“Sad Discover-y” (Magazine’s embrace of pseudoscience)

Discover Magazine, which I have subscribed to for a quarter century, had long been a vanguard against pseudoscience and Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine (SCAM). To my great mortification, this has ceased to be the case in recent months. The publication has published two mostly credulous and fawning pieces on energy healing. It did so without explaining what type of energy was at play, how the energy was accessed, how it transferred from practitioner to subject, what units the energy is measured in, or how an overdose would be prevented.

In the magazine’s most recent issue, writer Amy Paturel credits Healing Touch with easing her toddler’s labored breathing. While this no doubt had a strong emotional impact on Paturel, this is an instance of subjective validation, where something seems real because of a personal experience. It is also an instance of post hoc reasoning, which is a regular staple of SCAM since it is often embraced when mainstream medicine has failed. Many illnesses and conditions are cyclical and the situation would have resolved on its own. So SCAM seems to work since a few days have gone by while other approaches were tried. It is telling that Paturel recalled experiencing “feelings of helplessness” and as being “desperate and with little to lose” when deciding to try Healing Touch.

She describes what is little more than a secular version of faith healing: “Lisa Thompson, a pediatric nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, began moving her hands a few inches above us. Within minutes, beeping machines quieted. Jack’s heart rate steadied. For the first time in 10 days, we both caught our collective breath, and Jack fell asleep. During the 30-minute session, Thompson’s hands never even made contact with Jack’s body.”

Included was no explanation for how this work, nor any description of a plausible mechanism behind it. It is merely an anecdote, which Discover once realized was no substitute for double blind studies.

The downward spiral continues, as Paturel embraces the Appeal to Tradition fallacy. She writes, “During ancient times, ‘laying on of hands’ served as first-line therapy for people who were suffering.” Later, she writes glowingly of such ideas having been used in “India and China for thousands of years.”

She rattles off concepts that previously would have appeared in Discover only if the magazine were explaining their implausibility and unproven natures: Biofield Therapy, acupuncture, life force, Qigong, Prana, Chi, and Reiki.

She quotes Mimi Guarneri, president of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, as saying, “These therapies are based on the idea that the body has a biofield system, not unlike the circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems.”

Guarneri supports this assertion with no evidence or research. What she praises is an unproven concept at best and dangerous and unethical at worst. A patient favoring treatment based on a non-existent system could bypass authentic medicine.

The article closes on a tragic-comic note, with Paturel relating that she used the technique to combat her son’s stomach bug. Fortunately, she also went to a hospital to have the child treated. But while there she “called to mind a tree, rooted my feet into the ground and put my hands to work.”

By using both a pediatrician and woo, no real harm was done. But there is a chance that she would credit Healing Touch with the healing done by the genuine treatment and bypass the latter down the road.

This was Discover’s second embrace of SCAM in the last few months. In the final issue of 2021, it ran an article by Sara Novak entitled, “The truth behind your chakras.” My article would have been much shorter: “It’s a lie.”

Paturel cited a few studies, occasionally veered into skepticism, referenced the placebo effect, and wondered if the positive results occurred because of relaxation rather than medicine. Novak, by contrast, offered a full-on embrace of nonsense.

She lauded Reiki, which she called a success. She credulously wrote of chakras as “vital centers of energy that exist in all of us” and as “spinning energy vortexes” – never specifying which type of energy or how it is detected or measured. Nor was there any listing of active ingredients that would help the charkas serve as medicine. There were however, references to Vedic, Tantric, and Hindu texts from nearly 4000 years ago. The further back, the better when appealing to tradition, and the father away, the better when appealing to the exotic.

Check out this New Age Word Salad that is worthy of Dr. Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow: “The seven main chakras are supposedly stacked upwards on top of one another along the spine, starting with the root chakra at the base of the spine; the sacral chakra just below the belly button; the solar plexus on the upper abdomen; the heart chakra at the center of the chest; the throat chakra at the throat; the third eye chakra located between the eyes on the forehead; and the crown chakra on top of the head.”

The article even includes this graphic, which leaves all doubt about Discover having jumped the pseudoscientific shark:

The gobbledygook goes on for several paragraphs without ever saying anything meaningful, scientific, or testable. It is merely a meandering string of gibberish, wild claims, and undefined terms and concepts. Novak makes reference to “blocks” and “balance” without showing any evidence that these exist or explaining any mechanisms behind them. The periodical that once managed to explain a wide breadth of scientific fields in understandable terms without dumbing it down now publishes this: “An imbalanced sacral chakra is associated with fertility issues and a blocked throat chakra means you have trouble expressing yourself.”

Discover previously published 12 issues a year, which became 10, and is now 8. And from this point, the number of times it will be arriving in my mailbox is zero.

“Cancer culture” (Diseased mummies)

One myth prevalent among alternative medicine enthusiasts is that cancer only came along relatively recently. The insinuation is that the disease is caused by contemporary perniciousness like processed foods, modern lifestyles, and agriculture developments.

Some proponents of this hypothesis cite a publication by anthropologists A.R. David and M.R. Zimmerman. But prolific skeptic blogger Orac notes that theirs is an opinion piece, not a scholarly scientific study.

The duo claimed there was only one case of cancer found among hundreds of mummies, so this shows that, if not nonexistent, cancer was at least much rarer a few thousand years ago. Orac counters that the average Ancient Egyptian lifespan lasted barely a quarter-century, which is one-third of what modern Westerners enjoy.

Cancer, being a disease that primarily afflicts the elderly, would be just as infrequent among 25-year-old Chicagoans today as it was among those who watched the Pyramids being built. Further, mummies were limited to the elite class and thus did not represent a broad cross-section of Egyptian society. Moreover, Orac wrote that mummification includes removal of the organs, which is where most cancer incidents arise. Beyond all this, there are ancient writings that allude to cancer and its treatments.

Cancer has always been with humans because it results from genetics, random mutation, viruses, obesity, and non-environmental factors. There are some modern developments that might make cancer more likely in specific instances, but that is far different than it being entirely a new phenomenon.

Still, professor Rosalie David asserts that, “In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”

Yet, as Orac points out, the natural environment includes radon, UV light, aflatoxin, HPV, and hepatitis B, all of which can lead to cancer.

But the biggest factor is aging. As humans grow older, their bodies are more subject to genetic error, as well as having more time to come into contact with carcinogens. About three in four cancer cases occur in those 60 and over. If we were looking at only those 25 and under, the incidents of cancer would be as rare as they were among Ancient Egyptians.

That’s not so say modern lifestyles can’t play a role in one getting cancer. Being sedentary, smoking, and obese can all play a role. But King Tut lighting up, lying around, and pigging out would have left him just as vulnerable.

“Branch Floridians” (DeSantis deaths)

Florida governor and national embarrassment Ron DeSantis hosted a parade of lies and misinformation masquerading as a COVID roundtable. Only doctors selected by DeSantis were allowed to attend. While “roundtable” connotes an open exchange of views, this panel featured doublespeak and allowed no deviation from the script.

The farce was dubbed “Closing the Curtain COVID Theater.” Theater is a rather innocuous term to describe the spread of an airborne virus that has killed 5 million people – a number that would be markedly lower if everyone had taken known preventive measures.

Skeptic leader Dr. David Gorski reviewed the heavily-orchestrated spectacle, which was led by DeSantis and his henchman, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Though an appointed position, surgeon general is one government role that should always be apolitical and should certainly not promote the anti-health, anti-science positions favored by the head of state government.

But that’s what Ladapo has done, even going so far as using the forum to announce that Florida advises against vaccinating minors against COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 1,000 American children. Some of you Kindergartners may die but that’s a risk Ladapo is willing to take. DeSantis chimed in with, “We are not just going to follow the CDC in the state of Florida. … We’re going to do our own stuff.” Ain’t no science gonna tell him what to do. And while he has sometimes advertised himself as a champion for choice, his actions bely that claim. Witness his childish berating of mask-wearing high schoolers as an example.

One phrase heard throughout the roundtable was “Urgency of Normal,” a euphemism for abandoning all coronavirus mitigation measures. No masks, no vaccines, no social distancing, no remote learning. Makes you wonder what their stance on hand-washing is. Orwellian claims that lockdowns are more dangerous than the virus were trumpeted and panelists insisted the nation should let COVID spread unchecked in order to pave the way for herd immunity. As to the immunocompromised and elderly, screw them, DeSantis needs to get a haircut.

Gorski noted this mindset’s similarity to a Brady Bunch episode favored by anti-vaxxers since it treats measles as no big deal – an annoying but harmless rite of passage. Yet Gorksi noted that before the vaccine, 48,000 people a year were hospitalized for the measles, 4,000 of those developed encephalitis, and about 450 patients died. Gorsksi argued that treating pre-vaccine measles or COVID as minor issues – since most who contract them survive – is akin to eugenics.

Gorski wrote, “Our response to COVID-19 uses the familiar blueprint of eugenics, with predictable consequences for the captive and vulnerable, who are pushed to the side, ignored, or sacrificed for the ‘greater good.’ This devalues the lives of those who are less than perfect, less than healthy, by in essence telling everyone who is healthy that they don’t have to worry and shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice anything to protect who are less than healthy and at high risk.” To be sure, the “pro-life” crowd has been anything but on this one.

“Drip pan” (Nutrient infusions)

Drip therapy is the latest alt-med craze. It is akin to an IV, though with far less tangible benefits. During a session, customers receive a liquid injection into their forearm. As to what that liquid consists of, “nutrients” is the vague, standby answer. Of course, one can get nutrients via eating and drinking, but drip therapy carries the promise of delivering those benefits straight to the body, thus bypassing the gut.

According to Nick Tiller in the Skeptical Inquirer, practitioners wear stereotypical white coats, carry clipboards, and have their customers recline in chairs resembling those at the dentist. This presents a veneer of medical respectability and practitioners likewise dress themselves with language which sounds scientific, but which are in fact pseudoscience buzzwords, such as immunity booster, detox, energy, healing, and fitness.

So it’s not surprising that they commit an error than a genuine nutritionist would not. As Tiller noted, “Millions of years of evolution gave us a gastrointestinal tract fully able to digest and absorb all the nutrients we need for normal metabolic function.” So nature – which the likes of drip therapists often wrongly tout as always desirable – in this case gets it right. Bypassing the gut is unnecessary and even without value. Moreover, if one truly has poor nutrition habits, those should be tackled by eating better, not by jumping onto the latest gimmick. Nutrient drips are an unnecessary, not terribly effective means of getting vitamins and minerals without committing to long-term diet change.

And users may not even be breaking even on the deal. Tiller wrote that excessive levels of some nutrients can be harmful to health, perhaps even increasing the chance of contracting a non-communicable disease. And NFL teams have reported complications from intravenous treatments, including blood clots, air bubbles, fluid accumulation on the lungs, and even one case of a punctured lung.

None of the companies hawking these products make testable statements and they use shrewd phrasing which suggests benefits without promising anything specific. As Tiller noted, claiming to improve maximal oxygen uptake is precise and falsifiable, while asserting that the products helps one achieve fitness goals is not.

Unless the customer has a nutrient deficiency, there will be no benefit to the drips. And diagnosing a nutrient deficiency usually requires a blood test, after which a physician might prescribe supplements.

There is one other potentially valid use. Extremely physical undertakings such as an ultramarathon can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, and these can be treated with an injection of saline and electrolytes.

But both of these are instances of medical professionals dealing with diagnosed issues by a means based on understood science. That’s much different than a putative treatment being administered to a random someone who happens by a kiosk on their way to Bed Bath and Beyond.

“Emotional recuse” (EFT)

The Emotional Freedom Technique refers to a putative therapeutic process meant to heal the mind and cure a host of psychological and physical maladies. The method through which this is allegedly achieved is akin to acupuncture but without needles. During sessions, the practitioner attempts to manipulate the client’s undefined energy field by tapping on make-believe meridians while the client focuses on a specific bad memory.

According to the primary EFT website, the practitioner will tap on “end points of the body’s energy meridians,” a vacuous term and an undefined concept. The purported aim is to stimulate acupressure points by pressuring, tapping, or rubbing these points while focusing on situations that represent personal fear or trauma. This is unsupported by any evidence, in addition to being unfalsifiable. Stopping a random person at the street, pressing on a random place on their body, and seeing what post hoc reasoning one could arrive at would produce the same results.

Gary Craig created the technique, which he considers to be energy healing. There is no way to define, license, or regulate such a healer, and there are no standards or uniform training methods. Put another way, if you say you’re an energy healer, you are.

Craig’s website claims EFT “applies to just about every emotional and physical issue you can name and often works where nothing else will.” Such a wide-ranging claim is a pseudoscientific giveaway. Genuine medicine will treat a specific condition through a means or product that is the result of research and double blind studies. For example, Tylenol can help with a backache because of the healing properties of acetaminophen, which has been shown in repeated double blind studies. It will not help with a wide array of physical and emotional issues, nor will any other actual medicine.

Though not quite as telling, the claim that it can work when nothing else will is also a alternative medicine red flag. Because of the cyclical nature of some illnesses and conditions, a person may have already tried three techniques or medicines when they get around to giving EFT or other alt-med idea a shot. It might seem to work, but perhaps only because the condition has run its course. Without multiple double blind studies suggesting efficiency, there is no way to know if a medicine or technique is working.

When my middle child was a Kindergartner, there was an evening where he was experiencing body aches and a fever. It was midnight so all the stores were closed and we were out of medicine, so we gave him absolutely nothing. In the morning, the pain and fever were gone. Had he used EFT or a similar unproven idea, we could well have credited the technique, raved about it to our friends, and made our anecdote one of many on an EFT-promoting website. This highlights one of the reasons double blind studies are crucial and, as James Randi put it, why the plural of anecdote is not data.

Proponents claim EFT works by balancing, blocking, and rerouting energy. They do not explain what type of energy, how this energy is accessed, how it would be balanced, blocked, or rerouted, or why this would be beneficial.

Elsewhere on the site, there is this appeal to antiquity: “Gary’s discovered what traditional healers have known for millennia.” To balance this out, there is an appeal to novelty highlighting quantum physics, again without explaining how it would be used to help. Craig also tries to piggyback on one of the all-time greats by including an Einsteinian reference to energy. Completing this logical fallacy romp, Craig employs the Galileo Gambit, chastising doctors, especially those in the West, for ignoring energy healing.

The website also gloats about EFT’s the lack of side effects. That’s because there are no effects of any kind since it is not medicine. Any genuine medicine by definition is going to be impacting the body in some way. If someone claims a medicine could never have side effects they are either lying or misinformed or it is not medicine.

EFT might have value as relaxation technique but one could get that for free by lying on a couch at home, burning incense, and listening to flute music.

“Scary Blossom” (Collapsing athletes/Neuriva)

Continuing their run of delivering a fresh piece of misinformation at least weekly, anti-vax activists are pushing a trope that athletes are collapsing on the field after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. They share context-less videos of players, usually of the European soccer persuasion, fainting during a match. A non sequitur insinuation that this is the result of vaccination follows. But there is no reason to think that the collapsing took place since the advent of the vaccine, or that the collapsing players were vaccinated, or that the vaccine was responsible.

Reuters and Snopes contacted FIFA, whose officials told them they had seen no increase in cardiac events among their players, and certainly none related to vaccinations.

While myocarditis and pericarditis may occur after an infinitesimal percentage of shots, none of the athletes in these videos were diagnosed with these conditions. Snopes reviewed a video that included several images of soccer athletes passing out and then looked into the cause. It turned out that most suffered from heat exhaustion or dehydration and none were the result of vaccine-linked cardiovascular misfortunes.

In short, this is all another anti-vax lie and nothing suggests a connection between the coronavirus vaccine and collapsing soccer players. Indeed, it would seem very strange that this only impacted one sport on one continent. For all the NFL that I watch, I have yet to see these types of collapses, vaccination-related or otherwise. Additionally, Snopes noted some of the soccer players were revealed to have NOT been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, not precisely making it up but not doing a whole lot better is what actress Mayim Bialik does when she touts brain supplements along with her supposed standing as a neuroscientist. The products in question are Neuriva and Neuriva Plus, the latter which combines the original ingredients with vitamins B6, B12, and folate.

However, Dr. Harriet Hall notes there is no evidence these additional ingredients increase the product’s efficiency. Since the product has yet to be subject to double blind testing, we are unsure if it works. There are studies which show the added ingredients may have impact by themselves, though that’s far from certain since they were tested on aging mice. And even if true, it would not necessarily follow that Neuriva Plus is effective for human brain power or memory.

As to the person making such claims, while Bialik did earn a doctorate in neuroscience, she doesn’t seem to have ever worked in the field. University of Chicago professor emeritus Jerry Coyne searched for her name in the Web of Science and found zero publications to her credit. Nor is she employed as a professor, doing laboratory work, or submitting findings for peer review.

While she can’t be compared to anti-vax misinformation agents in terms of damage done or lies being told, she is not doing any more science than they are.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.