Pandemics like COVID-19 lead to fear… and to some wacky – but dangerous – conspiracy theories.
I have a confession to make. I used to read the National Enquirer (NE). In my defence, it was not really my fault: my mom used to buy it at the grocery store and it was just sitting there on the kitchen table, begging to be read. And it was a hoot!
NB for anyone not born in the 1960s or 1970s: magazines like NE were all we had to entertain ourselves with silly, clearly false stories. Now we have the Internet. I think NE is still around but it is now in colour, not the cheap black and white newsprint version we had.
NE was brilliant at hooking you by putting a truly impossible item on the cover. Some of these were classics. My favourite? A piece in which a ‘survivor’ of the Titanic sinking was interviewed on an ice floe. His main complaint: “I have really gotten sick of eating fish!”
Was there ever a better time to be alive?
Now, thanks to the World Wide Web we have all sorts of satirical and fake news to read! Was there ever a better time to be alive? I am deliberately cynical of course. Satire (The Onion, and the Canadian The Beaverton for example) is one thing: disinformation and lies are another. We are faced with a growing problem of bad information, some of it spread by state actors (hello Russia!) and some of it leading people to believe, and take action on, some very dangerous ideas.
As we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis this time is no different. I have already covered how a few religious leaders are being particularly unhelpful now (here is another egregious example: taking precautions to stop coronavirus is a ‘victory for Satan’). But there is another myth that needs to be nipped in the bud and now.
Here it is: COVID-19 is NOT a manufactured bioterror weapon. Allow me to repeat this as it is very important: COVID-19 is NOT a manufactured bioterror weapon.
So, who exactly is saying this? Well, read on:
- A recent statement by Chinese spokesman Zhao Lijian in which he formally accused the US of bringing coronavirus to China;
- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei suggested the virus was planted in Iran by the US government;
- US President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’;
- Some contributors in the Palestinian media have accused Israel and the US of spreading the coronavirus in the world for ‘various reasons;
- Russian state media has blamed Britain for the global pandemic, adding that it was created as a tool for the benefit of the UK.
I think you get my point.
Here is the problem: none of this is true. I am not saying that viruses like COVID-19 are not of interest to militaries as potential weapons (and even perhaps terrorist groups, but that is less likely as I wrote in Homeland Security recently) but that there is no real evidence to say that this particular one is.
I am not saying that viruses like COVID-19 are not of interest to militaries as potential weapons but that there is no real evidence to say that this particular one is.
In the absence of evidence we cannot go there but must abide by the classic rule of Occam’s Razor: “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” Say what?? More simply: the simplest answer is often correct. In other words, the most reasonable analysis is that COVID-19 is a typical variation of a coronavirus that occurs all the time in nature. This one happens to have infected humans: not all viruses do.
I know, I know. I rail a lot against pseudo ‘expertise’. But true specialisation and knowledge counts for a lot. It is primordially important in this unsettled time to listen to scientists. Not Donald Trump. Not Vladimir Putin. Not Ayatollah Khamene’i. Not Alex Jones. Scientists.
A new paper from an international team of scientists recently published in the research journal Nature Medicine found that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was not, in fact, genetically engineered. That is science.
Way back in 1982 Thomas Dolby came out with the hit song ‘She blinded me with science‘. It is high time for all of us to cast our gaze in that direction.
In this time of COVID-19, we have enough to worry about without freaking out about terrorism!
Even ISIS is afraid of COVID-19, suggesting we may not see an uptick in attacks seeking to take advantage of a possible skeleton crew in security and intelligence agencies.
The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and governments are having a hard time keeping up with strategies to respond and react effectively to keep their citizenry safe. Read more about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and its ties with terrorism.