In a world plagued by nescience and a drought of rationalism, logicality is as barren as a Saharan mile. Finding foliage in such a wasteland is no easy task; but alas, here you are, in what could merely be a mirage.
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” -George Orwell
It’s becoming clear that when folks like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Ed Yong warned years ago that the United States was not prepared for an impending pandemic, their words were unfortunately prescient. Sentiments concerning the underfunding of public health and the lack of infrastructure, proactivity and foresight were the popular postulations propping up these theories-turned-realities at the time. But one element was not forecast for in the degree to which it has hindered our ability to defeat an infectious disease outbreak: our taste for conspiracy theories. We are at a Duel of the Fates moment for America’s health, and the difference in reputability between the sides is comically stark.
Another instance of this misguided attachment reared its ugly head last week, like a sickly groundhog wobbling back into its hole to remind us that this pandemic winter is far from over. Dubbed the Plandemic 2.0 (a reference to the debunked conspiracy theory video from May featuring the estranged researcher, Judy Mikovits), this new viral video attacking the mainstream medical and public health communities was met with its own cartoonish fate.
The video featured a group of people dressed in lab coats purporting to be “America’s Frontline Doctors,” who claimed that hydroxychloroquine was the cure being kept from us and that masks were ipso facto unnecessary. The focal figure garnering both acclaim and ridicule was Dr. Stella Immanuel. Ironically, further reporting has found that few, if any, of these people have much experience on the frontlines of this pandemic. And Immanuel has a questionable at best track record.
In addition to holding a doctor’s license according to the Texas Medical Board, Immanuel is the founder and pastor of Fire Power Ministries in Houston. Over the years, she has made a number of outlandish medical claims that, actually, make sense of her similar nature regarding the COVID-19 pandemic; she has claimed that alien DNA was being used in medicine and that vaccines were being created to prevent religious beliefs. These are the tamest examples. She also alleges that women can contract cysts and endometriosis by having sex with witches and demons in their dreams, and also seems to believe in some sort of demonic procreation by this same method of supernatural dream fornication. She is also a member of a fringe group who believes the U.S government is run by reptilians and other alien races.
This is just exhausting. Useful, good-faith discourse is encouraged, if not required, in the scientific and medical communities. It’s how we make progress. It’s the key to innovation. But this is not it. Most would say that this normal route of modification worked when, in May, word spread about a potential dark horse candidate to treat COVID-19 — the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. Further trials and studies ensued, and most found that it was not so helpful, and could actually be more detrimental than otherwise. In the meantime, we found that antivirals and corticosteroids like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone have a greater medicinal impact without the side effects. Which, unlike in the example of hydroxychloroquine, makes sense — because SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that causes a severe inflammatory response in some individuals. Arkansas’ former secretary of health, Dr. Nate Smith, told me as much back in June.
Yet so many are befuddled, throwing their hands up in anguish: “But who can I trust?” I’ll take the acclaimed and distinguished over the Looney Tunes; the likes of the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci, Redfield, and, locally, Smith, over the ramblings of an incoherent witch doctor most days of the week. Or Mikovits for that matter, who claimed in the OG Plandemic that she helped create Ebola in 1999, when the first known instances of ebolaviruses in humans date back to 1976.
The video featuring “America’s Frontline Doctors,” who are funded by the pro-Trump organization Tea Party Patriots, was removed by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter the same day it dropped, but not before amassing millions of views. Just as we as a society had finally begun to join most of the developed world in the practice of wearing masks to prevent the spread, Groundhog Day started all over again. President Donald Trump retweeted the video himself, later saying that he found Immanuel “very impressive,” and that he “thought her voice was an important voice but [he knew] nothing about her.”
Therein lies the problem(s). Because the president counted his chickens too early on hydroxychloroquine, it has become an obsession of his and his base’s to jam this puzzle piece into the wrong board. The successes of other drugs should have been celebrated while, with some correlation, our death rates dropped throughout the summer; we continued to get more adept at treating this novel virus for which there is yet no clear-cut cure. It wasn’t. This was ignored. Because it was a contradiction. This, while members of the president’s own task force and government branches stand against hydroxychloroquine and for mask-wearing.
“At this point in time, there [have] been five randomized controlled, placebo-controlled trials that do not show any benefit to hydroxychloroquine,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, coordinator of coronavirus testing response and asst. secretary of health for the Trump administration, this weekend. “So, at this point in time, we don’t recommend that as a treatment.”
But, as anyone with a Facebook account can attest, it’s not just a couple of deleterious videos that have sowed doubt and caused problems over the past few months. It’s memes (pictures with words on them) and legitimate fake news sites propagating outrageously baseless claims that circulate through millions of news feeds. Memes are not peer reviewed nor sourced, and if an expert had something useful to say, regardless of subject, they wouldn’t do it with a blurry picture and five words of block text.
Here are a few examples of recent virality that have been debunked, but not before reaching thousands or millions:
Viral Image States Bill Gates Said ‘We need to develop a digital certificate that shows who has received all the vaccinations. Only those with all the required vaccinations may travel, visit churches, participate in sports and music events, get a job, etc.’
“Some who share myths are simply misguided, but others are driven by profit. In March, the US Food and Drug Administration warned companies and individuals, including Alex Jones, owner of the fake-news website Infowars, and televangelist Jim Bakker, to stop touting the benefits of unproven COVID-19 treatments such as colloidal silver. Both these people have promoted and sold products containing tiny particles of silver suspended in liquid for use against COVID-19, despite there being no sound evidence that they work.”
All this, in addition to the aforementioned premonitions, is how we are here — debating the prematurity of in-person school or bringing fall sports back because of skyward caseloads. It’s why the state of Arkansas often logs more daily cases than entire countries in Europe. The United States has spent the whole summer flippantly bickering over the frivolous while the cases grew higher and higher in the background. We can’t see the forest for the trees. (And we surely can’t spot a tree in this desert.)
This Week’s Reading Recommendations
The Shadow Pandemic (The Atlantic)
By Helen Lewis
“How do we help domestic-violence victims who stay with their partners?”
The Burning Times (National Review)
By Kevin Williamson
“Everybody loves a good purge, but real progress means recruiting new allies and forming new alliances.”
(Thanks to AMP editor, Mark Carter, for this one.)
How the Pandemic Defeated America (The Atlantic)
By Ed Yong
“A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.”
By Joseph J. Ellis
“George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, with the help of Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, conspiring to set the agenda in Philadelphia, orchestrating the debate in the state ratifying conventions, and, finally, drafting the Bill of Rights to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement.”
Deserts for Trees is a recurring editorial segment from Arkansas Money & Politics contributing editor and AY About You editor, Dustin Jayroe.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.