For a group that once prescribed heroin as a cough suppressant, advertised cigarettes in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and – as recently as six weeks ago – over-reported all-time pediatric deaths from COVID by 23.7% (oops! #CodingLogicError), medical “experts” exercise an astounding lack of intellectual humility.
And yet, this hubris – which poses a far greater threat to patient care than any particular misstep – goes largely unchecked. Unless, of course, you count satirical headlines from The Babylon Bee, such as:
Or, my personal favorite:
It is precisely this pride, and the vitriol with which dissenters are attacked, that has – under the pressure cooker of COVID – completely transformed the hallmarks of critical thinking (like, say: asking questions) into telltale signs of Society’s biggest shame:
The conspiracy theory.
So what happens when COVID conspiracy theorists (formerly known as free thinkers) get it right? Well, in today’s progressive political climate, where radical love, acceptance, and understanding are valued above all else, Society immediately acknowledges the merits of the theory’s thesis, thanks the free thinker for saving countless American lives, and diligently sets about to redirect its course.
It’s 2022. The media puts your name on a career-destroying hit list, the government lobbies Big Tech to silence your accounts, and CNN hunts you down in a Cape Coral beach town while you’re bicycle riding shirtless to ask how you feel about having your entire life destroyed. (Shout-out to Dr. Mercola!)
Ya know, just typical First Amendment stuff designed to foster scientific innovation.
(For more on medical censorship, check out these Ivy League scientists shunned for their COVID views.)
Whatever your opinion on Dr. Mercola (the point of this post isn’t to endorse any one specific scientist or theory , but rather the right of scientists to actually have theories), the man was publicly humiliated for speculating – among other things – that COVID-19 originated in a lab (as opposed to the “natural origins” theory).
“But, wait a second,” you might be thinking. “On August 27, 2021, the Director of National Intelligence declassified key takeaways from an Intelligence Council report that found there wasn’t ‘sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way’ and that a ‘laboratory-associated incident’ was plausible.”
Well, first off: Your memory’s incredible.
Secondly, you’re right. But the problem is that prior to May 2021, the Biden administration, media, and Big Tech had all agreed that the “lab leak” theory was nothing more than a conspiracy. Which is why in February 2021, Facebook banned “false claims” that COVID-19 was “man-made or manufactured” – only to turn around and lift the ban in May (“in light of ongoing investigations into [its] origin”).
Now, as funny as it was to watch news outlets scramble to change their old headlines (seriously, check out the examples below), the “lab leak” scenario highlights a much more serious issue: Scientific discourse was stifled to only reflect the prevailing views of those in power. And then, when those views changed, “acceptable discourse” was redefined and everyone went on with their lives like nothing happened.
Everyone, that is, except for the critical thinkers – who had been taught a valuable lesson about what happens when you question The Establishment.
Now if you think Dr. Mercola’s controversial, you better take a seat before this next introduction.
As one of the most cited scholars in the world, you may be wondering what makes Stanford scientist John Ioannidis such a hot topic. Prior to COVID, Dr. Ioannidis was heralded as “one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research.” Describing his work in 2010, The Atlantic writes:
“[Ioannidis] and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies […] is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90% of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field’s top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences.”
And yet, after decades of respect from the scientific community (which has cited the 1,300+ studies Ioannidis authored over 400,000 times), the once revered researcher was quickly cut down after writing one short essay:
Citing the need for “unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making” – and bemoaning the “utterly unreliable” data to date – the March 2020 article referenced the one situation where an entire, closed population was tested (the Diamond Princess cruise ship) and noted that, even after adding extra sources of uncertainty, projections based on this scenario would lead to “reasonable estimates for the [COVID-19] case fatality ratio in the general U.S. population [to] vary from 0.05% to 1%” (pointing out that the ratio could be much lower – closer to flu levels – for non-elderly populations, but that, again, “data about the exact level of the epidemic activity” was needed). While Ioannidis leaned towards lower projections, he noted that higher ranges were possible – making the larger point that:
“If we decide to jump off the cliff [with lockdowns and social distancing], we need some data to inform us about the rationale of such an action and the chances of landing somewhere safe.”
Keep in mind: That same month, the World Health Organization claimed that the global case fatality rate for COVID-19 was closer to 3.4% (an estimate Ioannidis called “meaningless” due to an “evidence fiasco”).
Fast-forward to May 1, 2022, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case fatality rate for the non-elderly population (0-64 years old) now clocks in at 0.3%, while the World Health Organization’s global case fatality estimate registers at 1.2% (including the elderly population, which skews significantly higher).
And for those curious about earlier numbers (closer to the vaccine roll-out), on April 13, 2021 – just four months after the first vaccine emergency use authorization and four months before official Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval – the CDC case fatality rate for the non-elderly population was still sitting at 0.4%. Restricting the observed age group even further to 0-49 produced a case fatality rate of 0.13% (as Ioannidis noted – to much controversy – in his essay: “a population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05% is lower than seasonal influenza”). While not in official flu territory, these figures – which don’t even take into account the “deaths with COVID” versus “deaths by COVID” data controversy – show that conservative analogies weren’t out of left field.
Now, Ioannidis isn’t without fault. He famously submitted a community sample study (again estimating a low fatality rate) with statistical flaws – which he promptly acknowledged. (An edited version, still including a low estimate, was eventually published by the International Journal of Epidemiology.) For a fascinating Q&A, see: “John Ioannidis Responds to His COVID-19 Critics.” Ioannidis also made an incredibly low death-toll estimate back in April 2020. (For an explanation, in his own words, as to how he got it wrong, see: “A Fool’s Confession and Dissection of a Forecasting Failure” at the end of this International Journal of Forecasting study.)
However, the point remains: Time has proven that Ioannidis – and other “conspiracy theorists” who argued that COVID-19’s overrall impact and death rate wouldn’t be near as high as leading organizations (and the media) claimed – were right.
As further example:
When COVID-19 vaccines first rolled out, “conspiracy theorists” warned that the shots could cause serious side effects and even death. Despite initial shaming, such predictions now appear to be true. As of April 22, 2022, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) lists 1,247,129 COVID vaccine adverse event reports, including 152,946 hospitalizations, 27,532 deaths, 4,570 miscarriages, and 51,163 permanently disabled patients.
Co-managed by the CDC and the FDA, VAERS accepts and analyzes reports of adverse events (i.e., possible side effects) after a person has received a vaccination. While VAERS is not designed to determine if a vaccine caused a health problem, its website claims it is “especially useful for detecting unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse event reporting that might indicate a possible safety problem with a vaccine.”
“Conspiracy theorists” say the chart below – tracking all deaths reported to VAERS between 1990 and 2022 – indicates such a problem:
Free thinkers on the fringe also warned that additional shots would be needed.
They were right again.
On September 22, 2021, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 booster shot. On March 29, 2022, the FDA approved a second booster shot. On April 29, 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking on behalf of the National Institutes of Health, addressed plans for a third booster: “We likely will know over the summer when we’ll be able to, and what we’ll be able to, boost people with.”
However, details surrounding any related deal with Big Pharma may prove fuzzy. When COVID-19 vaccines were first introduced, “conspiracy theorists” predicted that Big Pharma’s vaccination contracts would be shrouded in secrecy. In October 2021, their fears were confirmed by a consumer advocacy group called Public Citizen. In a now infamous report, Public Citizen revealed that vaccine-manufacturer Pfizer produced 73 formalized deals, but only a handful have been made public – each with “significant” redactions. (A heavily redacted version of the U.S. Pfizer contract is available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.)
According to the U.S. Pfizer agreement, neither Pfizer nor the U.S. government can make “any public announcement concerning the existence, subject matter or terms of this Agreement, the transactions contemplated by it, or the relationship between Pfizer and the Government hereunder, without the prior written consent of the other.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism quotes a foreign government official as saying, “Five years in the future when these confidentiality agreements are over, you will learn what really happened in these negotiations.”
Early pandemic “conspiracy theorists” worried that unvaccinated individuals would eventually be shunned from society and unable to work.
While the idea was initially ridiculed, in August 2021, Forbes confirmed that “a ‘no vax, no service’ policy was being adopted by a growing number of restaurants from coast to coast.” Even more alarming, in February 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that “doctors are increasingly refusing to treat the unvaccinated.”
And who could forget President Joe Biden’s September 9, 2021 Department of Labor mandate requiring that employees of all businesses with 100 or more workers be vaccinated or tested once a week? (The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Biden’s mandate on January 13, 2022.)
Oh, and the whole “they’re gonna create camps for the unvaccinated” theory? Well, that one hasn’t come to fruition (is it tempting fate to write “yet”?), but it’s important to point out that free-thinking re-posters aren’t completely off base. On July 26, 2020, the CDC published a document titled “Interim Operational Considerations for Implementing the Shielding Approach to Prevent COVID-19 Infections in Humanitarian Settings,” which describes a “shielding approach” for “limiting contact” in “humanitarian settings” (focused on “camps, displaced populations, and low-resource settings”) between individuals at high risk of developing disease and the general population. While not a camp guidebook, this CDC article does lend legitimacy to the general idea that segmenting certain individuals from others has been discussed.
While it may seem intellectually immature to shout “I told ya so!” from the rooftop, the point of today’s post is to argue the opposite. Because the real issue isn’t that one person was right and another was wrong. It’s that by the time everyone else comes around, the “conspiracy theorist” – who, in pre-COVID times, may have been ridiculed but never so maliciously vilified – has already been destroyed, and with him the courage of countless other free thinkers to explore independent, and potentially revolutionary, free thought.
Sound a little too dramatic? Join me in a quick flashback to the 1800s…
Before the germ theory was accepted, scientists used to think that atmospheric impurities (“miasmata”) caused diseases like cholera. (During the Plague, people even wore beak-shaped masks to keep miasmata away!)
When Dr. John Snow refuted the miasma theory (which dates back to Hippocrates), he was mocked for challenging the mainstream medical consensus. However, Snow’s theory – that cholera was caused by bad water, not air – was later proved correct and changed the course of history.
As Dr. Ros Stanwell-Smith writes:
“I guess [Dr. Snow] was a bit of a maverick, he was ridiculed by some, but stuck to his theory and was proved right.”
In fact, history is riddled with evolving theories and “that’s too crazy to be true” ideas. (Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr’s fiery quantum physics debates come to mind!) Which is why the modern tendency to discourage free thought and advance a singular, government-endorsed understanding of “science” is so perplexing. If the end goal is to truly advance science, you would think that the scientific method – the foundation of which is to ask questions – would be more enthusiastically embraced.
However, the Biden administration seems to be going in another direction, as the United States government moves forward with the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board – announced by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a budget hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on April 27, 2022. (While the so-far-stated goal of Biden’s Disinformation Board is “countering disinformation coming from Russia and rebutting misleading information aimed at migrants hoping to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border,” newly appointed executive director Nina Jankowicz posted a video of herself singing along to the Mary Poppins soundtrack – you can’t make this stuff up – with new lyrics aimed at not supporting “COVID disinformation” with our “wallet, voice, or vote”… so there’s that.)
Which is why it’s all the more important that conspiracy theory “victories” are held up when vindicated. It’s not necessarily the subject-matter that merits highlighting – but the need, value, and importance of free thought. We must empower the John Snows of our generation and not shame the Niels Bohrs into hiding – because without them, Einstein wouldn’t have become Einstein, and we’d all still be walking around wearing funny looking masks.
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