopping’ as in changing political affiliations for convenience.
This faithful attachment to ideas makes it difficult for people with opposing ideas to come to terms and discuss them sensibly without ‘flaming’ each other. However I think this is the only way to reduce such tensions. It requires each side to find ways of presenting their ideas in a way that does not inflame their opponents.
Such discussion is the basis of the debating system where each side gets a certain time to present its ideas and the argument goes backwards and forwards until finally the event is wound up by a judge, although everyone in the audience has probably drawn their own conclusions. I think some kind of discussion of this type is essential to reduce tensions in our times.
At the moment news channels are divided into the mainline ones like CNN and the alternative ones like Fox News. This means that anyone interested in any kind of conspiracy theory is funnelled to Fox News or similar sources like Facebook, together with the really extreme QAnon enthusiasts.
This explains why, before January 6 at least, my Covid-19 cautious friends knew nothing about QAnon while my Covid-19 hoaxer friends did. Also here in Mexico where there is no Fox News or mention of these conspiracy theories on Spanish-speaking Facebook, no one I know has heard of QAnon.
Because so many of us at this time feel shortchanged by our governments we want to vent our anger and find justice. Unfortunately there are people who get a kick out of riling people and who are only too willing to initiate such theories. Some of them are charismatic people who put out a vehement, convincing performance and by doing so win popularity, fame, and fortune.
There are now even phrases like ‘atrocity grooming’ to describe this kind of phenomena. This is nothing but it goes unnoticed because we are normally the unwitting, naive victims of it. I was first made rudely aware of it in Nicaragua during the Sandinista administration when there were two newspapers, the ‘Barricada’ and the ‘Prensa Libre’.
The former was the government sponsored newspaper which published actual accounts of events even if sometimes embellished, the Prensa Libre was the CIA sponsored newspaper that published accounts that were usually totally fake, and sometimes even hilariously so. The creation of fake news is an art form that has now reached its zenith thanks to Facebook.
Personally, I consider belief in conspiracy theories of the nature of QAnon to be misdirected anger. I deeply sympathise with the idea that there is some kind of overall hidden cabal trying to control and disempower us. But in actual fact I don’t think it is hidden but in plain sight. Every corporation or power seeking entity is motivated by greed.
This means they are motivated to move in the same way as if there was an overriding authority, but the authority is the global market. It makes me think of a flock of starlings, a murmuration sweeping across the sky like a huge magical shape-shifting monster in purposeful harmony to avoid a predator. Likewise with a shoal of fish; there’s actually no real leader, just instinctual crowd behaviour that we also exhibit.
The main problem is the monetization of social media by advertising. The raison d’être of these companies is to make money, not help people. The solution is for Internet platforms to stop advertising and find other ways of financing themselves. Examples of public government financing all the BBC, DW, and the PBS), of pay to view systems (like Netflix), and the most successful which is voluntarily supported by patrons (like Wikipedia and the Guardian). All of these are highly successful.
We All Decide for Ourselves
Naturally, we all figure out for ourselves what we think happened based on our own understanding of the situation. For myself, the first idea that comes to mind is along the lines of: “It’s an ill wind that blows no man any good”. I think the film “Contagion” was a brilliant forewarning of what was about to happen. It is important that we don’t make pre-emptive decisions based on suspicions and gut feelings that we are all bound to have, but to reserve judgement until we are in command of the relevant facts. And as more information sheds new light on the situation we have to be ready to change our conclusions accordingly.
Information for this article was gleaned from Wikipedia, Nature Research, the New Scientist, the Scientific American, Australian Microbiology, and the Guardian newspaper.
© 2021 by Wayland Combe Wright
The Octopus’s Garden