Taking a cue from Ryan George via Screen Rant Pitch Meetings: so you have a coronavirus conspiracy theory for me?
Yes, sir, I do.
It appears the coronavirus reduces the human intellect.
This is not actually a conspiracy theory. But if we revise the statement to read:
People who believe in coronavirus conspiracy theories have less human intellect.
Then it becomes more of an accurate statement.
Conspiracy theories can never be true. Because if they were, they would be called something else, such as investigative journalism or historical analysis. This is bad news for those of you who really want to believe that 5G mobile phone networks are either causing the coronavirus or that the virus was being used as a cover-up for other 5G related illnesses. So destroying telecommunication towers won’t protect you from the virus.
It amazes me how easily people fall for conspiracy theories with no evidence, no proof, nothing… their mind is made up.
There are plenty of conspiracy theories out there for the coronavirus of the year 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the coronavirus (aka severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)). I thought I would have a little fun and run some of them through two different bullshit (B.S.) detectors. The first detector is a combination of Carl Sagan and Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit (BDK). The second is a method for evaluating multiple competing hypotheses called the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH).
But first, let’s look at what a conspiracy theory is.
Conspiracy Theories are “Tight”
A conspiracy theory is a statement that has been made about something or someone in order to make it seem true, where belief is based not on evidence, but in the faith of the believer. According to political scientist Michael Barkun, the appeal of conspiracy theories is threefold:
1. Claims to explain what institutional analysis cannot. Appears to make sense out of something that is confusing.
2. Divides the world between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. They trace evil back to a single conspirator (and their agents).
3. Presented as secret knowledge unknown by others.
Essentially, people are brainwashed into believing something with no evidence.
But shouldn’t this be hard to do? Apparently not. In fact, barely an inconvenience.
So if you want to drink the water in your fish aquarium to prevent or treat the coronavirus then go ahead. After all, there is no coronavirus if there is no host.
Let’s now examine how we can easily spot some of these crazy theories. For B.S. Detector #1, I will begin by assuming the crazy theory is true so that we can see what conclusions can be drawn from it. If we find a contradiction, then we know it’s false. We begin with two questions:
Question #1. What would have to exist for something to be true?
Question #2. What evidence is not being seen for the hypothesis to be true?
B.S. Detector #1: BDK
“The thing with me is that I AM smart and I’m smelf, I’m self smarted, basically, by myself, basically from nature and smoking drugs and doing different things I’ve self… s… like self learned myself. And that’s the whole difference I guess is that I don’t need the books or the schooling type things. I just get everything on my own and because of that I’m alive right now. I mean, if I had read more books or tried to go on to college and different things like that I’d be dead right now, because people say books and college are for to be make you smarter, but they can also be for to be make you dead, which is what could have happened to me.” — Ricky from Trailer Park Boys
Conspiracy Theory: Cocaine protects you from the coronavirus.
Background: Due to widespread misinformation circulating in France, the French government had to inform people that cocaine does not cure COVID-19. This was in response to doctored images suggesting cocaine “kills” the virus, which went viral on Twitter.
#1. What would have to exist for us to say that cocaine kills or protects you from the coronavirus?
For this to be true, cocaine would have to act similar to a vaccine. According to the CDC, a vaccine contains the same germs that cause disease and stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies. So cocaine would have to: contain the same germ as the disease and stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies.
#2. What evidence is not being seen for the hypothesis that cocaine kills or protects you from the coronavirus to be true?
Just reading this question out loud is hilarious. Does the fact that cocaine causes health effects, such as constricted blood vessels, fast or irregular heartbeat, severe bowel decay from reduced blood flow, or put you at higher risk of infections like pneumonia count?
Here is what a conspiracy theorist sounds like: https://youtu.be/VAlBvxjApf4
B.S. Detector #2: Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH)
“My brain doesn’t use enough oxygen because I don’t have the whole thing filled with different stuff and if it was full — it’s only part full — and that’s why I’m alive right now. The guards are giving me here, you know — “read this book, try to get smarter” — but I’m like, all right, I’ll pretend to read it but I’m not going to really read it ’cause my brain will be more full and if I have another heart attack I’m going to die.” — Ricky from Trailer Park Boys
Technique: ACH is a thinking tool used to analyze multiple competing hypotheses for observed data.
Conspiracy Theory: multiple
Background: I used a program developed by GoExplore Consulting LLC called Bayesian Analysis of Competing Hypothesis. As the name states, this program uses Bayesian statistics, which is an interpretation of probability where probability expresses the degree of belief in an event, where the degree of belief may be based on prior knowledge of the event. Bayesian statistics uses Bayes’ theorem to compute and update probabilities after obtaining new data.
#1. Imagine a wide range of hypotheses.
Hypothesis I. Unsanitary Chinese food market.
Hypothesis II. Deliberate release (from the Chinese government).
Hypothesis III. Accidental release (from the Chinese government).
Hypothesis IV. Engineered bioweapon (from either the Chinese or U.S. government).
Hypothesis V. U.S. Army cyclist brought the virus to China.
#2. Investigate evidence and arguments and map against hypotheses.
List evidence that discriminates between multiple hypotheses. Then identify the likelihood (based on what you previously knew) for each hypothesis (in prior probability).
Continue to search for new evidence to sharpen your understanding and analysis. Complete the evidence matrix. The evidence matrix defines the transformation of prior to posterior probabilities (the probability an event will happen after all evidence or background information has been taken into account). The likelihoods are weighted based on the following: credibility and relevance.
A graph is created illustrating the impact of each piece of evidence versus the probability of the individual hypotheses.
As you can see, after running the ACH, Hypothesis I — Unsanitary Chinese food market — has the greatest likelihood of being true.
Instead of trying to figure out the ratio of unicorns to leprechauns, we should be focusing on things that actually matter. Our focus should be on answering more relevant problems, such as:
If we focus on answering these tough questions instead of drinking fish water, then we might actually be able to move forward after the pandemic. And for those of you who think our government is behind the virus, I encourage you to read the following quote from Phillip D. Zelikow, who was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission:
“One reason you tend to doubt conspiracy theories when you’ve worked in government is because you know government is not nearly competent enough to carry off elaborate theories. It’s a banal explanation, but imagine how efficient it would need to be.”
Or take the advice of American economist Thomas Sowell:
“One of the reasons for conspiracy theories is an assumption that people in high places always know what they are doing. When they do something that makes no sense, devious reasons are imaged by conspiracy theorists, when in fact it may be due to plain old ignorance and incompetence.”