Grate Scott

Ten persons, including a grade-schooler, being crushed to death, is horrific enough that it should stand on its own as a tragic event. But for those insistent on finding an even darker meaning, we venture to the online conspiracy theorist.

Rolling Stone cited TikTok users who opined that Travis Scott’s Astroworld stage was shaped like an inverted cross, thus interpreting it as a portal to Hell. They also suggest that the shirt Scott wore that night – depicting persons walking through a door and emerging with horns – as evidence that Scott was luring fans to a sacrificial rite.

It’s hard to miss the irony of the Internet – a capability those in the Dark Ages would have been unable to comprehend – being used to offer an explication consistent with those times.
And of course, no corroborating evidence for any of these extreme claims exist, which means precisely zero in conspiracy land. Consider this affirming of the consequent /appeal to incredulity from a zealous Internet sleuth: “If you don’t believe that there was nothing demonic about that whole concert, you are spiritually blind and I pray that God opens your eyes.” Hmm, looks like he got in an unintentional double negative to go with his double logical fallacy.

Other TikTok users crowed about the set featuring eight pyrotechnic flames lining the stage, with the fires said to represent the victims who died that night. That the death toll later expanded to 10 did little to disabuse believers of this notion. Rather than admitting to having arrived at an erroneous conclusion, they moved the morbid goalposts and said the extra victims were offed so as to detract from the numerical connection.

Another dude wondered if the COVID vaccine combined with Scott’s music to send off 5G vibrations that made for a lethal combination. It would seem strange that only 10 persons were impacted if this were a fatal concoction. Then again, those who are “just asking questions” are seeking agreement, not answers.

Insider cited a clip in which an anonymous TikTok poster lambasted Scott for performing some unspecified “demonic shit” and accusing him of keeping the concert going while knowing that asphyxiation deaths were occurring. Another accused the rapper of being a demonic lackey.

Yet another concluded the deaths were sacrifices to Kris Jenner since the tragedy took place on her birthday. The Law of Truly Large Numbers would apply here, as would a Law of Truly Large Stretches.
Another user Tweeted that Scott’s recent music cover art, which depicted him as somewhat akin to a goblin, proves that the concert was a “sacrifice ritual and no one will change my mind about that.”
Today’s Critical Thinking 101 lesson: First, the certainty of one’s conviction is unrelated to its soundness. Second, the burden of proof lies on the one making this diabolical claim; it is not on the skeptic do disprove it, though that it an imprecise term since it implies something has already been proven.

Those who prefer their baseless speculation to be numerically based, and who have too much time on their hands, have deduced that Scott and Drake were born 66 months, 6 days apart. By this reasoning, Scott and I are long-lost kin because we were born 23 years apart and this is an obvious 23 and Me connection.

The Guardian noted that all this viral misinformation shows how young social media users are increasingly susceptible to conspiracy theories, despite seeing themselves as savvy navigators of the online world. But spending copious amounts on the Internet increases the risk of being misled by it, and exacerbating this are algorithms which track usage and beliers and lure users to those sites which affirm the consumer’s bias.

A dispiriting time

When practical, I prefer to offer first-hand accounts in my posts. Explaining the history, methods, claims, and counterclaims of reflexology is fine, but it’s better if I can visit a practitioner myself and report the results. Poring over arguments and retorts from the anti-GMO crowd is OK, but not as good as attending a seminar where these ideas are highlighted. One of my favorite aspects of this blog has been my annual trip to the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Fair. Alas, all aforementioned treks have been on hold the last 18 months as the pandemic took hold and has continued even with vaccines, masks, and distancing, since only about 60 percent of the country is on board with such mitigation measures. The pandemic has shown Americans to be incapable of handling a national emergency requiring mild inconvenience. But things have improved enough that I was able to get back in person and attend a putative ghost hunt at Rock Island Arsenal’s Quarters One. The mammoth structure is the second largest federal residence behind the White House and contains 51 rooms of potential poltergeists.

The cost was $25, which is the best bang for your disembodied spirits buck. Similar evenings run $150 or more in other locales. It was set for a three-hour block, beginning at dusk. These hunts are always held in the dark even though there is no reason to think spirits of the deceased are more active at night. The times are chosen to create more mood and drama, which is fine if it’s being presented as entertainment, such as with campfire stories. It’s another matter when promotors are suggesting that sinister spirits are real.

Also playing on stereotypes was the locale, a four-story, 19th Century mansion. Along with castles and asylums, huge antique homes are favored ghost-hunting spots. Ghosts always seem to bypass split-level ranch homes, subdivisions, and Dillard’s. On a related note, battlefields and mass terror scenes are conspicuously apparition-free. For all the photos and audio taken at the World Trade Center, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Waco, and Oklahoma City, none have shown images or captured audio of a spirit detached from its deceased body. Were ghosts real and as tethered to their place of demise as advertised, such locations should be literal ghost towns.

The hostess began the evening with a loquacious recounting of the home’s history. There were a few factual croutons tossed onto the word salad but it was primarily a string of conditioning, expectation-building, and plying us with spooky, unverifiable anecdotes. This included the requisite reference to “energy,” so during the Q and A session, I inquired as to which type of it the spirits emit. The hostess looked as if she had finally succeeded in capturing a ghost. She was used to softball questions, not late-breaking curves. After some awkward silence, she spit out, “It depends on the ghost,” a kind of catch-all response that covers all the bases while still saying nothing.

Speaking of nothing, that’s what happened during this supposedly spooky sojourn. I don’t consider this a spoiler because that would entail giving away what happened and nothing did.

The tour started in the basement, where I whispered notes to myself into a handheld tape recorder. This caused one of my fellow attendees to shudder and exclaim, “I heard a man’s voice!” A couple of others were certain they had felt an apparition touch their hair or skin. This was probably a physiological manifestation of the mood and expectation that had been built at the presentation’s opening. In any event, this is something there is no way to test, prove, or disprove. There was one claim that a breeze of some sort was felt, which coming in the basement of a 19th Century home, falls well within the natural explanation purview.

The 30 minutes were mostly spent staring in the direction of three flashlights. They were the types that turn on and off by twisting the circular portion near the front. The hostess put the flashlight in the ‘off’ position, but as close to ‘on’ as she could. Addressing this jury-rigged ghost locator, she asked if any deceased persons were present, then subsequently asserted that any illumination was the result of such a presence. Her first eight queries were answered with silence, other than some teeth-chattering among the credulous and a sigh of boredom from myself. After the ninth summoning, the light came on. This is a normal and explicable occurrence for this type of flashlight positioned in such a way. Whenever it turned off, this was touted as the ghost saying it no longer wished to chat. For a control, the hostess could have tried this experiment while making no requests of the flashlight and seeing if it still came on and off at random intervals. Further, if this were really the work of the ghost, it could have turned the flashlight on from the fully-off position and it could have communicated in Morse code. Of course, control experiments and a skeptical questioning of the results were not what the evening was about.

There were two more rooms to visit, but I was working all weekend, it was getting late, and I had seen nothing, which ironically was more than enough. I scooted out, thanking my guides (I cannot bring myself to call them their preferred title, researchers) for putting on the event and told them I was leaving. They had requested this courtesy since previous attendees had absconded without telling them. In a spin that would make any marketer proud, this was explained as the guests being so panicked they had to split. But my early departure was due to an hour-long snoozer masquerading as a history lesson and the follow-up 30 minutes of ghost-hunting that netted three seconds of flashlight flickering.

While nothing interesting happened, the hostess was ready with an ad hoc explanation for this bust. She played back a portion of her recording and claimed to hear a voice, and told us that even when nothing seemed to happen, further ‘investigation’ may reveal that something very much did.

Along those lines, the hosts highlighted a variety of gadgets, gizmos, and doohickeys they employ in their searches, but none of the items were used for their intended purpose. None of them were manufactured for the purpose of capturing Casper and less-friendly apparitions. Promotional pamphlets at previous Quarters One hunts referenced “Weird EMF spikes” that “can be found in certain areas on the second floor.” Such spikes likely occur but there are reasons beyond ghosts that can explain them. As one example, the mansion rests on the banks of the Mississippi River, where ships and their electronic devices incessantly pass. Moreover, EMF sounds that resemble speech are often the result of misuse by the operator or flaws in the equipment.

Another claim is that, “Visitors experience hot and cold spots.” Again, likely true, but nothing mysterious. This is very common for huge homes that have seen their sesquicentennial.

The pamphlet further noted that, “Mists have been photographed.” Sure, but those can be explained with basic photography terminology. Shots taken in dark by amateurs will likely increase these flaws.

Additionally, even if no answer can be found for these or other phenomenon, it only means that the event remains unexplained. It doesn’t mean we can adopt a default explanation that the living dead are responsible.
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Ghosts, or at least our image of them, have adapted with the times and technology. In earlier manifestations, they were said to resemble a floating white sheet, an idea born from the burial cloths which were lain on the dead. In the days of Dickens, Poe, and Irving, ghosts were humanoid apparitions that were somehow still wearing clothes. Later, ghosts became less concrete, such as how they were portrayed in The Amityville Horror. Today, a ghost is more likely to take the form of an orb, flash, or flare, which are portrayed as auras which transcend spiritual planes, but which are more likely the result of camera shortcomings, operator error, and lighting and environmental conditions.


Many ghost hunts, including this one, employ a K2 meter that purportedly serves as a conduit between the hunt’s host and the poltergeists they are chasing. However, the K2’s purpose is to locate sources of electromagnetic radiation, be they magnetic, electric, radio, or microwave. The meters also provide a reading of the strength and direction of the field being detected. It was designed to read a small part of the electromagnetic field from household devices and give a general measurement of strength. There is no reason to suspect that ghosts have the desire and ability to communicate via the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Nor, for that matter, is there any evidence that the departed continue on in any form. Ghost hunters are looking for evidence of something without having first ascertained that thing exists.

So when ghost hunters employ an infrared thermometer or motion detector to pinpoint a cold spot in a room, they might find such a location. But while there is no reason to think ghosts are responsible for temperature changes, those chasing them might be causing it since more persons in the room will raise the temperature. Changes are also caused by heating, air conditioning, insulation, studs, wiring, pipes, radiant heat, sunlight, and wind.

Usually touted as the spookiest fruit from hunts is ghostspeak on audio, such as the one the hostess claimed she heard while trying to recover from the unintended Comedy Half Hour. These mystic missives might seem unsettling, but that’s only because they are so garbled and distorted. They are drenched in static, vary in pitch, and produce an unpleasant sound that can come across as someone who is pained, scared, or angry. In the many thousands of hours of these recordings, we have yet to have a ghost articulately announce in plain language, “Here I am, the ghost of King John’s tailor.”

When one can make a phrase out of EVP, it is likely the result of apophenia, the mind’s tendency to perceive patterns in random stimulus. It is what causes people to see a Face on Mars or Jesus in their Post Toasties. Other factors in hearing spirit voices on recordings are expectation and desire, but the biggest influence is equipment shortfalls.

EVP are usually recorded by raising the noise floor, which is the electrical noise created by all electrical devices, in order to create white noise. When this noise is filtered, it can be made to produce noises which sound like speech. When you factor in other aspects of physics, such as cross modulation of radio stations or faulty ground loops in equipment, you have a lot of people thinking they are listening to ghosts when in fact it is nothing more than a controlled misuse of electronics. Sample rate conversion, vibration isolation, and noise alteration can all cause recordings to assume qualities separate from what they originally picked up.

Still, EVP remains popular among believers since bodily noise, rustling clothes, wind, creaks, whistles, stray radio signals, whispers, camera sounds, and magnetic interference can all be interpreted as ghostly. A more incredulous observer would be asking, “How does an immaterial being bump into something or make a noise while walking (or even walk, for that matter)?” Or, “How does an entity lacking vocal chords and a tongue manage to shriek and babble?”


Again, the problem is that ghosts are made the default explanation. Noises can never be the house settling, a board creaking, or the wind blowing. No explanations are offered as to how this equipment would reveal the existence of ghost. No criteria are given for what constitutes a capture, the alleged point of these hunts. If what I experienced qualifies as a capture, I retract my earlier statement about $25 being a good value.

“Intentional confounding” (Galileo Gambit)

I watch copious amounts of professional football, regularly soaking in five games a week. The NFL is the only interest that has consistently been near the top of my list of passive hobbies from grade school through the upper reaches of middle age. And in those 46 years, I have never seen anyone who can consistently make an absurdly long, logic-defying, into-a-no-visible-window throw like Aaron Rodgers.

As such, it seems fitting that his biggest failing would come off the field. He declined a CDC-recommended vaccine, publicly lied about having received it, and failed to follow league COVID protocols. He then quadrupled down while appearing on Pat McAfee’s podcast.


There, Rodgers declared himself the victim and offered self-congratulation for his critical thinking skills while committing a logical fallacy trifecta of appealing to incredulity, tradition, and consequences. He also made a series of claims that might charitably be called dubious (utter balderdash lacking any scientific or medical grounding would be a more accurate descriptor).

For all this, he received high praise in right-wing circles. He was touted as brave, an adjective that once applied to those who “courageously face danger,” but when used by the likes of Clay Travis, Jason Whitlock, and Candace Owens, means “agrees with me.”

Rodgers was also lauded by some in the Twitterverse for rebelling against authorities, specifically the CDC. While government agents should be held accountable when they shirk their duties or use them for personal gain, it does not follow that all actions taken by every government worker or agency is nefarious. The CDC has a multi-billion dollar budget, which enables the world’s foremost epidemiologists to research and combat disease. To think that someone with no training in scientific disciplines will spend two hours on Google and YouTube and uncover the REAL truth is the height of folly and ego. It also leads frequently to the Galileo Gambit.

This logical fallacy holds that if most people, especially those in authority, dismiss or mock an idea, this means the idea is correct. The thinking goes, “Galileo was mocked, his ideas threatened established thinking, and he was proven right. Therefore, the mocking of my iconoclastic position means I am also correct.”

But having one thing in common does not mean two persons have everything in common, or even one more thing in common.

Galileo was vindicated when further science confirmed his heliocentric theory. But for Rodgers or any other alternative medicine proponent to be likewise vindicated, their favored treatments would need to be consistently shown to be effective in double blind studies. To be kind, that has yet to happen.

The Food Babe, lacking any science for her claims, frequently employs the Gambit and is fond of saying, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” There is nothing here that validates any of her assertions or points, and the same is true for Rodgers and others who endorse natural immunity, invermectin, or hydroxycholoroquine as superior to vaccination.

As a Reddit user retorted, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule yet, then they fight you, then it turns out you were wrong all along.” Being in a class with Galileo requires more than being dismissed. It requires being at the forefront of discovering evidence that proves your hypothesis. There is no automatic connection between being scorned and being right.

On a linguistic note, those employing the Gambit don’t even get the comparison right. It wasn’t the scientific establishment that went after Galileo, it was the anti-scientific establishment Catholic Church.

Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. David Johnson noted there are rare instances of a lone genius being proven correct after challenging the prevailing scientific notion. He cited the example of Einstein upending some Newtonian ideas. “Einstein built a new consensus among the experts by presenting arguments and evidence that was, ultimately, undeniable,” Johnson wrote. “When people resisted his ideas, he never once said, ‘Hey, they laughed at Galileo too.’ He kept trying to convince them with reason and evidence.”

And for every Einstein, Galileo, Wegner, or Wright Brother, there are untold masses who fought against “the system” and lost because they were wrong. As Carl Sagan said, some initially-vilified scientists were laughed at, but so too was Bozo the Clown.

As to Rodgers, his medical regimen is more in line with Bozo than Pasteur, and it forced him to sit out Green Bay’s game with Kansas City. As someone who champions scientific advances and critical thinking, I was sad to see it. As a Chiefs fan, my thoughts were more positive.

“Suicide by crop”’(Organic farming)

Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped nation in the Indian Ocean, and tears are what many of the country’s farmers shed once President Gotabaya Rajapaksa mandated organic farming in the country. After five disastrous months, the experiment was mercifully terminated.

The results had upended Sri Lanka’s crop production and had a calamitous effect on agricultural exports like tea, rubber, and spices. All this for food that is no healthier than traditional fare, marketing claims to the contrary.


Organic farming proponents fall for the appeal to nature fallacy, which holds that something which occurs naturally is preferable to anything synthetic. For example, Dennis Prager foolishly exposed himself to the coronavirus in the mistaken belief that he would be better off doing that than being vaccinated. Besides putting himself – an older man – at risk of death and long-lasting complications, he will suffer through weeks of misery rather than having two unpleasant hours the next day. Even if he pulls through, he will not enjoy the long-term benefits about which he gloats. For antibodies that the vaccine creates are no different than the ones he will acquire through exposure from another carrier.


Organic farming proponents commit a similar error when they consider their favored crop production to be superior since it eschews the use of synthetic chemicals. They are mistaken, and not just because there are dozens of exceptions to the so-called ban. In a second appeal to nature fallacy, organic farming proponents think the natural herbicides are safer than synthetic ones but the origin of a product is unrelated to its danger level. Moreover, organic farming is unsustainable on a large scale because of the calamitous combination of needing more land to yield fewer crops.

Additionally, it requires greater labor since more weeds are likely to grow since there are fewer herbicide options.
Consequently, Sri Lanka farmers experienced nearly a quarter-decrease in productivity. Some crops suffered a 50 to 100 percent drop. These numbers are depressingly similar to other locales that have relied heavily on organic farming.

Besides gutting a farmer’s livelihood, there are resultant food shortages and price increases. Additionally, the drag on exports harms the gross national product.


Organic farming shortcomings are aggravated when trying to massively increase the scale. Organic farming accounts for about 1.5 percent of food production worldwide. Trying to ramp up those numbers (especially to 100 percent) will create obstacles, some predictable, some surprising.

Writing for the New England Skeptical Society, Dr. Steven Novella noted it is possible for about five percent of farming to be organic. Trying to go beyond that will encounter organic fertilizer availability. Novella explained that composting and cattle manure are the primary organic fertilizers and both ways recycle nitrogen, though at a compromised rate.

He wrote, “Some plants can fix nitrogen from the air through soil bacteria, and these can be used as crops to put nitrogen into the soil. All this works if the percentage of crops grown without external inputs of nitrogen is kept relatively small.”

But his system falters as one attempts to scale up, and will be an unmitigated failure if trying to go from five percent to 100.

Fortunately for Sri Lankan farmers, the forced experiment is over. Here’s hoping the rest of the world learns from their misfortune.

“Straighten up” (UpWalker)

The UpWalker is a touted as a revolutionary development in senior mobility, with a supposed ability to facilitate pain-free walking, moseying, and shuttling about.

The product is advertised as being preferable to its lower-sitting predecessors and other alternatives. Commercials show can users humped over and being forced to endure pain in their back, wrists, and shoulders. By contrast, peppy UPWalkers are upright and looking straight ahead.

Visitors to the product’s website are told that traditional walkers cause users to hunch over, which leads to painful pressure in the aforementioned places. This, compared to the UpWalker, whose design will “support you in a secure upright position, giving you better posture so you have more confidence and less pain.”

Boosting self-esteem seems a bit beyond the abilities a mobility device, but let’s focus on the assertions that other walkers cause pain and a stooping posture. In truth, neither canes nor properly-adjusted walkers will force the user to look down, hunch over, become pained. Those with spinal deformities sometimes use walkers or canes but it is of course the deformity which causes stooping and no piece of merchandise will fix this condition.

Similarly, elderly persons do tend to begin stooping but this is not aggravated by walkers or canes and won’t be helped by the UpWalker. And if one’s wrists, shoulders, back hurts, they will continue to do so no matter what mobility device is being employed.

One UpWalker claim is that it products distribute a user’s weight onto forearms instead of the wrists. Even if this is true, walkers and canes are designed to improve balance and stability, not to carry weight, so there would be nothing to be gained by switching to the UpWalker.

Further, properly-adjusted walkers and canes never force the user to hunch or to have pressure applied to wrists, backs, and shoulders. If a person is leant over while grabbing a walker, it either means they either have a physical condition that predisposes them to do so or the walker is set too low. If the former is the cause, the user will be unable to lift themselves high enough to use the UpWalker. If is the latter, the UpWalker will confer no advantage over traditional walkers.

When walkers are properly adjusted for the patient’s height and used as intended, the patients remain upright and do not suffer back and wrist pain unless those are their usual conditions. In short, the company has created an artificial problem that it then sells the solution for.

“Mach behavior” (Sound barrier)



The sound barrier refers to the sharp increase in aerodynamic drag which aircraft experience when approaching the speed of sound. Chuck Yeager was the first to conquer this barrier, which requires more than just great flying skill. It also requires rigorous aircraft design.

For as aircraft approaches Mach speed, airflow over some plane parts exceeds the speed of sound, creating shockwaves which force the craft to nose down. Only planes designed to overcome this will be capable of making it to 767 miles per hour.

While Yeager is credited with being the first to do this, a few alternate histories hold that others accomplished it before he did.


Some think German World War II pilots managed this, but captured intelligence documents make no mention of this having happened.

Still, tales persist that Messerschmit Komet pilots were the first to break the sound barrier. Heini Dittmar is one name associated with this supposed accomplishment. However, this was never referenced until a 1990 book, the contents of which contain no documentation from the 1940s, when these flights are said to have taken place.

Besides, as Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted, the Komet’s design would have made reaching such a speed impossible. He wrote, “The Komet had fabric-covered elevons on the trailing edge of the delta wing, which would always be shock stalled.”

Another key item is the imprecise nature of airspeed indicators of the time. Aircraft designed for below-sonic speed will in all likelihood yield unreliable readings because of the shockwaves. By contrast, aircraft designed to be supersonic employ a Mach indicator, which Dunning explains corrects for static air pressure.

There are two other supposed pre-Yeager Mach speed flights cited by alternate historians, both taken by civilian test pilot George Welch. He putatively took an XP-86 fighter prototype and, in a powered dive from 35,000 feet, broke the sound barrier. Anecdotal stories say that a sonic boom was heard on the ground.

But author Robert Kempel contends that for Welch’s aircraft to break the sound barrier with an J35-C-3 engine would be impossible, and Welch never himself claimed to have made it to Mach speed.

“Hit for teacher” (TikTok challenge)

When my oldest children were toddlers and preschoolers, moral panics which targeted parents such as myself focused on the likes of satanic kidnappers and human traffickers. While there are rare instances of children being snatched by strangers, there are no recorded cases of it being done to funnel the victims to a diabolical den. And while human trafficking is real, it is usually done by someone who knows the family and grooms the child. It if not committed by someone camping out in a Wal-Mart restroom or scouring social media pages to find when school releases for the day so they can have a victim smorgasbord to choose from.

My children are now old enough that the moral panics are focused on them as the potential perpetrator, not the targeted. In an article for Vice, David Gilbert outlined a recent example, which holds that tween and teen TikTok consumers are being urged to slap their teacher and upload the videotaped results. Like the Luciferian lurkers, these pedagogue poundings are the stuff of urban legend.

For decades, these legends have been spread by school districts, law enforcement agencies, and local media doing shallow reporting. This trio seems to again be the panicky purveyors this time.

Gilbert cited California Teachers Association President Toby Boyd, who warned of this threat and the legal peril those who partake in it will find themselves in. Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called for TikTok executives to outline what steps they are taking to halt this unruly usurpation of their platform.

This is not to say that no student has assaulted a teacher anywhere at all during this school year. But if this happened, it was likely the result of anger, immaturity, or loss of control, not a premeditated assault in hopes of gaining social media followers.

Gilbert interviewed Abbie Richards, whom he described as “a disinformation researcher who focuses on TikTok.” She said, “As far as I’m aware, not a single story has actually included evidence of an initial threat. And when I looked into this, I couldn’t find a single TikTok actually endorsing this behavior. All evidence indicates this is a hoax turned into reality by local news and school districts reacting to completely unconfirmed rumors.”

For example, the CTA highlighted an instance in Lancaster, S.C., where a TikTok teacher assault allegedly happened. The school district’s director of transport and safety, Bryan Vaughn, claimed an elementary school student perpetrated this as part of the TikTok challenge.

However, Gilbert noted some inconsistencies with this assertion. First, elementary school students are usually too young to have a TikTok account. Second, there was no mention that the assault was recorded and uploaded to TikTok, which is a necessary element of the alleged phenomenon. In other words, there may have been a student assault on a teacher, but it was unrelated to this putative challenge.

While urban legend origins are usually lost to time and space, the starting point may be known in this case: An online document which lists supposed monthly TikTok challenges. However, there is zero evidence this list exists outside of the document decrying it, and there is no reason to suspect it has ever been acted upon.

Indeed, there is a dearth of reports confirming tween and teen arrests for teacher assaults. Like most moral panics panics, no name is ever associated with these alleged occurrences. There are just breathless warnings about the happenings and the stiff consequences for those who perform them. Gilbert noted there are no videos showing students striking teachers, and even if there were, that would be insufficient evidence of a social media connection.

So this is just another hoax. Besides, if satanic kidnappings and human trafficking had been as widespread as advertised, there would be no teenagers left to take up this challenge.

“Immune to reason” (Natural immunity)

One canard from the anti-vax throng is that contracting and surviving a disease will leave the person with immunity from further instances of the condition. While this might sometimes be true, dealing with the unpleasantness of the condition can be avoided altogether through vaccination. There is also the significant matter of a disease perhaps leaving a person with lifelong immobility from polio, or dead from the likes of Whooping Cough. The lifelong immunity the anti-vaxxers tout is desirable but is also available through vaccination. Asserting that immunity gained through disease contraction is superior to immunity via vaccination is to commit the naturalist fallacy.

This is a common trope from anti-vax and alternative medicine types and has found fertile ground among religious groups, which equate natural with their deity. Prolific skeptic blogger David Orski cited a commentator on the evangelical Christian network Victory TV who beamed, “I personally choose God-given natural immunity over the new experimental vaccine for the safety and protection of myself and my family.”

But even if this natural immunity were conferred via a god, goddess, or spirt, it still requires the person to suffer through the physical symptoms and mental anguish of the disease, it leaves the person at risk of follow-on complications, and thus cannot by any reasonable standard be considered superior to a solution whose greatest unpleasantness is usually 10 minutes of a sore arm. I had three rough hours the day after my second COVID vaccine dose, but compared to a multi-week hospitalization, ventilator hookup, or death, this experience was minor.

A vaccine preps the immune system by using a dead pathogen or protein so that the body will respond efficiently if the genuine pathogen later enters the person. While contracting the disease and making it through might leave a person immune, there are issues with post-infection immunity that make vaccination, even after recovery from COVID-19, desirable.

For example, Gorski cited studies which showed that more than a third of COVID-19 infections result in zero protective antibodies. Another concluded that natural immunity fades faster than vaccine immunity, particularly after mild infection. A third found that natural immunity alone is but half as effective as natural immunity combined with vaccination.

As for the study form Israel which suggested that those receiving the Pfizer vaccine were 13 times as likely to be hit with the delta variant than those who had recovered from the coronavirus, it has yet to be peer-reviewed. Bypassing peer review and taking one’s claims straight to the public is usually a pseudoscience giveaway. Further, many key items from the study were buried.

Gorksi wrote, “You have to dig into the text to see that the absolute numbers of infections were quite low (for example, only 19 reinfections in one group) and actually do the math yourself to figure out that the breakthrough infection rates after vaccination were low. In model number one, the breakthrough infection rate was 1.5 percent; in model number two, it was 1.4 percent. This study actually showed that the Pfizer vaccine was quite effective. It also showed that those who had recovered from COVID-19 and were later vaccinated were much less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.”

So the numbers the anti-vaxxers found favorable were cherry-picked and highlighted, while the most significant results of the study were ignored. Naturally.

“Research caper” (DIY research)

When a scientist speaks of research, he or she is referring to a years-long systematic process of collecting data, testing hypotheses, and going where the evidence leads. This is done objectively via methods that are explained to fellow scientists, who then attempt to replicate or contradict the findings. When submitting for peer review, those conducting the research will outline their findings, data sets, and statistical analyses, then submit it all for peer review.

By contrast, the guy who exhorted us to “Wake Up Sheeple” in a message I saw plastered to his vehicle has a different take on the matter. When he claims to have done his research, he means he has utilized a search engine, then clicked on the first link which confirmed his bias. For him, peer review is having his likeminded friends take a look at the YouTube link he messaged them.

This difference was starkly illustrated by Flux writer Melanie Trecek-King, who explained, “Real research is about trying to prove yourself wrong, not right.”

Hellaciously complex topics such as vaccines, climate science, and evolution require years of specialized learning and gaining an understanding broad terminology. There is also corroboration and debate with those in the field, while conducting genuine research as outlined above.

Because of this complexity, high-quality studies conducted by experts can arrive at different conclusions. Critics of science, such as the one with the rolling sheeple billboard, highlight these contradictions to insist that the field is unreliable.


This is to misunderstand what science is, that is to say a messy, self-criticizing, self-examining process aimed at finding the truth. While science has arrived at conclusions later shown to be wrong, it was further and better science that uncovered the error.

Similarly, when there are accusations that scientists are involved in a massive cover-up, this ignores that healthy conflict exists among scientists, and also glosses over the fact that the most revered scientists are those who upended conventional thinking.

The Scientific Method is crucial to all this, but perhaps no step in the process is as paramount as peer review. It would be one thing to convince two dozen sympathetic lay people that polio vaccines cause kidney failure. It would be quite another to successfully make such a case to hundreds of experts who will peruse your methods and findings.


Further, no single study will be the end-all. Conclusions must be repeatedly replicated before becoming a consensus.

As to this consensus, it does not refer to an agreeing of opinion based on confirmation bias or groupthink. As Trecek-King explained, scientific consensus is “the result of highly specialized experts independently evaluating the body of evidence and arriving at a similar conclusion.”

Any consensus remains open to challenge but a complete novice will not upend it by spending the afternoon on Google. Major changes to scientific thinking are announced by the Noble Prize Committee, they are not posted to a right-wing conspiracy theory site. Such sites insist that 10,000 scientists are eschewing fame, fortune, and career satisfaction in order to further enrich a shadowy cabal by staying silent.

Almost universally, experts are trusted. If persons are not trained in the field, they do not attempt to fix a malfunctioning intake manifold, they do not replace their home’s faulty wiring, and they do not perform their own gall bladder surgery. That some folks make an exception for vaccines, masking, and distancing would be comical were it not for the deadly results.

China, where the coronavirus originated and with four times the U.S. population, has yet to record its 5,000th COVID death. The U.S., meanwhile, just passed the grim 700,000 milestone. Put another way, the pandemic has shown Americans to be incapable of dealing with a national emergency requiring mild inconvenience.

“Right is wrong” (Pandemic partisanship)

The most perplexing aspect of the pandemic is its partisan nature. The shutdown should have been a time when we bonded over our collective misery and came together for the common good. That was, in fact, the case for about six weeks before some right-wingers became enraged at their inability to go to Arby’s and began plotting gubernatorial assassinations and the storming of capitols as a result.

Again, this left me baffled. Since a virus has no concern with its host’s political leanings, the pandemic should have been the ultimate nonpartisan issue. Instead, a nation already divided by a petulant child masquerading as a head of state become even more fractured. It has gotten so wacky lately that talk show host Dennis Prager insisted that anyone who wears a mask outdoors would have been a willing Nazi accomplice. Vaccination clinics today, Auschwitz tomorrow. Logical leap.

In a parallel development, the anti-vax movement that was once part of the burned-out hippie fringe has now completed a bewildering transformation to mainstream conservative thought. While the great majority of Republican federal lawmakers, governors, and Fox News blathering heads have received the COVID vaccine, they caution their followers against doing the same.

To be sure, describing the anti-vax movement as having shifted from Jenny McCarthy’s terrain to Tucker Carlson’s is a bit simplistic. There here have always been anti-vaxxers of varying political stripes. This included libertarians whose belief in limited government was so extreme they felt it should take no action to prevent the spread of disease, no matter how deadly. And there were Republicans who, having bought into the rugged individual American myth, preferred to go it on their own, or at least thought that’s what they were doing. A motorcycling free rider who eschews helmet usage boasts he’s doing it all on his own, without thinking about how the highway got there or how his bike got manufactured. Similarly, some feel they are going their own way on vaccines without realizing that others getting immunized brought anti-vaxxers the herd immunity they are enjoying. Now let’s look at how much worse it has gotten.

A huge factor was a 2015 California law passed in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak. This eliminated nonmedical school vaccination requirements. During the bill’s debate, right-wing lawmakers, while having gotten jabbed themselves, learned the political gain of employing buzzwords like freedom, choice, religious liberty, and parental rights.

From that groundswell, we now have objection from nearly all elected Republicans to any COVID control measures. For these politicians, mounting deaths and the overwhelming of the medical system pale in importance to getting reelected. China, where the virus originated and with four times the U.S. population, has yet to hit 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Meanwhile, the “pro-life” party leads resistance to vaccines, masks, testing, tracing, and distancing, as the number of U.S. COVID deaths approaches 700,000.

This wasn’t always the case. Mississippi has long required schoolchildren to be vaccinated against nine diseases and allowed no religious exceptions.

Today, that mindset has been brushed aside in favor of gaining political capital and getting one over on those silly pro-science liberals and skeptics. Many elected Republicans such as Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Marjorie Taylor Green, Mo Brookes, and Josh Hawley have dispensed with the pro-freedom façade and now openly embrace opposition to vaccine science.

Still, there are still some who may frame their opposition as one of choice. Two years ago, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey fought an attempt to broaden school vaccination exemptions. But this year he forbid local governments from requiring COVID vaccines for employees, calling the type of initiative he had championed in 2019 to now be “dictatorial.”

It’s reminiscent of Gov. Orval Faubus fighting to keep Little Rock Central segregated. His motivations were based more on political expediency than a personal bigotry. But history rightly reviles Faubus for his stance, regardless of why he took it. The same fate awaits those who today are embracing the more repugnant options available during the pandemic.