Podcast: Lockdown skeptics are COVID ‘deniers’? Plant burgers don’t cause ‘man boobs.’ GMOs and terrorism

If you oppose lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID, are you a science denier, a covidiot? Potentially dangerous genetically engineered organisms could be released into society by unscrupulous governments and terrorists. Experts are rapidly developing countermeasures, but will they be enough? Contrary to the claims of self-improvement gurus and gym bros, men who eat plant-based burgers will not develop “man boobs.”

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP editor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

Are society-wide lockdowns the best way to bring this pandemic to a swift end? No, say signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, who instead advocate for an approach known as “focused protection.” Rather than keeping everyone in their homes to cut virus transmission, the three academics behind the alternative pandemic response argue that at-risk populations (primarily the elderly and people with preexisting conditions) could be isolated, while children and young adults “live their lives without lockdown restrictions.”
This, they claim, moves us closer to herd immunity without inflicting unnecessary collateral damage associated with the current policy. Is this a realistic response to COVID-19, or a textbook example of science denial?
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Advances in biotechnology are making it cheaper and easier than ever to utilize genetic engineering in agriculture and medicine. But how do we stop terrorists, totalitarian regimes and other bad actors from using tools like CRISPR-Cas9 to release potentially dangerous GE organisms? Regulators, biotech firms and independent scientists are working on preventative strategies, but there is disagreement among experts about how effective these measures will be.

Rest easy, men. You can enjoy a plant-based burger without fear of developing gynecomastia, “man boobs” in the vernacular. This long-debunked myth about the risk of consuming soy-based foods was resurrected by critics of the plant-based meat industry when consumption of Impossible Foods’ meatless burgers took off last year. The incident illustrates how easy it is to spread misinformation and why fear is such a powerful force in debates surrounding controversial science topics.

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Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s managing editor. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

screenshot coronavirus q a traveling asthma dishes disinfectants and being contagious

27 truths and myths about COVID-19, from Christian healing to Bill Gates conspiracy theories

Due to popular demand (well, two polite requests, actually), I have decided to create a clean version of my post about COVID-19 myths. If you don’t mind (or in fact prefer) the sweary version, please go read that one.

Here we go again. Another rabbit hole, and another long post that no one will likely read, care about, or both. In case you don’t know exactly what I’m talking about, I went about busting 76 of the most common vaccine myths I see on social media just over a year ago, so if you haven’t read that post, I’d strongly suggest ignoring it completely unless you enjoy bashing your head against a wall repeatedly, because reading that would probably hurt quite a bit more.

[Editor’s note: Doc Bastard is the pseudonym of a trauma and general surgeon.]

Anyway, if you think this post strongly resembles that one, there’s a very good reason for that, and it sounds something like COPY PASTE. I have no intention of reinventing the wheel, and that one seems to have worked out rather splendidly, so here we are with a lookalike (and possibly soundalike) post.

Let us begin.

If you’ve landed on this page, one of two things has happened:

  1. You’ve been a loyal reader, got an email notification, and you excitedly clicked the link thinking you’d finally get your first stupid patient story in over 6 months, or 
  2. I or (hopefully) someone else referred you here from Twitter (or (hopefully) elsewhere) because you propagated some stupid myth or outright lie about COVID-19. 

If it is #1, then I apologise in advance for your current state of profound disappointment. However, if it’s #2, there is at least a 99.91% chance (I calculated it) that you have already clicked back over to Twitter or Facebook or Natural News or greenmedinfo or Children’s Health Defense or Infowars or whatever your source of conspiracy theories may be. And if that is the case, then why on Earth am I still talking to you.

But on the off chance that you are still reading, and I sincerely hope you are, then please do read on to find out exactly why your myth is a myth.

I was temporarily suspended on Twitter at the end of April for reasons only known to Twitter. I had been in the middle of explaining why the #FilmYourHospital trend was nonsense (more on that later) when Twitter decided to shut me down, because apparently they don’t care about medical misinformation being strewn about. At least that’s what I think happened, though I have no proof since Twitter didn’t bother to explain why my account had been suspended. I appealed (of course), and after about three weeks I got this reply:


Which, of course, explains exactly nothing. In those intervening three weeks, I missed out on a lot of snake oil salesmen peddling their snake oil, so without further ado, please allow me to bust some COVID-19 myths.

Unlike my usual mythbusting, there may be some opinion here. Unfortunately SARS-CoV-2 is still a new virus and COVID-19 is still a new disease, so while scientists have discovered plenty, the information coming out is often confusing, contradictory, or both.

Once again I will place a handy alphabetised and clickable table below with all the myths I’ll be busting.

And with that out of the way, let’s get started.

1) The virus doesn’t exist. 

Yes, we’ll start with the one that should be easiest to correct: it’s all completely fake and there is no virus.

WRONG. Hey look, here it is!


And here is a transmission electron micrograph of it!


Science! The virus has been isolatedsequenced, and extensively studied including how it infects cells

It exists.

2) Ok, the virus exists but it’s basically just the flu.

It would be incredibly easy to just say “No it isn’t just the flu”, but that would never satisfy you. Actually, nothing will actually satisfy you, but I’ll go through the motions anyway.

Unfortunately many smart and/or famous people made this same comparison, including Dr. Drew Pinsky (who retracted, corrected, and apologised) and paediatrics and vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit, who also notably minimised COVID-19 in mid-March when there were fewer than 100 deaths in the US (now just about 100,000).

To start, COVID-19 is far more infectious than the flu. Unfortunately I’ll have to pause this explanation by explaining R0. It is an infectious disease’s infectiousness, the average number of people who will contract a disease from someone who has it. As an example, measles (the most highly infectious infectious disease) has an R0 of 12-18, meaning on average 12-18 non-immune people who come into contact with someone with measles will catch measles. For influenza, the R0 is about 1.5For COVID-19, it is between 2 and 3. This means that COVID-19 is up to twice as infectious as flu.

So what? you say? Well the lower the R0, the higher the likelihood the outbreak will burn itself out. That’s why flu epidemics tend to fizzle, but also why Ebola outbreaks die out (people tend to die quickly before getting the chance to infect others).

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What, not enough? Then let’s also compare death rates, shall we? For influenza, the most recent H1N1 pandemic in 2009 had a case fatality rate (CFR, defined as number of deaths divided by number of cases) of 0.01-0.08%, which means that of every 10,000 people who had H1N1, between 1 and 8 died. Compare this to COVID-19, which has an estimated CFR of 1.3%, which is approximately WAAAAAAAAAAAY HIGHER than even the upper estimate of the 2009 swine flu pandemic at 0.08%.

COVID-19 spreads more easily and kills more people. It is NOT just the flu.

3) But that number is inflated! Stanford study!

I’ll give this one a C- for accuracy, because there definitely is some validity to this argument, though not nearly as much as you hoped. The currently reported case fatality rate will almost certainly fall as more tests are done, because it is known that there are many asymptomatic cases that haven’t been factored in. The “Stanford study” essentially offered volunteers free COVID antibody tests (when such tests were scarce), and based on their results the authors claimed that there are so many asymptomatic patients that they estimated 50-85 times as many people who had been tested actually had been infected. This theoretically means the death rate should be 50-85 times lower.

Well, no. Not really. There are so many things wrong with this paper (which as of this writing is still in pre-print and has not been peer reviewed), all of which are detailed by this Columbia statistician here. If you think about it another way, the current number of deaths (again as of this writing) in New York City is over 16,000. If every single New Yorker had been infected, this would be a case fatality rate of 16,000 divided by 8.4 million (the current population of NYC), which would be 0.19%. Again, that would be the CFR IF EVERY PERSON IN THE CITY HAD GOTTEN IT. Which they have not. Yet.

So is the CFR 6% as it stands right now? Of course not. But is it higher than flu? Yes, much higher. How much higher will not be known for quite some time, perhaps even years.

4) Ok, it isn’t just the flu, but it isn’t that dangerous. It’s all just media panic

The easiest way to explain that it isn’t just all panic is by showing how many more people are dying compared to the expected number of deaths.


In case you can’t read or understand the graph, the red area is the number of deaths over the historical average in France, Spain, UK, Netherlands, New York City, Lombardy, Belgium, Sweden (more on Sweden later), Istanbul, and Austria. Notice anything striking? Yeah – lots more people are dying all over the world. There are similar graphs for other countries in South America and Southeast Asia, but hopefully by now you get the point – people are dying of this disease. Lots of them. Hundreds of thousands of them.There are a few other related claims, like BUT HOSPITALS ARE EMPTY, which I will cover below.

5) Yeah! Hospitals are empty!

Some of them, sure. Like this one, for example. Does this prove you’re right?


No. This was an idle cruise terminal that had been transformed into a makeshift hospital at a time when hospital utilisation in the city was incredibly high, including over 3,000 patients in intensive care. The city was preparing for the worst, and fortunately efforts to contain the disease finally began to be successful, and new cases began to fall, rendering the temporary facility unnecessary. All this proves is that the city was prepared. If your smoke alarm battery dies because it never went off, do you consider the smoke alarm useless? If your airbag in your car never goes off because you don’t get into an accident, do you consider them a waste? No. It’s called preparedness, and it is generally a Very Good Thing.

Now if you’re talking about the #FilmYourHospital movement, slow the hell down and use your damned brain. People were walking through empty hospital corridors or filming outside hospitals and shouting about the lack of business. As someone who has walked through many hospital corridors over many years, I can tell you that patients aren’t treated in the hallways, they are treated in treatment areas. Those people typically walking in the halls are visitors. Nearly all of them. And these people were filming these hospitals at a time when they were closed to visitors. Parking lots were empty because there were no visitors allowed. Cafeterias were closed because . . . that’s right, no visitors allowed. And hospitals were generally slow during that time anyway because elective surgeries were cancelled to make room for COVID-19 patients. At my hospital, for example, 2/3 of the hospital wards were converted to COVID only, and they were full. The ICU was full of COVID-19 patients. The hospital was NOT empty.

If your local hospital is slow or relatively empty, then consider yourself lucky that the virus hasn’t hit your area very hard. But claiming that that means the pandemic is a hoax is like saying that global temperatures aren’t rising (they are) because it’s cold at your house.

6) But doctors are inflating the death numbers so hospitals get paid more!

This is a two-pronged myth: 1) doctors are putting COVID-19 on the death certificate no matter what the cause of death was, and 2) hospitals are getting paid more if they say a patient has COVID-19. The source of this was a doctor and US state senator Dr. Scott Jensen, who said,

“Right now Medicare has determined that if you have a COVID-19 admission to the hospital, you’ll get paid $13,000. If that COVID-19 patient goes on a ventilator, you get $39,000, three times as much. Nobody can tell me after 35 years in the world of medicine that sometimes those kinds of things impact on what we do.”

Interesting. The problem is that Medicare, the US federal insurance program for people 65 and older, pays hospitals to care for patients, and the amount paid for respiratory ailments with comorbidities in 2017 was . . . $13,000. And Medicare pays more for more complicated cases, ie need for a ventilator.

Oh, and it gets worse. In a later interview, Jensen “clarified” his statement:

“Do I think people are misclassifying? No.”

The problem he had was that the CDC guidance on classifying deaths constituted, as he put it, “less precise standards”. Well let’s just look at the CDC guidance, shall we?


It says quite clearly that COVID-19 should be listed as “probable” or “presumed” if the patient was presumed to have it within a a reasonable degree of certainty. It does not say “Just put COVID on there no matter what, whatever”. Anyone who has filled out a death certificate (as I have) without a solid cause of death knows how difficult it can be to put a diagnosis on there without being sure. We do the best we can with the information at hand, and that sometimes means being wrong. But your argument that doctors can just put COVID-19 as the cause of death even if the patient died in a car accident is 1) unfounded, and 2) assumes the doctors caring for these patients around the world would act unethically. In other words, it just doesn’t hold water.

What is more likely is that deaths are being undercounted.

7) It was manufactured by China

This one just smacks of racism, though I reserve the right to be wrong. Though considering the current geopolitical landscape (yes, I just used the term “geopolitical landscape” in my stupid blog”), I am not at all surprised to see it rear its very ugly head.

Anyway, the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has been extensively studied by people who understand viral genetics much better than you and I, and their conclusion is so impossible to misinterpret that I feel no need to elaborate: No credible evidence supporting claims of the laboratory engineering of SARS-CoV-2. The author further states that there is no evidence the virus escaped from the lab in Wuhan either, so you can put that nonsense away too.

Another claim that the virus was man-made because it has HIV sequences in it, but this was also roundly destroyed by an HIV virologist. Once again, the title of the paper is impossible to misunderstand: HIV-1 Did Not Contribute to the 2019-nCoV Genome.

8) It doesn’t matter, because hydroxychloroquine something something cures it something something game changer.

Hydroxychloroquine is a very old (first synthesised in the 1940’s), very cheap, very safe, and very effective drug which is used to treat various autoimmune diseases (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis) as well as malaria. It also has been shown to have some antiviral and anti-inflammatory activity, which prompted its investigation into the treatment and/or prevention of COVID-19. The first report was written by French microbiologist Didier Raoult regarding the supposed “100% cure” of 80 patients. There were several, ah, problems with this:

  • no control arm
  • 92% of patients had mild disease
  • only 15% of patients had a fever, which is a hallmark of COVID-19
  • only 15% of patients required oxygen

In other words, the overwhelming majority of the patients had mild disease and would have recovered anyway. Add no control arm, and this is a small, poorly done study. I won’t even go into Raoult’s track record of academic fraud, but feel free to look it up.

Once that study was produced and a certain demagogue promoted it as a “game changer”, hydroxychloroquine became the go-to medicine (with or without azithromycin (an antibiotic) and zinc), mostly because clinicians had no other real treatment. A few small trials showed some promise, but more recent larger trials, including a multinational registry analysis of over 96,000 patients in over 600 hospitals on 6 continents have shown 1) no positive effect of hydroxychloroquine, and 2) increased risk of death. Randomised trials are underway, but the results have not yet been published as of this writing.

In short, hydroxychloriquine does not appear to work, and it appears to increase the risk of death due to the well-known side effect of QT prolongation of both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

9) But those two emergency doctors say COVID isn’t so bad!

You’re referring to Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi who made a viral video claiming that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. They based their conclusions on the tests they had performed in their walk-in clinic that they own. Oh, you thought they were emergency doctors working in a hospital? Nope. They own and operate several walk-in clinics in California, and they were testing people who literally walked into their clinic. Concluding the seriousness of a disease based on the symptoms of people who are well enough to walk into a clinic is like concluding the endurance of all people by testing the riders at the Tour de France.

In fact, Erickson and Massihi’s statements were so outrageous ludicrous that it prompted the American College of Emergency Physicians and American Academy of of Emergency Medicine to release a joint statement:



10) Only the old and sick are dying.

First of all, is there some reason you don’t care about the elderly or infirm? Second and more importantly, while it is true that 1) the overwhelming majority of deaths are people over age 65 and/or people with co-morbidities, and 2) cases in children tend to be mild with fewer symptoms, there are previously healthy children and young adults who have died of COVID-19. One of the techs with whom I’ve worked for over a decade, who helped me take care of hundreds if not thousands of my trauma patients and was young and completely healthy, is now dead, having caught COVID-19 from a patient.

There are now multiple reports of children with a multisystem inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease has now been described in multiple countries around the globe. It is still quite rare, but at the same time quite worrisome.

The bottom line is that who the virus is killing matters less than the number of people who are dying, which is about 350,000 so far.

11) But lockdowns don’t work and are making everything worse. The ‘cure’ is worse than the disease! Open up!

Do lockdowns work? Well let’s take a look at a tale of two cities in Italy, which saw its first case on February 21, that treated this a bit differently. Lodi went into lockdown two days later, the same day Bergamo, another city in the same region, reported its first case. However, unlike Lodi, Bergamo waited to enforce a lockdown until March 8. Just over a week later, Lodi (locked down) had fewer than 1400 cases while Bergamo had over over 3700. Though Bergamo has a population almost 3 times that of Lodi, their curves look very different indeed – Lodi leveled off rather quickly while Bergamo’s cases continued to rise just as quickly:


Still not conviced? The chart below (from Financial Times) plots the daily death toll for various countries around the world at their point of lockdown versus 10 days after their 50th death. As you can see, the longer countries wait to impose a lockdown, the higher their death toll tends to be.

Studies out of both China and Hong Kong have shown the same thing – lockdown = fewer cases, and taking a look at countries around the EU, the data again seems clear – waiting longer to lock down means more deaths.

Is that definitive evidence that lockdowns work? No. There are other studies that show lockdowns do work, and others that say they don’t. There are also opinion pieces by economists that seem to waver somewhere in between. My take on this issue of lockdowns is quite simple: we don’t know yet, but the hypothesis and early evidence certainly seems to support the idea.

The next question deals with the economic aftermath of such lockdowns. Germany has already entered a recession, and the US economy has taken a decided and harsh downturn. I have heard the argument that more people will die of starvation because of the lockdown than would have died of COVID-19 had the lockdown never happened, but this is of course impossible to prove unless you happen to have a TARDIS or specially equipped DeLorean handy. However, if these strict measures had not been put in place and the disease had been left to spread unabated, there is a very good chance that hospitals and indeed entire countries’ medical systems could have been overwhelmed, leading to even more deaths. And when medical systems collapse, that leads to even more poverty and even more deaths. The main point was to flatten the curve, not necessarily to bring the pandemic to an end.

So is it true that the treatment is worse than the disease? Maybe, but maybe not. Though I doubt it I have no real definitive answer, and neither do you.

12) But Sweden is different!

The myth here is that Sweden didn’t lock down, and they have fewer cases and fewer deaths. Unfortunately for you (and more so for Sweden), that just isn’t true.

The only portion of this myth with any truth is that Sweden didn’t lock down as tightly as many other countries. Schools, bars, restaurants, and gyms remained open (though with distancing in place), the Swedish government issued recommendations on hand washing and social distancing, and people were recommended to work from home if possible, though gatherings of more than 50 people were banned. The hypothesis was that herd immunity would eventually kick in, mitigating the threat. And that worked, right?



As of today, Sweden, with a population of 10.2 million, has over 34,000 cases and over 4,100 deaths. Their per capita death rate is among the worst in Europe, and far worse than their Nordic neighbours. In fact, Sweden’s death rate per million (392) is worse than the US (300), and far worse than neighbours Denmark (93), Finland (53), and Norway (44). The Swedish experiment has failed.

13) The flu shot increases risk of COVID-19.

There is no evidence that this is true in any way. Unfortunately, this myth persists, and it comes from a January 2020 study from the US regarding the 2017-18 flu shot, which looked at 6000 people who had or had not had that particular flu shot. It found no difference in general in infections from other non-influenza respiratory viruses between vaccinated and unvaccinated Department of Defense personnel, but there was a slightly higher risk of contracting certain cold viruses, including metapneumovirus and coronaviruses.


Nope. The data from this study were collected two years before SARS-CoV-2 was even known to exist, and the coronaviruses mentioned in this study are the garden variety coronaviruses which just cause the common cold, not SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19. There are literally zero studies which show that the flu shot (or any other vaccine) increases the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. None. Zero.

This claim is pure, unadulterated fear mongering and pure, unadulterated antivax twaddle.

14) This is all just a ploy by Bill Gates to do something nefarious.

Ok, here we go. This is the first myth that I can more accurately categorise as a conspiracy theory, and this one is DEEP. Not deep as in profound, but deep as in knee-deep in manure. There are several components or iterations of this conspiracy theory:

  • Bill Gates created SARS-CoV-2 in order to create a mandatory vaccine.
  • The mandatory vaccine would make Bill Gates $200 billion in profit.
  • The mandatory vaccine will include a microchip to track everyone’s vaccine status and/or location.
  • Bill gates owns a patent on SARS-CoV-2.
  • Event 201

Lest you think I’m making any of this up, prepare to be amazed (or not).


There are two iotas of truth here – Event 201, which I will discuss later, and a vaccine “chip”.


Slow down there, sparky. You’re not nearly as correct as you think. The “microchips” are nothing remotely resembling actual microchips, which are all far too large to fit through a vaccination needle anyway. But I guess you didn’t consider that little nugget of information, did you.

The technology is called biocompatible near-infrared quantum dots, and they more closely resemble an invisible tattoo that would be delivered along with a vaccine through a dissolvable needle (which is some pretty goddamned fancy science). Thus the person would carry a record that s/he had received that vaccine. Though this may sound like an evil method of ensuring everyone gets every vaccine ever conceived (or tracking your movement), the real purpose is useful and quite benign: in many places around the world there is no standardisation of record keeping, which makes tracking coverage difficult. Besides, if The Government (which one, by the way?) wants to track your movement, they’ll just use your phone that you keep in your pocket or next to your bed 24/7.

Anyway, as for the Gates Foundation owning a patent on SARS-CoV-2, that’s just a malicious lie. Such a patent does not exist.

Bill Gates does not stand to profit on this situation. At all. He has donated billions of dollars (and has promised to donate tens of billions more) and has said on record (back in 2019 before COVID-19 even existed, by the way) that the “profit” received from his philanthropy is through economic return:

“Helping young children live, get the right nutrition, contribute to their countries — that has a payback that goes beyond any typical financial return.”

No, Bill Gates is not a doctor or a scientist. No, he has no formal training in virology or immunology. No, Bill Gates is not profiting from his philanthropy. All he does is donate tens of billions of dollars to people who do so that they can improve the world, and he is being demonised for it. And that is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

15) But Event 201 proves they knew about this!

Let’s be quite clear here: Event 201 happened.


Before you start celebrating, think for one second. Just think. If this were some kind of super-secret planning meeting to create a worldwide pandemic to bring the population of Earth to its knees and usher in a New World Order, would they splash the entire thing all over the internet, including the entire 3+ hour video? Nothing is hidden, nothing is censored, and nothing is held back. You can watch the entire 5 video series here (which I’m sure you won’t) in case you don’t believe me, which I’m sure you don’t.

Event 201 on October 18, 2019 was a joint exercise in world readiness for just this type of pandemic among the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum. There are approximately 200 infectious epidemics worldwide each year, and fortunately few of them reach pandemic proportions. Considering the recent SARS (2003) and MERS (2012) epidemics, epidemiologists and other health experts thought it would probably be a good idea to make sure the world was ready for something bigger. They modeled a fictional coronavirus pandemic after SARS and MERS (which were also both coronaviruses) and assessed the impact it would make on the world. This was simply an effort to come up with ways to protect both lives and livelihoods in such a disaster. You can read their conclusions and recommendations here.

Oh, and this was far from the first meeting designed to identify a public health risk before it happened, such as this meeting in 2018. Epidemiologists have been warning about and planning for this sort of thing for a long, long time.

Unfortunately the timing of Event 201 stinks, which is what prompted this conspiracy theory. But again, the entire meeting is freely available to watch, so knock yourself out if you really are looking for something evil. Good luck finding any heinous crime being committed or planned.

16) You can’t trust the WHO because they keep changing their minds.

This virus is new. Let’s just get that out of the way. This isn’t measles or rotavirus which are well known, well described, and well understood. SARS-CoV-2 is brand new, and absolutely nothing was known of it when it started circulating in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. With this in mind, nothing was known at the beginning of how (or even if) it was spread from person to person, nothing was known of its deadliness, how contagious it was, nothing. So on January 14, 2020, just over a month after the first patient became ill, the World Health Organisation stated that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”.


This tweet has aged incredibly poorly and looks downright egregious in hindsight. But at the time, that statement was true – the evidence of human-to-human spread was not yet clear. Keep in mind that the virus had only been identified as a coronavirus two weeks before, and the virus isolated and genome map made public less than a week before. Officials in the Wuhan Health Commission seem to have seriously mucked this whole thing up, and this study suggests that had they acted just a few weeks earlier, this whole thing may have been mitigated or stopped before it ever began.

Once more information began coming in, the WHO changed their recommendations based on new data, just as they have done with social distancing, masks, hydroxychloroquine, and everything else having to do with this disease. Has WHO been perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s almost like the process of science where new information makes old information obsolete, and people change their minds and what they say based on prevailing evidence, right?


17) Masks don’t even work.

Well that’s a rather complicated statement. What kind of mask do you mean? And what do you mean by “work”?

This issue is admittedly much more complicated and much less clear than I would like. What is clear is that N95 respirators are very effective at preventing the contraction of respiratory illnesses. There is some evidence that regular masks are also effective at preventing infection, though certainly less so compared to N95. There is also evidence that both N95 and surgical masks are effective at preventing spread of respiratory viruses from infected people.

This systematic review of mask use concludes,

“The evidence suggests protection of masks in high transmission settings such as household and college settings, especially if used early, if combined with hand hygiene and if wearers are compliant. If masks protect in high transmission settings, they should also protect in crowded public spaces, including workplaces, buses, trains, planes and other closed settings.”


“In summary, there is a growing body of evidence supporting all three indications for respiratory protection – community, healthcare workers and sick patients (source control). The largest number of randomised controlled trials have been done for community use of masks by well people in high-transmission settings such as household or college settings. There is benefit in the community if used early, and if compliant. They also found no evidence of efficacy of hand hygiene or health education, suggesting mask use is more protective than hand hygiene.”

Cloth masks are most likely less effective than surgical masks, but depending on the fabric and the method of manufacturing, they can be effective.

My take is that masks probably work to varying degrees, and even if they aren’t terribly effective they certainly couldn’t hurt.

18) But wearing a mask decreases my oxygen and increases my carbon dioxide!

Nope. This has actually been studied by looking at the oxygen saturation of surgeons of various ages wearing surgical facemasks while performing surgery. The study showed a significant decrease of oxygen saturation from . . . are you ready? 97% to 96%. That’s it, even after 3-4 hours of stressful surgery. Normal oxygen saturation is anything above about 93%, so wearing a mask for 15 or 20 minutes while you pick up groceries will not affect you, unless you have a pre-existing lung condition. If you do, have someone bring your groceries to you.

As for N95 masks, they are much more tight fitting and have much smaller pores to filter out much smaller particles, including viruses. They can certainly restrict breathing much more than surgical or cloth masks, and they can make even healthy people feel like they can’t breathe. They have also been shown to increase CO2 rebreathing. And this is why they are not recommended for the general public.

19) Ok, fine but being forced to wear a mask violates my constitutional rights!

All this proves is that you’ve never actually read your constitution. It doesn’t even matter to which constitution you’re referring (though if you made this argument, there is a 98.482% chance you mean the US Constitution), because no constitution on the planet says anything about face masks. If you could please point out where in this document it states that Congress shall make no law restricting your right not to wear a mask (or anything even close), please feel free to comment below.

But before you do, perhaps you should consult a constitutional law lawyer. Oh wait, this author already did, and you’re wrong. If a restaurant can enforce “No shoes, no shirt, no service”, then a grocery store can enforce “No mask, no shop”. And if you still disagree, then you’re still just wrong. But hey, you too still have the right to be wrong.

20) High temperatures and sunlight kill the virus.

Nope. Ok, maybe. Well probably not.

It is true that heat will kill the virus, but only if you get it up to 56°C (133°F) for 90 minutes or 75°C (167°F) for 30 minutes, and I don’t suspect your sauna gets that high, nor would I suggest you try it. Radiation will also kill the virus, if you’re willing to undergo UV radiation for 60 minutes. Which you’re not, because then you’d be very dead.

As for “injecting” UV light, you mean this?


Yeah, that’s pure nonsense despite its rather high-profile mention by the same demagogue. Ultraviolet blood irradiation was invented in the 1920’s and had some popularity in the 1940’s before antibiotics. However, there is simply no evidence that it is or could be effective in treating COVID-19, nor is there any physiologic mechanism whereby it could work.

21) The quarantine is weakening our immune systems since we aren’t getting exposed to nature.

First of all, even though I’ve never seen where you live, I guaran-damn-tee you have plenty of antigens inside your home, especially if you open a window. There is plenty of opportunity for your immune system to be stimulated regularly.

Second, really? Are you never going outside? While decreased sunlight exposure can decrease your vitamin D level (which can actually weaken the immune system), are you never going outside? And while decreased exercise can also weaken the immune system, are you NEVER going outside?

Seriously, get outside. Grab a mask, get your butt outside, and go for a run. Climb a mountain. Or just take a walk. If there is no one around, take your damned mask off, especially if you’re alone in your car. Seriously. Don’t do this.

There is no reason whatsoever for you to stay inside your home 24 hours a day.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject, if you’re wearing gloves to shop, take them off before you get into your car and touch everything. If you never take off your gloves, all you’re doing is spreading contaminant onto every single damned thing you touch.

22) I’d rather boost my immune system naturally.

No you wouldn’t, because that would mean you have an autoimmune disorder. And as someone who has one of those, trust me, you don’t want it.

It doesn’t matter how many vitamins you take, how many acai smoothies you drink, or how many herbal supplements you buy, you can not “boost” your immune system. You can support it by eating well and exercising, and if you are deficient in a nutrient you should absolutely take that supplement, but any other product or technique that supposedly “boosts” your immune system 1) doesn’t, 2) drains your bank account, and 3) creates very expensive urine.

23) Hand sanitiser can catch fire and explode if left in a hot car.

Fortunately this isn’t a dangerous myth, but one that should still be corrected.


The viral pictures do not show a car that was damaged by a bottle of hand sanitiser that spontaneously caught fire, it was taken from a different accident that had nothing to do with hand sanitiser. While hand sanitiser is indeed flammable, it would have to reach temperatures of around 370°C (700°F) to combust, and cars’ interiors on a hot summer day only reach about about 47°C (116°F).

24) “COVID-19” stands for the 19th strain of Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease

Nope, that’s just a stupid, racist backronym. COVID-19 stands for “COronaVIrus Disease”, and 19 stands for 2019, the year it was discovered, not that it’s the 19th strain.

But while we’re on the subject of misnomers, COVID also does NOT stand for 666, the mark of the beast. Yes, we’re now going from stupid, provably wrong nonsense to plain silly nonsense. However, I’ve seen this sort of meme shared too many times to ignore it.

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Ok, I’ll admit I just added this for comedic value. But some people do seem to believe it, so I don’t feel bad at all for laughing at them.

25) Plandemic!

Oh boy, I saved the worst for last. This is the idea that this pandemic is all planned and therefore a “plandemic”. Ha! Such a clever portmanteau, right? It’s so clever that a supposed movie by that name purportedly starring Dr. Judy Mikovits will be released in the summer of 2020. A 26 minute “preview” in the form of an interview with Dr. Mikovits was released May 4, 2020 to great (ha) fanfare, and you fell for it. How very sad.

I will not be debunking the entire video, because it has been done manymanymany times already. The best myth busting I’ve seen was by, not coincidentally, Science, which published (and then retracted) her seminal (not really) paper. I’ll just give a few lowlights of her claims and why they are wrong:

      • Mikovits’ 1991 doctoral thesis revolutionised the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

    – It didn’t.

      • Mikovits published a blockbuster article in Science.

    – That study purported a link between a mouse retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome, a link that was later proved false, Mikovits’ paper was retracted by Science, and she admitted no link exists, though she retracted her retraction later.

    • Mikovits: “And they’ll kill millions, as they already have with their vaccines. There is no vaccine currently on the schedule for any RNA virus that works.”

– Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. There is less than no evidence that vaccines have even killed thousands, let alone millions of people. There is myriad evidence, however, showing that they have saved millions of lives. And there are many vaccines for RNA viruses, including measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, and Ebola.

    • Mikovitz hints that SARS-CoV-2 was distributed in Italy in an influenza vaccine made using dog cell cultures, and “dogs have a lot of coronaviruses”.

– No evidence to support this claim exists.

    • Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.

– There is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim.

    • Beaches should be open because the ocean contains “healing microbes”.

– I can’t even bring myself to respond because this is nothing but gibberish.

She also propagates several of the myths above, which I won’t rehash here. There are many other claims she makes regarding her failed career as a researcher and her arrest (yes, really), but I won’t get into those since that isn’t what this is really about. What it is about is Mikovits promoting and drumming up interest in her new book, to which I will also most assuredly not link.

There is a similar video of an interview with professor Dolores Cahill from University College Dublin (to which I will also not link), where Dr. Cahill repeats the same myths again, including boosting the immune system, masks decrease oxygen, hydroxychloroquine, manufactured virus, and social distancing decreases immunity, as well as various generic antivax claims which I’ve already discussed previously. But she makes one new one:

“SARS virus circulated [since] 2003 and essentially every three or four years since, so that people are immune—so that everybody practically in the world is immune.”

HAHAHA! No but seriously HAHAHAHAHAHA! If this were even partially true, then millions of people around the world wouldn’t be sick or dead. I have no idea how she said that with a straight face, but she should be ashamed. Both she and Mikovits are disgraces and a stain on medicine and science.

26) Jesus will protect me from COVID-19.

That’s right, a bonus myth! Huzzah!

Wait wait wait, I’m sure many of you think I’m just making this one up. Sadly, I am not.


Unfortunately this is a very real claim, but even more unfortunately Jesus will not save you:

I take absolutely no joy whatsoever in finding and listing these stories. None. But there are some true believers who misguidedly think their lord and saviour will protect them, and it is my duty to inform you that you are not protected any more than anyone else.

27) 5G causes/activates COVID-19.g

I nearly forgot this one, which is rather shocking since it was the ridiculous myth that prompted me to write this stupid post. Once again, this is a very simple “NO”. There is no evidence whatsoever that 5G is causing COVID-19 or similar symptoms, nor is there any mechanism by which high frequency radio waves could “activate” a virus or cause such symptoms. It’s just drivel. Unfortunately that hasn’t stopped several True Believers from burning down 5G towers. But if that isn’t good enough, then please watch this very detailed (and chock-full-of-science) video by electrical engineer Mehdi Sadaghdar on exactly why 5G isn’t dangerous in any way.

That’s all I have. I’m sure there are many fringe myths that are slightly too whackadoodle to address, so I apologise for ignoring them with alacrity. If I made any glaring errors or omissions, please comment below.

And most importantly no matter what you believe, no matter whom you believe, no matter which way you align politically, keep yourselves, your loved ones, and everyone around you, safe.

Doc Bastard is a pseudonym for a trauma and general surgeon at two hospitals in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area. Feel free to email them at [email protected]

A version of this article was originally published at Doc Bastard and has been republished here with permission. Doc Bastard can be found on Twitter @DocBastard

dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of the journalism literati, and usually associated with such apocalyptic terms as “ecosystem collapse” and “food crisis”. The culprit: modern agriculture, which is often linked to the Brave Not-So-New World of GMOs and gene-edited crops and the chemicals purportedly used to support it.

[Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on the “Insect Apocalypse”. Read part two here: Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?]

As recently as last month, an opinion writer for the New York Times, Margaret Renkl, warned of the dark ages about to be ushered in by pesticides. She makes a case for preserving “weedy” backyards filled with blood-sucking mosquitoes and other human-threatening flying and crawling creatures of various species.

The global insect die-off is so precipitous that, if the trend continues, there will be no insects left a hundred years from now. That’s a problem for more than the bugs themselves: Insects are responsible for pollinating roughly 75 percent of all flowering plants, including one-third of the human world’s food supply.  

Insect Armageddon, another popular phrase, is now one of the most common tropes in science journalism. As I’ve chronicled numerous times in recent years, (including here, here and here), many journalists have echoed claims by environmental activists  advancing a succession of insect- and animal-related environmental apocalypse scenarios over the last decade—first honeybees, then wild bees and more recently birds. In each case they fingered modern, intensive farming, particularly crop biotechnology and pesticides, as the culprit, and warned of the terrible consequences in store for the Earth, including the mass extinction of pollinators and the global famine that would surely follow. In each case, small or poorly executed studies predicting imminent catastrophes were ballyhooed by many in the media; in each case, as more research came to the light, the hyped claims were eventually retracted or dramatically readjusted. 


More recently the spotlight has been turned on insects, the result of a handful of studies that vaulted the issue into global prominence. Is this claim, the plight of insects, an example in which the journalists got it right? We should all be frightened…if there are even a few ounces of truth to the common wisdom presented in the Times’ essay.

Fortunately for planet Earth, Ms. Renkl and the New York Times, again, got it very wrong.

You may not have noticed, as the mainstream news mostly ignored the report, but we finally have comprehensive, competent, non-ideological research to help us assess what up till now has mostly been speculative scenarios and agenda-inspired hyperbole disguised as research. A study by German researchers published in Science in April is now widely accepted—among experts—as the largest and most definitive study to date on the “Insect Apocalypse” scenario.

Researchers at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Leipzig University and Martin Luther University led by first author Dr. Roel van Klink analyzed almost a century’s worth of data from 166 long-term insect surveys in various parts of the world. While the far-reaching study has certain limitations (which I will address farther on), it needs to be reckoned with by anyone seriously concerned about the ecological future. A short list of the topline findings:

  • Overall, terrestrial insects are declining much less rapidly (3 to 6 fold less) than other recent high-profile studies had suggested, and even this likely overstates the trend. Freshwater insect populations are actually increasing.
  • “Crop cover,” which means things like corn, soybeans, sorghum, cotton, spring and winter wheat, alfalfa and hay, is associated with increases in insect populations.
  • There is no association between insect population trends and global warming.
  • The only clear association with insect declines is with urbanization, likely caused by habitat destruction, light pollution and waste pollution.

I will unpack each of these findings in a moment, but to understand why they’re so explosive it’s important to briefly review the origins of the various ‘sky is falling’ narratives and why journalists, and even some scientists, consistently get it wrong.

The Bee Apocalypse: The origin story

Credit: TIME

The narrative kicked off in the mid-2000s with reports of large-scale die offs of honeybees and the once-in-a-generation eruption of Colony Collapse Disease (CCD), concentrated mostly in California, that saw adult honeybees mysteriously disappear from hives. This was all very scary, and still eludes a full explanation other than that similar incidents have been documented over hundreds of years.

But the apocalypse narrative ran up against abundant evidence of rising or stable populations of honeybees over the last 25 years, except for a slight dip due to CCD in 2006-7. Honeybees are basically livestock, and governments around the world keep close tabs on the number of hives in each country. Those numbers have been rising on every habitable continent in the world since the mid-1990s, and globally have reached record numbers. After hyping a catastrophe for years in fundraising Buzz Kill scare-a-grams, even the Sierra Club finally admitted in 2018 that

…honeybees are at no risk of dying off.  … The total number of managed honeybees worldwide has risen 45% over the last half century.

Next came claims of a wild bee catastrophe. There are thousands of known species and thousands more we don’t know about. Most are solitary, meaning they don’t form hives. They tend to be very small and they often live in holes in the ground. In sum, they’re hard to count. That didn’t stop a series of dire predictions, including from the Sierra Club as it shamelessly Gish galloped from honeybees to wild bees. The problem for the activists was that the very nature of wild bees means there is almost no data to support their claims. And the species that pollinate crops, and so come into most frequent contact with pesticides, are thriving.

The bird apocalypse never really took flight. After some questionable studies, it soon became clear that earlier bird declines leveled off and even reversed unnamedin the 1990s. Besides, the real killer of birds is cats, both feral and domestic, that are estimated to slaughter between 1.3 billion and 4 billion birds annually in the United States alone. Proposing a ban on cats, however, is bound to be unpopular. It wasn’t until the insect apocalypse that doomsayers found a way to get around the problem that the data did not support various ‘imminent collapse’ predictions.

If counting wild bees is well-nigh impossible, getting anything like an accurate gauge on insects is orders of magnitude harder. Estimates of the number of insect species range between 2 million and 30 million. Even in the US, which along with Europe is one of the most studied regions in the world, we’ve only named a little more than half the species thought to exist. Under these circumstances, studies could advance the most extravagant claims—or better yet, make scary predictions—with little fear of being tripped up again by facts. There were numerous studies of insects, of course, but very little systematic work on overall trends.

Endangered insects

The insect decline story first got traction in 2017 with the publication of a study by Hallman and Goulson that purported to find that flying insects had declined 76% over 26 years in certain nature parks in Germany. The Guardian, among those first on the Armageddon bandwagon for honeybees and wild bees, was the loudest in trumpeting the news: “Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers,” it headlined, explaining in the subhead that this could have “serious implications for all life on earth.”


The story was misreported.

The study’s methodology was seriously flawed. In many cases, the researchers didn’t sample the same sites in subsequent years, making the supposed trends meaningless. They also used the wrong sampling methods, large tent-like structures known as “malaise traps,” to capture the insects. As Oxford Zoologists Clive Hambler and Peter Henderson have pointed out in relation to other studies, malaise traps only capture flying insects when they are flying, and whether this happens is highly dependent on other variables, especially weather and climate.

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Malaise trap used for sampling. Credit: Ceuthophilus/Wikimedia

Goulson, a controversial researcher, used this flawed data as a springboard to launch an attack on conventional agriculture, particularly pesticides. Goulson is a familiar figure to anyone who has followed the debate over neonicotinoid pesticides and bees, notorious for the stridency of his anti-pesticide campaigning and willingness to produce made-to-order, science-for hire research for activist groups. Despite the fact that the samples were taken in nature reserves, the purported decline was clearly due to modern farming practices, he explained to the Guardian.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them, or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

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Dave Goulson. Credit: David Levene/The Guardian

It’s important to point out that this was merely conjecture on Goulson’s part. The study wasn’t designed in any way to determine the cause of insect declines, if in fact they were happening. And there was no data, flawed or not, to support the claims he made with such assurance.


History repeats itself—as farce

The insect crisis study by Casper Hallman and Dave Goulson made major waves. According to the website Almetric, it was the sixth-most-discussed scientific paper of 2017, and an inspiration for many thousands of media stories and blog posts. But the crisis claims, sketchy as they were, were just foreplay for a 2018 study that again shook the journalistic rafters.

Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, like Goulson known for his anti-pesticide activism, produced a meta-analysis of global insect population trends that had even the Guardian searching for catastrophic verbs. Clearly in need of a thesaurus to find a synonym for “plunge” featured in the Goulson-Hallman report, the paper headlined their story: “Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature.’

Other news organizations didn’t share the Guardian’s enthusiasm, as I detailed in an article for the Genetic Literacy Project. One issue was the lack of geographic representation for almost every part of the world except Europe and North America (a problem shared by the recent German study just out in Science.). But the key blunder reeked of ideological manipulation: the authors eliminated any studies finding stability or increases in insect populations by limiting their search to papers with “decline” in the title. Surprise: The analysis found declines!

Sánchez-Bayo made clear that his goal was far more than studying insects; it was to make the world safe for organic farming: “The world must change the way it produces food,” he told the Guardian. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems.” He laid particular blame on a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, under fire by some environmentalists who claim they “sterilize the soil.”

lite trac crop sprayer

The meta-analysis, however, did not focus on farming. A small number of the studies did have some relation to agriculture. Inconveniently for Sánchez-Bayo, those studies didn’t support his thesis. As I detail in my analysis, he confused one study’s speculation that pesticides might be the cause of bumblebee declines with the actual findings of the study, which didn’t examine causes; and in another case he claimed that a study on bats (which eat insects) found they were less abundant on conventional farms, when in fact the study had found the opposite.

Even the BBC was skeptical of how he massaged the data, which didn’t faze the author:

BBC:  We put these criticisms to Dr. Francisco Sánchez-Bayo. But he says that even if they don’t have the data to prove that claim statistically, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make the claim.

Dr. Francisco:  So therefore, even if we don’t have enough data to prove it statistical or whatever, we know that this is happening. So, it’s better to do it now, than not 10 years later when we may have a more serious problem. Yeah. We think the world’s insects could be wiped out in a century from now.

Yeah, statistical, whatever.

In early 2019, another German group of researchers, headed by Sebastian Seibold in Munich, attempted to rectify some of the problems with Hallman’s research, but as Hambler and Henderson pointed out in a critique the study, “The evidence for a recent decline in arthropod abundance in Germany is not yet robust.” The short number of years sampled vitiated any reliable extrapolation to more meaningful trends. The study authors did not account for changes in weather or climate trends.

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And the way they collected data on insect densities—using sweep netting for grasslands and flight interceptors for forests—rendered the conclusions suspect at best. Both methods measure insect activity not population size. In the case of sweep netting, which is dragged across the tops of vegetation, the results can be highly variable depending upon the height and density of the plant growth, as arthropods will naturally seek cover closer to the ground. In other words, land with greater plant richness, variety and more natural growth could very well produce sweep netting samples with fewer insects and less variety of insects.

“Overgeneralisation from limited sampling could lead to inappropriate policy responses,” Hambler and Henderson concluded.

But pushback by scientists and more diligent journalists did not make a dent in the popular myths spread so recklessly by the media. Catastrophic insect declines linked to “industrial agriculture and “wanton pesticide use” were now “facts”. By dint of sheer repetition, a new “science consensus” had been born. The campaign against modern farming and the iconization of organic agriculture were the new narrative norms.

Jon Entine is Executive Director of the Genetic Literacy Project and a life-long journalist with 20 major journalism awards. Follow him on Twitter @JonEntine