Since I can only write so much about coronavirus vaccines without going mad, let’s talk about COVID-19 conspiracies. There are so many, but I wanted to focus on the six that are most frequently circulating around the internet.
I wonder what conspiracists before the existence of the internet. It’s possible that they were limited to those awful trash papers you could buy at the grocery story line checkout. Back when we actually stood in grocery store lines.
Today, we can’t have any science without someone inventing some conspiracy to go around it. You know, like vaccines contain nanobots or something. Actually, medical research is studying the use of nanotechnology for treating diseases – can’t wait for the ridiculous myths to surround that when it appears.
I know that 99.9% of the readers of this blog probably reject all conspiracies as pure, unfettered nonsense. But we need to have a little snark and fun during these dystopian times.
One little housekeeping note – I’m not going to link to any conspiracy website or anything. Why give them the clicks?
COVID-19 conspiracies – 1 – the pandemic is a hoax
Yeah, this one made the rounds earlier in the pandemic, before the tens of thousands of deaths occurred across the world. Even today, some of the right-wing ammosexuals who are storming state capitols with their automatic weapons, because they think that the pandemic has been exaggerated.
Of course, these wing-nuts are being egged on by Donald Trump and his lack of leadership on the pandemic.
Do I really need to debunk this? Well, the CDC and World Health Organization certainly have a lot of reports on the extent of the disease. But of course, COVIDIOTS think that the CDC and WHO are part of the conspiracy to push the non-existent disease.
Since extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, there isn’t even negligible evidence supporting this.
2 – Bill Gates
There seem to be tens of thousands of Facebook posts that have alleged that Bill Gates was involved with the origin of the novel coronavirus. Of all of the coronavirus conspiracies, this one has deep roots in the anti-vaccine movement. Gates is hated by anti-vaxxers, GMO-refusers, COVID-19 deniers, and anti-abortion misogynists.
Part of this belief is a result of a Ted Talk that Gates gave in 2015:
…if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.
This particular COVID-19 conspiracy not only states that he created the disease and that he will profit from a potential vaccine. Of course, it’s not explained how he created the virus, other than he’s stinking rich, or how he owns all of the dozens of vaccines under development.
In fact, Gates is funding some (but certainly not all) of coronavirus vaccine development through the Gavi Foundation. Because a vaccine is probably the only way to stop this pandemic, he’s being one of the few billionaires in the world that are doing something about saving the planet.
Bill Gates is just an incredibly intelligent person who has spent years studying public health issues. He’s not a virologist, epidemiologist, or vaccinologist. But he supports the best of them, and given the total lack of leadership in the USA by Trump and his sycophants towards this disease, it’s good to see one American who gives a damn.
Back to extraordinary evidence and extraordinary claims – there is no evidence once again.
3 – 5G wireless networks
For those who are into their mobile phones, you probably know about 5G networks, the fifth generation of mobile technology which is faster and more robust than what we have now. In case you were wondering, they run on the same frequencies as 4G networks, around 600 – 700 MHz, along with new higher-speed 2.5-3.7 GHz and 25 – 39 GHz frequencies.
Now, one of the COVID-19 conspiracies claims that 5G networks for some magical reason have either created the illness or maybe even created the virus. Setting aside the biological implausibility of both claims, there’s no evidence that either cellular networks in general and 5G networks specifically have any impact on health.
This COVID-19 conspiracy probably arose from a Belgian doctor who claimed that there was a link between coronavirus and 5G. Of course, he had zero evidence supporting this claim. And given that 5G isn’t widely deployed yet, it seems even more improbably that there is any link whatsoever between 5G and a virus.
Seriously people, how does any radiofrequency impact a virus? Does it cause a mutation? How? Does it make it fitter? How?
And once again, another extraordinary claim with no evidence.
4 – COVID-19 created in a lab
This one is actually two different COVID-19 conspiracies – it was created in a Chinese military lab or created in a US military lab. I guess which conspiracy is a favorite depends on where you live and which government propaganda you believe.
Trump and his minions have hinted (or even outright claimed) that China created the virus and escaped from a Wuhan lab. The Chinese, of course, have hinted or claimed that the US Army created it. Probably with the help of Bill Gates.
In fact, there is powerful scientific evidence that is almost unassailable that the virus was created by evolution in nature. The researchers compared the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, to several other coronaviruses.
The researchers concluded that:
Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.
Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.
Essentially, the researchers said conclusively that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or purposefully manipulated virus. This peer-reviewed paper shows that it is so different from all other coronaviruses that it could only have arisen by evolution.
How many peer-reviewed articles support the extraordinary COVID-19-19 conspiracy that it was created in a lab? That would be zero.
5 – China created it as a weapon
This COVID-19 conspiracy theory states that China created a bioweapon and intentionally released it on the world to disrupt the global order. The conspiracy is based on the fact that the disease isn’t all that dangerous (see conspiracy #1), it was just supposed to cause economic disruption (which it has).
We’ve already debunked the conspiracy that it was made in a lab, so we still have zero evidence that it was. And there’s no evidence that the virus was isolated in the wild, tested on a few humans to see if it was somewhat fatal, then released in Wuhan intentionally.
This leads us to the one COVID-19 conspiracy that has a slight (less than 0.01%) possibility that it happened.
6 – it escaped from a lab in Wuhan
There is a touch of credibility to this story for a couple of reasons. First, there is an important virology lab in Wuhan called the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is one of the leading centers for researching novel viruses in animals that may interact with humans.
Second, the Institute was examining coronaviruses that were found in bats, which may have been the original reservoir for SARS-CoV-2.
Third, there may have been lax safety standards at the laboratory, which concerned US intelligence operatives in Wuhan for several years.
This may be difficult to disprove, although there is only evidence from claims made by Trump and his sycophants. Eliza Barclay, who wrote about this conspiracy on Vox, talked to leading virology researchers across the world about the possibility it was accidentally released from a lab.
Barclay came to six important conclusions (in order of importance) in her detailed research:
- The probability of the virus jumping from animals to humans outside the lab is much higher than the virus infecting humans inside the lab.
- Yes, the Wuhan lab studied bat coronaviruses and SARS-related viruses. But there’s no evidence it discovered or was working on the new virus.
- Scientists like to gossip about new viruses. There was no chatter before the outbreak about the virus that causes Covid-19. (This goes to my point that there are few secrets in science because everyone communicates about anything almost immediately, just to get first dibs on new science.)
- The US military chief reviewed the evidence and says “the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural” origin.
- Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists deny a laboratory leak.
- State Department officials worried about safety issues at the Wuhan lab in 2018. This is concerning but doesn’t prove its scientists were incompetent.
Even though I think that the evidence is compelling that it did not leak from the lab, I also don’t really care.
Because shit happens at laboratories all the time. The US Army accidentally sent out live anthrax spores to all 50 states during the late 2010s as a result of some egregious safety issues.
A Canadian lab in British Columbia used horse pox virus to re-create smallpox, which is not allowed by any government, including Canada. This was not done in a secure facility, and the devastation that would have been caused by accidentally releasing smallpox would make COVID-19 appear to be a walk in the park.
In 2007, a UK research laboratory leaked hoof and mouth disease, which led to a devastating outbreak in UK livestock. It was caused by a leaky pipe.
Even though there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 came from the laboratory in Wuhan, it doesn’t really matter, because these things happen. So, that’s why I give this particular conspiracy a very slight benefit of the doubt.
The strongest evidence according to numerous peer-reviewed papers is that the coronavirus arose in bats and crossed over to one of the millions of people in the Wuhan area that may have been in some type of contact with bats.
These COVID-19 conspiracies are ridiculous.
No, COVID-19 is not a fake disease.
No, Bill Gates did not create COVID-19 to make billions off of a vaccine.
No, 5G did not create or cause COVID-19.
No, COVID-19 was not created in a lab.
No, COVID-19 was not a bioweapon.
And no, COVID-19 was not accidentally released by a lab in Wuhan.
Now, let’s get back to vaccines instead of these ridiculous COVID-19 conspiracies.
- Andersen KG, Rambaut A, Lipkin WI, Holmes EC, Garry RF. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med. 2020 Apr;26(4):450-452. doi: 10.1038/s41591-020-0820-9.