Saturday, 29 January 2022

When all you have is a hammer....

Excitable conspiracy theorists are triumphantly distributing this "revelation" that only 6000 people in the UK have EVER died of Covid-19. What's particularly odd is that they simultaneously believe that there's been a massive cover-up by the Government and that they've uncovered the secret by simply asking the Government for the information. I'll happily take on all comers in the Ridiculing Government Incompetence Games, but come on, seriously. 

Because of course there is no cover-up or revelation here. The controversy is based on the obvious bollocks that "died of" and "died solely of" are the same thing, which they aren't remotely. The premise here is that having two things on a death certificate means that neither of those things is fatal. When of course their fatality is the reason they're on a death certificate.

The logic is puzzlingly unidirectional, too.

  • "This person has covid and condition X on their death certificate; therefore condition X killed them and covid didn't."
  • "This person has covid and condition X on their death certificate; therefore covid killed them and condition X didn't." 

These two arguments are logically identical, yet the conspiracy theorists are only making one of them and regard the other as crazy. 

Comorbidities are a thing. Two examples.

Firstly, diabetes is a comorbidity of covid. The conspiracy theorists claim that every diabetic person who died of covid in fact died of diabetes and merely happened to have completely non-fatal covid at the time. But diabetes doesn't kill you in weeks; it kills you in decades. When a forty-year-old with diabetes dies of covid, yes, it's technically true that they were going to die of diabetes "anyway" — in twenty-five to thirty-five years time. When some other disease accelerates that timeline to a month, the conventional way to describe the process is "killing".

Secondly, HIV. HIV screws up your immune system, causing you to eventually die of whatever ailment happens to come along. People with AIDS die of tuberculosis or cancer or meningitis or some other opportunistic infection. No-one has ever died of only HIV. By the exact same reasoning the conspiracy theorists are applying to the covid stats, the all-time worldwide fatality rate of HIV is zero.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Prince Andrew's defence in full.

"I went to lots of parties at the houses of my close friend the convicted paedophile pimp. While I was there, there were always young borderline-underage girls hanging around, partying with me and the other unattractive rich old friends of my close friend the convicted paedophile pimp. None of these girls ever had any family or parents around, but I thought nothing of it. I never found it suspicious that these borderline-underage girls might be partying not with other young people of their own age but with me and the other unattractive rich old friends of my close friend the convicted paedophile pimp. I never wondered what their parents, whom nobody ever mentioned or seemed to know, thought about it. I enjoyed partying with at least one of these borderline-underage girls myself. 


Monday, 10 January 2022

There's more to conspiracy theories than just theories about conspiracies.

Leonid Brezhnev set up a department within the KGB tasked with finding out who was really running Capitalism.

He was, of course, perfectly well aware of the "official" (a.k.a. accurate) explanation of free markets: that each individual shopkeeper freely chooses to set the price of each of their products at whatever they want; and that they adjust those prices based on their personal judgement of the balance between too high to sell any and too low to be worth selling. He just didn't believe it. Immersed in an environment of centralised control by diktat, he couldn't bring himself to believe that anything could work effectively without it. I like to imagine those KGB officers, beavering away, chasing down leads, convincing themselves that this time they're genuinely on the trail of that elusive man who secretly contacts EVERY SHOPKEEPER IN THE WORLD and tells them all their prices. I truly hope that they found the occasional shopkeeper willing to break the code of silence and spill the beans. Fun times.

Brezhnev was a conspiracy theorist.

Thing is, Brezhnev also believed in lots of real conspiracies that really were happening. He'd have been an idiot not to, and an idiot with a short life expectancy at that. It was the Cold War, probably humanity's peak of weaponised conspiracy. Brezhnev was the Russian Premier and dictator of the USSR. Approximately half the conspiracies he believed in, he was nominally in charge of. Would it have been irrational of him to suspect that the CIA might be trying to undermine his grip on power? Of course not. They were.

For Brezhnev, believing in conspiracies was not, mostly, conspiracy theorism; it was perfectly sensible theories about conspiracies. And yet, on top of all that common sense and rational deduction, he was also a conspiracy theorist.

So what's the difference?

The thing about conspiracy theorists is not that they believe in conspiracies at all, but that they believe in conspiracies first and foremost and no matter what. When the evidence points towards conspiracy, they believe in the conspiracy. When the evidence points towards an accident or a coincidence or something that just happened, they still believe in the conspiracy. When there is proof that the conspiracy didn't happen, they conclude that the proof must have been faked by the conspirators as part of a cover-up, and therefore that all evidence against a conspiracy is in fact just yet more evidence of the conspiracy.

The second belief conspiracy theorists cling to follows necessarily from the first: that there is no effective limit to the number or type of people who can keep a secret, or for how long. The dogma of constant omnipresent conspiracy that somehow remains secret cannot survive without insane numbers of people, often each other's enemies, all taking part in the cover-up.

That was the key difference Brezhnev should have noticed. He knew that the way the KGB kept their conspiracies secret was by telling as few people as possible as little as possible, and, when necessary, killing people to reduce the number who knew. The sheer number of people choosing for themselves what to charge for their goods and services — basically, all of us — shouldn't have passed the smell test. And even those Westerners who opposed Capitalism and supported the USSR were setting their own prices. Wouldn't one of them have spilt the beans? Just how devilishly cunning was this conspiracy?

Look at Flat-Earthers. Their fundamental belief is a bit odd, considering that you can literally see the Earth's curvature. But it's nowhere near their craziest idea. They believe that all the world's governments know that the Earth is really flat and have been working together for decades to suppress the truth. That's governments working together and always succeeding and never having any leaks. They believe that, during the Cold War, the Americans and Russians collaborated in this conspiracy. During that era of defections and triple-agents, everyone stayed on-message with their mortal enemies. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Russians and Americans were still, on this one issue, working together, staunch allies in the fight against people discovering that the Earth isn't round. Have these eejits ever met a human?

And where's the motive? They don't want us to know that the Earth is flat, because then we might... WHAT? What would we do with this knowledge? And how would it harm our Lords & Masters?

Back at the start of The Cursed Pandemic, we now know that various institutions, including the World Health Organization, the British Government, and the American Government, all claimed that masks were completely useless against SARS-CoV-2 while they in fact believed that masks were useful. (Later arguments about the possible inefficacy of masks are immaterial here; the point is that the people claiming they were useless believed them to be useful at the time.) They did this, as they have since admitted, because they were worried about supplies of masks for medical staff, and they wanted to discourage the public from buying them so that there would be plenty available for hospitals. Some of us noticed the lie at the time. We weren't conspiracy theorists; we were merely people with a theory about a conspiracy. The conspiracy was not unlikely: it involved the careful coordination of public communication by organizations that do usually carefully coordinate their public communications. It did not require us to believe that thousands of people all kept on-message, since there was widespread disagreement and argument. They didn't manage to keep it all secret for decades; they barely made it a few weeks. There were various plausible hypothetical motives, one of which turned out to be true. And there was actual evidence that masks are useful. To believe in this conspiracy, at no point did anyone have to elevate their dogmatic belief in conspiracy above a reasonable assessment of actual evidence.

There have been so many ridiculous claims made over the last two years, I could pick dozens of examples. I'll go with one from the anti-vaxxers: that mRNA vaccines killed every single animal they were injected into during animal trials, and the researchers destroyed all records of those results so that they could proceed to mass human vaccination. I have spoken to people online who genuinely believe this. First of all, it has to be said: what a stroke of luck! These vaccines, developed by people who are determined to commit genocide, killed every single non-human mammal they were ever given to, and yet have only had fatal side-effects in a tiny proportion of humans. What are the chances that humanity's would-be murderers would create the one toxin that kills every animal except humans? They must be kicking themselves.

And imagine the conversation that needs to have happened:
"We have the results of the animal trials. Our vaccine appears to be highly toxic. It killed every test subject. Every single one. Turns out it's not so much a vaccine as more of a venom."
  "So, back to the drawing board, then?"
  "No, we're going to hush up the results, go ahead with mass production, and inject it into every human on the planet."
  "Er, why?"
  "Mass genocide, of course. Why else would we be working in medical research?"
  "Oh, OK, then."
What I really can't get my head around is the recruitment process. I mean, how often do you meet someone who's really keen on genocide? How does a medical research lab go about recruiting scientists all of whom want to kill everyone on the planet? They can't exactly advertise their secret plot, so they'd get loads of applications from normal scientists who are going into the field of medical research because they have at least some intention of developing medicine. What do they ask them in the interview to try and sound out the misanthropic psychopaths? "Would you describe yourself as a people person?"?

Now, that's a conspiracy theory. Because the only way you can possibly believe it is if you start with an iron-clad belief in the secret machinations of nefarious cabals, and ignore every ounce of evidence and common sense and basic knowledge of human nature that says — nay, screams — that it's a load of old bollocks.

And all of that is why this argument holds no water:
"See? There really was a conspiracy! So we conspiracy theorists were right all along, and you need to start listening to us."
Nope. You were unhinged. There was a conspiracy. And you're still unhinged.