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The Conspirituality Podcast: Clear Signal or More Noise?

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“Conspirituality” is a captivatingly named podcast that has been getting a lot of attention of late and for good reason. The hosts are bringing light to a phenomenon that is rapidly emerging in our collective psyche. The belief that certain very large conspiracies are in play in our world is growing, especially in the New Age spiritual community. A growing subset of people in these circles are finding common ground with those in right-wing political factions, something that seemed unimaginable a short while ago. However, in its well-intentioned effort to bring dialogue around this emerging phenomenon, the podcast is introducing another voice that is adding more confusion to an already confusing world of divergent and conflicting narratives. If we are interested in arriving at a better understanding of how our world works we must dig deeper to find our own blindspots and notice those that may exist for others, especially for those who are graced with a growing audience.   

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The co-hosts describe the podcast as:

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“A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism. At best, the conspirituality movement attacks public health efforts in times of crisis. At worst, it fronts and recruits for the fever-dream of QAnon.

As the alt-right and New Age horseshoe toward each other in a blur of disinformation, clear discourse and good intentions get smothered. Charismatic influencers exploit their followers by co-opting conspiracy theories on a spectrum of intensity ranging from vaccines to child trafficking. In the process, spiritual beliefs that have nurtured creativity and meaning are transforming into memes of a quickly-globalizing paranoia.

Conspirituality Podcast attempts to bring understanding to this landscape. A journalist [Derek Beres], a cult researcher [Matthew Remski], and a philosophical skeptic [Julian Walker] discuss the stories, cognitive dissonances, and cultic dynamics tearing through the yoga, wellness, and new spirituality worlds. Mainstream outlets have noticed the problem. We crowd-source, research, analyze, and dream answers to it.”

Why is the Conspirituality podcast gaining support?

The three co-hosts are intelligent. They rely on their diverse backgrounds and experiences to formulate formidable arguments to explain why people in these two communities are succumbing to “conspiracy theories” as they call them. In their opinion, those in the New Age, spiritual, and yoga communities more easily succumb to the ideas like the “New World Order” and “Global Agendas” because, as the hosts say, spirituality is associated with a more creative and open way of looking at things. This flexibility in their belief system is apparently a fertile ground for conspiratorial thinking to take root. Folks in Right-Wing libertarian circles believe in hidden, dark agendas because, according to them, that’s what Right-Wing libertarians believe. 

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The hosts’ tidy assessment of a concerning “problem” is gaining a lot of support not only inside of the New-Age yoga communities from which they hail but also in the population at large. In the podcast’s relatively brief existence, it has already received attention from the NY Times, WNYC Studios, CBC Radio, and the Brisbane Times. 

Much of what the hosts say about human psychology and emotion is insightful. I agree wholeheartedly with their assessment of the Conspirituality phenomenon: it is ascendant and gathering momentum in these two groups who may indeed share the same blindspot. Their effort to put this all together is commendable, but they have a very large blindspot too.

For those of us who have openly and assiduously examined the independent investigation into conspiracies, their podcast represents yet another obstruction to clarity that is gaining traction. Matthew, Derek and Julian are making a crucial mistake in their approach to the “conspirituality” problem. They assume that there are no large conspiracies in play in our world at this time. To state it flatly, to them the idea of current large-scale conspiracy is so preposterous that they cannot even see that they are making an assumption when dismissing the possibility. I do not condemn them for it. It was only a handful of years ago when I would have cherished their position as a rare voice of reason in this confusing time.

What big assumptions are they making?

If you believe that hidden, ill-intending entities are seeking to slowly enslave the population is just a dystopian fantasy that is becoming uncomfortably popular, then the Conspirituality podcast will no doubt be a go-to resource for you. They use well-practiced cadence in their delivery, as if guiding their listeners through a sequence of increasingly challenging asanas that gently lead the audience to a level of self-assurance not previously thought possible. They bring on notable guests and exude authentic confidence to weave together an explanation as to why the conspirituality phenomenon is not just a nuisance, it is a dangerous threat to our way of life. Notably they never explore whether some, or even one of these conspiracy theories might actually be a true conspiracy. Entertaining such ideas, in their opinion, could only be a symptom of the weak mindedness they seek to identify and eradicate for the greater good.

In their opinion, easily seduced spiritual practitioners and rightwing “Q-anoners” should justifiably be thrown together with every “conspiracy theorist”, from anti-vaxxers to 9/11 truthers to flat-earthers. Rather than denigrating them, the hosts of the  podcast attempt to give us a deeper understanding of this growing population by pointing out how their biases and proclivities make them susceptible to false narratives. Addressing the facts that build these narratives is unnecessary in their opinion. Why? Because they assume these narratives are false to begin with. For those in their camp this strikes an acceptable tone of tolerance. To those of us who recognize the danger in making such assumptions and are quite convinced, through our own open-minded and diligent investigation that there may in fact be a number of big conspiracies in play, their tone could easily be regarded as poorly veiled condescension of the most unacceptable kind. Not only would they be underestimating our understanding, they would be grossly overestimating their own. 

Aside from making the error of assuming that large conspiracies do not exist, they are succumbing to the common mistake of lumping all people who are challenging conventional wisdom together. For example, there are thousands of engineers and architects that are patiently waiting for their day in court to present evidence that would overturn NIST’s explanation of the events of 9/11. There are also an enormous number of children who may have been irreversibly harmed by vaccinations over the decades. Health advocates and doctors who have recognized this very real possibility have been lobbying for a reformulation of vaccines since the inception of their widespread use. According to the hosts of the podcast, these thousands of structural engineers, architects and health professionals are just as crazy as people who maintain we live on a flat Earth. They may continue to assert that such conspiracies have been “debunked”, but equating highly educated professionals with flat-earthers is a stark overgeneralization that speaks to the scale of the bias they carry but refuse to acknowledge.

Their approach is based on unbalanced research, and their tone is sometimes divisive. Simply put, they are adding more noise to an already confusing picture.

“Coincidence Theorists?”

They have used the moniker of “Conspiracy Theorists” to label the subset of the population that are “afflicted” by a certain form of weak mindedness that makes them prone to a certain kind of narrative. But how might one see the hosts of the podcasts? I do not know how they would prefer to self-identify. 

For the purposes of this article I will call them “Coincidence Theorists”, a term I credit to David Helfrich, a contributor to Collective Evolution as well. By “Coincidence Theorists” I am referring to those who remain fixated on the idea of coincidence to explain events in this world that seem intimately connected: massive military exercises leaving the Eastern Seaboard undefended on the morning of 9/11? Coincidence! Three skyscrapers completely veering from expected models of behavior in a gravitationally driven collapse on the same day? Coincidence! Thousands of previously healthy children who suddenly experience cognitive decline and neurologic effects immediately after a series of vaccinations? Every single case must be a coincidence.

Coincidence is one of the primary mantras they use to dismiss extremely suspicious circumstances that would point to a conspiracy. Once dismissed, real investigation into the matter is considered flippant which justifies their characterization of all who feel differently as paranoid and easily seduced “conspiracy theorists”. It should be clear that using coincidence to explain the apparently inexplicable is not logical, it is founded on a basic assumption that because large conspiracies do not exist, any suspicious observations that point to a conspiracy must be a coincidence. This is bias and it has no part in earnest inquiry.

How convincing would a defendant on trial be to a jury if he explained his presence at the scene of a crime as pure coincidence? He may be innocent, but using the coincidence argument would not clear him from suspicion. In fact, in court, the more coincidences add up in a case, the more likely the defendant is guilty.

The other common argument they use to dismiss suggestions of a conspiracy is to flatly assert that “it’s been debunked”. This continues to astonish me. As the critical thinkers that they claim to be, how is it possible that they cannot see that the mainstream media and often the scientific establishment that they cite as debunkers and fact-checkers are the primary conspirators in all of the very real conspiracies that are in consideration? The only proof they will ever consider to be credible has to come from the very parties implicated in a conspiracy. This is pure dogmatic thinking.

Should we adopt their approach and view their position as forgivable because they are in the New Age community and we all know that those folks are prone to dogma too? How different would that be than their approach to profiling all “conspiracy theorists” as individuals that are inherently prone to paranoid delusions? It wouldn’t be any different or any less unfair.

In an effort to be more constructive, I would instead like to share my personal experience of a direct but brief exchange I had with one of Conspirituality co-hosts. I hope that this will shed some light on how their own approach to information may be the very same problem they impute to the “conspiracy theorists” that they identify as a growing threat. In other words, people who believe that “everything is a conspiracy” are suffering from the very same blindspots as those that are certain there are only conspiracy theories and no true conspiracies. The possibility that there are many (unfounded) conspiracy theories and a few very real conspiracies does not exist in minds that suffer from a certain type of bias.

My Exchange with Conspirituality podcast co-host Julian Walker

I must admit that it has been challenging for me to approach this topic. I am a physician, an engineer, a diligent researcher and an author of a book that dissects the nature of some of the false-flags and conspiracy in our history. I am also a member of several spiritual communities and view this podcast as a dangerous impediment to open inquiry–something that all spiritual communities should be espousing. If that weren’t enough, I have also participated in an exchange with one of the co-hosts of the Conspirituality podcast, Julian Walker, that was less than amiable. In order to strike the most effective tone in this piece I had to first find commonality between myself and the co-hosts. Despite our disparate view of the world I had to concede that they are as well-intending as I am. At least that is my hope.

I am part of a large spiritual community that is led by a teacher of acknowledged lineage who is an adept writer and recognized scholar in his area of study. We also happen to be friends on social media. Several weeks ago, on his own personal page, he posted a link to bonus material on the Conspirituality podcast that was published on October 12, 2020. In it, Julian Walker, co-host of the podcast, attacked an article written by anti-globalist, scholar, environmental activist and author of 20 books, Dr. Vandana Shiva, who was highly critical of a patent submitted by Microsoft titled “Cryptocurrency System using Body Activity Data”. In the article, Dr. Shiva first contextualizes our pandemic as part of a larger problem involving our species and its relationship with our environment. She writes: 

“New diseases arise because a globalized, industrialized, inefficient agriculture invades habitats, destroys ecosystems, and manipulates animals, plants, and other organisms with no respect for their integrity or their health. We are linked worldwide through the spread of diseases like the coronavirus because we have invaded the homes of other species, manipulated plants and animals for commercial profits and greed, and cultivated monocultures. As we clear-cut forests, as we turn farms into industrial monocultures that produce toxic, nutritionally empty commodities, as our diets become degraded through industrial processing with synthetic chemicals and genetic engineering, and as we perpetuate the illusion that earth and life are raw materials to be exploited for profits, we are indeed connecting. But instead of connecting on a continuum of health by protecting biodiversity, integrity, and self-organization of all living beings, including humans, we are connected through disease.”

Mr. Walker states that this perspective is shared by people like Dr. Zach Bush who use similar buzzwords like “virome” and “holistic” models that appeal to a susceptible audience. It is quite clear that Mr. Walker doesn’t see it in quite the same way. I take no issue with that. This is a debatable perspective on a very complicated paradigm and outside the scope of this article. However, he then goes on to dismiss Dr. Shiva’s assessment of the patent in question. At minute 21:30 of the podcast, he claims to “have done his research” and concluded that this is harmless technology that can be worn, like a watch, to help a system identify when a person has completed a “task”. This wearable technology can measure things like heart rate, EEG patterns, body temperature and eye movement to figure out if the subject has completed the activity in question. This is where I felt compelled to weigh in.

Having a career spent intensively monitoring patients’ physiology on an operating table as an anesthesiologist, I was surprised to discover, while doing my research, that the technology Mr. Walker considered harmless and wearable would also be able to monitor organ function, blood flow, and localized brain activity.

At this moment in time, we do not have the ability to measure such things with wearable technology. If we did, it would be used in operating rooms around the world. Moreover, it poses the obvious question: what sorts of tasks would require us to monitor such kinds of “Body Activity Data”? We are not talking about planting crops, mowing lawns or delivering packages. This kind of data can be best used for one thing: to monitor a person’s response to stimuli. It is not so hard to put it together. This technology is extremely well suited to measure a user’s level of engagement with technology submitted by one of the biggest creators of technology in the world, coincidentally.

When I offered my impression of the patent I soon learned that Mr. Walker was also on the thread. Julian did not respond to my take on the technology in question but instead deemed it unnecessary because a third party agreed with him. It was then that I asked if he would be willing to discuss the article and the patent openly in a mediated discussion here on Collective Evolution. His response:

My sense is that a speculative discussion with you on what that patent may or may not be is about as useful as the endless circles we can go in with 9/11 Truthers about building 7…The larger set of conspiracy claims and attribution of nefarious motivations are part of a style of paranoid thinking that can always take some facts and sound analysis, some reasonable seeming speculation and some outlandish nonsense and weave it all into a captivating seeming argument. I am not particularly interested in debating on a public stage in front of people who find arguments like [Dr.] Shiva’s in any way convincing or laudable, just as I would not be interested in debating creationists, flat earth-ers or 911 truth-ers.

The Dangers of Confirmation Bias

This is where we left it. How is one privy to this exchange supposed to make sense of this? I cannot expect everyone to accept my analysis because I happen to be more equipped to assess the technical aspects of the patent. Though it may seem logical to listen to the engineer and physician, I also seem to be arguing for a potential nefarious use of the technology and that would imply that Bill Gates and Microsoft have dubious intentions. If that proposition is impossible for you to believe, it is more sensical to side with the yoga teacher, podcast co-host and meditation instructor here and dismiss my analysis as the ranting of a paranoid flat earth-er. This is Confirmation bias. When looking at the world with confirmation bias we tend to focus on stuff that confirms our preconceived notions and dismiss stuff that opposes them. Confirmation bias creates unfounded confidence in our opinions.

Mr. Walker is testing positive for confirmation bias. In his mind the idea that the Earth is flat should be dismissed just as quickly as the idea of a conspiracy behind 9/11 or that patent WO2020060606 could be anything more than wearable technology that will help a person get fairly compensated with cryptocurrency for the work they do.

This is a challenge that not only faces Julian but many others. If their research into subjects like 9/11 or this patent is flimsy and superficial, they likely won’t have the understanding and context to truly unseat their initial foundational belief. Why bother going through the twenty-odd pages of technical descriptions of proposed embodiments of the patent if you begin with the assertion that this could never be anything more sinister than a smart watch? Why even read the supporting technical documents provided by NIST supposedly explaining the nature of the collapse of Building 7 if you know a priori that it must be what we have been told? In the case of Julian’s thinking here, his assumptions must be right. Otherwise it would undermine the entire premise of his attack on the “Conspiritualists.”

There is far more in the balance here than being right or wrong. We are talking about a different world view that puts everything into a different context. Isn’t that worth looking a bit more diligently?

If we examine Mr. Walker’s response a little more closely we can perhaps learn about where he may be “stuck.” First, he calls our proposed discussion to be speculative. That is true; neither of us can know for sure what this technology really represents. However, that is not how he describes his position in the podcast when he claims he “has done his research” and that it is self-evident to anyone who reads the patent description.

Next, he portrays any opinion that this technology may not be what he has claimed as part of a style of “paranoid thinking”. You can see that if he was right, I would necessarily be paranoid. Yet, if he admits that this is all speculative, how can he be certain he is right?

Finally, he claims that Dr. Shiva’s arguments are not at all laudable or convincing. However here he is using his admittedly speculative conclusions about this patent to attack Dr. Shiva’s entire position. Rather than addressing my analysis of the technology, he has labeled it unworthy of discussion because it is speculative too. Why is it fair to use speculation to dismantle Dr. Shiva’s position while claiming that a conversation about it would be useless because it is all speculative? This is clear evidence of a double standard, a necessary element in confirmation bias.

Is it possible to be objective?

This brings us to the most telling aspect of this exchange. Under what circumstances would a discussion about the difference of opinion be useless, especially if it is speculative? Aren’t those the kind of discussions that can lead to more clarity? Mr. Walker is essentially saying that because the Collective Evolution audience are all conspiracy theorists a discussion on this platform would be pointless. Why are we afraid of discussion on these issues?

Julian, if you happen to be reading this, I am not offended that you believe my opinion is no more worthy of consideration than a “flat earth-er’s”, but why would you shun the opportunity to explain your position on a platform that has over five million followers that may or may not agree with you? Are you able to understand that you have absolutely nothing to lose and the potential of helping a few million people see your side? If you are truly concerned about a dangerous “movement [that] attacks public health efforts in times of crisis” why not address those in the movement directly? What would motivate you to eschew such an opportunity to explain yourself to the very population you believe are misguided? Would you be willing to bring me on your podcast so that you can demonstrate how I have lost my bearings or better yet find some common ground and articulate a more accurate position together? If you are concerned that some of your listeners may be easily dissuaded by my “captivating sounding argument” how then would you regard their understanding of your position if it is as unassailable as you proclaim? In any case, we are not trying to win an election here. We are both after the same thing: clarity…aren’t we? 

The Takeaway

From an even deeper perspective, I hope that we can agree that being graced with a platform to express our positions comes with a large responsibility. Shouldn’t we be making every effort to examine all contrarian positions openly before leading our listeners in what we think is the right direction? Wouldn’t it be more constructive to come together and unify under a common understanding and purpose? As two practitioners of yoga, a science that is steeped in the ancient wisdom of embodying unity, shouldn’t seeking common ground be our primary intention?

Namaste.

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Essay

How Corporations Influence You & Control Your Actions

Franklin Okanu

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7 minute read
By metamorworks

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio and his team work by placing thoughts and ideas into influential people. Have you ever had a idea suddenly pop up in your head? If so, you might be a influential person.

Think back to when you’re going through your day, and boom — a crazy, completely random idea enters your mind. It’s frustrating and completely throws off your routine. You’re not alone. The worst part is that the thought seems to linger before disappearing — the inception.

We all have thoughts that come in out of left field and throw off everything. Whether you’re trying to study, or trying to focus, the IG post you saw yesterday or the article you just read, randomly comes to mind that  doesn’t have anything to do with you.

These “inceptions” are the effects of what’s known as propaganda. Propaganda is “telling people what to think.” The act of thinking happens in the brain, which is made up of three separate brains:

  1. Human Brain: This is the only part of your brain that’s you consciously control. It oversees all logical thought process.
  2. Mammalian Brain: This is the first half of your subconscious. It oversees all emotional attachments. This is the largest brain.
  3. Lizard Brain: This is the second half of your subconscious. It oversees survival and reproduction.

And that’s why propaganda is so dangerous — it doesn’t appeal to your logical mind; it appeals to your feelings, the language of your subconscious, the driver of 90% of the actions you take. By doing this, propaganda influences you to have certain thoughts that it placed there. These thoughts lead to actions like impulse buys, and before you know, you have new shoes everywhere.

The good news is that these aren’t your thoughts, and since they’re not, you can use this piece of information to form a solution. Identifying these thoughts and evaluating them stops the propaganda before it takes place.

The first step is understanding what propaganda, or inception looks like.

The Creator of the Propaganda Machine

To grasp propaganda, you need to know the man who made it famous: Edward Bernays.

Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud — the father of modern psychology — understood psychology and the working of the human mind, but more significantly, what made them tick.

If you want to go full-blown conspiracy, Bernays happens to be the grand-uncle of Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix. Talk about a first-class ticket to people’s subconscious.

Bernays effectively used propaganda to help companies sell products by appealing to the consumer’s wants and desires. How did cigarettes become so profitable? Thank Bernays. JC Penny, Sears, and other major retail giants. Thank Bernays. “You don’t need a new dress — you want a new dress because you know it’ll make you look good.” By using psychology techniques to appeal to the subconscious, Bernays and companies have been influencing consumers for years.

As with Bernays, Netflix has been keen on influencing the masses as well. Two examples include the R. Kelly trial and the orcas at SeaWorld. Both movements were driven by Netflix documentaries. After numerous years, R. Kelly went to jail, and SeaWorld had to change its policies. This shows the power of the propaganda machine, not just to increase sales but also to start a revolution.

Now that you know the history and have examples, let’s see how it affects you.

Propaganda, Propaganda, all that matters is Propaganda

You’ve encountered propaganda today, and had no idea. If you look at your favorite TV shows or music, you’ll see that some kind of product is being pushed. And it doesn’t have to be a physical product — it can be a narrative, a lifestyle, a way to look at the world.

We identify with certain celebrities, actors, politicians, and we see ourselves in them. So when they take stances or make statements, that leads you to take a similar perspective. Everything in our society has some form of propaganda because propaganda is very rewarding, especially to companies, industries, and countries.

What makes propaganda so dangerous is that when it’s properly executed (which is often), you, the target, think those thoughts as if they were yours, and then transform them into actions. “Yes, I want to buy a new purse.” “I should get a new car.

Lastly, all propaganda has elements of truth in it. If it was an outright lie, you would automatically dismiss it. But with that truth, it bypasses your logic brain and enters into the emotional brain. When you take everything that propaganda does, you have:

  1. Propaganda shapes your views on factual events taking place in the world
  2. Propaganda convinces you the thoughts you have are yours
  3. Propaganda persuades you towards one direct path

By now, you know the history of propaganda, how it affects you, and what makes it so dangerous. Now, we’ll discuss how to arm yourself against it.

Propaganda Protection

You should’ve realized that Netflix isn’t the only propaganda machine out there. Every company with a marketing department is using propaganda techniques to capture you as a potential customer. But, as we said before, it’s not just companies. For generations, rulers, shamans, and politicians have been telling you what to think. The technology is a lot better now.

The first step to break this cycle is to step back. Whether it’s the news or a social media post, before responding or engaging, take a step back and ask yourself “how well informed are you on the particular subject?” This forces you to address what you know and don’t know. If you can’t speak to the counterargument, then you’ve been exposed to propaganda by one side and face a bias that makes you more likely to be swayed one way versus another. So it’s important to take a step back.

The second step to overcoming propaganda is to pay attention to the message being delivered. You may or may not know everything about the topic being shared, but you should expect whoever is sharing the topic to present a thorough argument. When attentive, you pick up on what angle the messenger is coming from. The more you’re actively engaged, the clearer you see the direction that the messenger is trying to take you.

The final step is to evaluate yourself. Remember, propaganda is here to move you towards a goal that it wants for you. So ask yourself, is this a goal that you want for yourself? Have you previously thought about this? If not, then you can easily flag that thought as a propagandist idea.

As the poem goes, “I am the master of my ship — the Captain of my soul,” by constantly stopping to pause, think and evaluate yourself, you ensure that you stay in control of your mental ship rather than relinquishing control.

Closing Remarks

Propaganda is all around us. Unfortunately, not many in the general population are aware of this age-old trick. But now you are. You’ve been informed against it, and you know that at the end of the day, propaganda wants to you to do its bidding. The question is, will you?

Once you realize that everyone is trying to get you to think how they want you to, you realize how truly influential you are. You then have two choices: blindly act and let your body take the wheel — or take a minute, ask yourself, “why am I doing this?

That small moment to pause, breathe and reassess, ensures that you stay in control of your actions — and your life.

In my adventures, I’ve come to see that life is a great game, and we too can develop strategies to ensure that we come out on top. I’m developing an E-Book that will unveil the world’s mysteries, how it applies to us, and how we can better our lot in life. If interested, please follow my handles (IG/Twitter) for more information to come.

Dive Deeper

Click below to watch a sneak peek of our brand new course!

Our new course is called 'Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking.' This 5 week course is instructed by Dr. Madhava Setty & Joe Martino

If you have been wanting to build your self awareness, improve your.critical thinking, become more heart centered and be more aware of bias, this is the perfect course!

Click here to check out a sneak peek and learn more.

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Essay

The Unseen Damages Fact Checking Has On Public Discourse

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CE Staff Writer 13 minute read

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Take a moment and breathe. Place your hand over your chest area, near your heart. Breathe slowly into the area for about a minute, focusing on a sense of ease entering your mind and body. Click here to learn why we suggest this.

By now the discussion around the potential lab leak origins of COVID-19 is where it should be – in a space where we can admit we don’t know exactly what the truth is, but that there is in fact evidence of lab origins that should be investigated. This evidence was widely available to public health officials and the public as far back as February of 2020 when the pandemic began hitting Western countries and the origins battle began. Yet here we are in disarray, wondering how mainstream media and science labelled this story a ‘conspiracy theory’ in the first place.

We’ve covered the question of lab origins in depth through multiple pieces we’ve published since the pandemic began. A more recent article we published in March 2021, by Dr. Madhava Setty, pointed to the validity of lab origins even before the famous,  Nicholas Wade investigative piece. Due to public sentiment at the time, Dr. Setty’s article was met with criticism of course.

Back in September of 2020, I published a piece exploring the claims of a Chinese virologist named Dr. Li-Meng Yan who said she had proof that COVID was made in a Wuhan lab. Interestingly, our coverage was met with a fact check from PolitiFact claiming that our piece was false because her claims have been widely debunked. And it’s here where I want to turn your attention to how fact checking works and also discuss the unseen damages it causes to not only independent media public also public discourse. Inevitably, we’ll also have to discuss a truth I feel is emerging: fact checkers seems to be glorified journalists that re-enforce mainstream perspectives, as opposed to fact checking content.

How Fact Checking Happens

The way it works is, we painstakingly work on a piece, fact check it, edit it, and then publish. We then start disseminating our content to our networks via email and social media. If we’ve made a mistake, we usually catch it within hours as inevitably someone brings it to our attention. While this is not common, it happens, and it is a normal part of running a news/media publication. We then issue a correction and make it clear in the article. But when a fact checker gets involved it’s a bit different. We receive the dreaded email in our inbox claiming that an independent fact checker has rated our content posted on Facebook as false. We know what this means, and it’s rare that it’s actually a mistake.

It’s important to understand what happens next.

A notice is placed over top of our content on Facebook newsfeeds. Someone on Facebook would see something like this:

Readers are then given the option to read why it was considered “false” or “misleading” by reading an article written by a fact checker. In some cases, the fact checker is correctly ‘debunking’ poor claims made in an article. But in many cases, this isn’t quite what is going on. Sometimes, the fact checker merely disagrees with the objectivity of the article in question.

Before we continue, this “False Information” notice doesn’t just look bad on brand who produced the content, who’s logo appears next to the post in millions of newsfeeds, it also affects the content reach of the brand and thus their ad revenue.

From our data, which admittedly isn’t perfect, we typically see about a 75% reduction in traffic from Facebook when we are hit with a ‘fake news’ claim. That equates to a 75% reduction in our ad revenue as well considering that traffic is now gone. What’s worse is that Facebook seems to keep a log of how many fact checks a brand gets over time, and they claim that repeated false news strikes will result in long term reach reduction .

According to a 2021 article in Adweek,

Facebook will begin showing prompts to users who are about to follow a page that has repeatedly shared content deemed to be false by its independent fact-checking partners.

Facebook has also said that repeated sharing of misleading information could result in page deletion as well. Of course, no one knows just how much reach is taken away or how many strikes a brand needs for their page will be removed, but I can tell you we’ve gone from doing about 20 million page views a month in web traffic to about 3 million a month.

Evidence of our traffic loss over time. Source: Google Analytics

Almost all of our traffic loss is from the Facebook side, with about 15% coming from Google search after they systematically removed us from their search results in 2020.

Google’s systematic removal of our content from their search results. Source: Google Search Console.

Looking specifically at the Facebook side, ‘false news’ claims have huge implications on independent media companies, and it directly affects the bottomline. And what we’re about to get into explains how it’s not as though in all cases fact checkers are cleaning up fake stories, they are actually dead wrong – a lot. This attack on objective journalism can literally put a news company out of business. And no one is holding fact checkers accountable when they are flat out wrong.

Let’s take our story of the Chinese virologist that PolitiFact claimed was false back in September 2020. As of May 17, 2021, PolitiFact retracted their claim saying:

When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute. The original fact-check in its entirety is preserved below for transparency and archival purposes. Read our May 2021 report for more on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

I struggled to include this next bit in this piece because I truly don’t want to become petty here, but I don’t know how else to bring attention to how serious this situation truly is. Having been so intimately connected to this particular example since last year, I feel PolitiFact needs to be more honest and say something like:

“Here at PolitiFact we ignored sources of information that provided evidence that COVID may have originated in a lab. We only looked at evidence we thought was trustworthy from establishment sources. We did not spend enough time truly digging and applying objectivity, as journalists would, and thus we made unfounded assertions. We have since updated our story now that mainstream discourse has opened up to the idea of lab origins and now that our parents, mainstream media, told us it is OK to talk about it.”

However, this is obviously not what they wrote, because why would they? Instead, they are passing off their lack of objective research and blaming the “researchers” they sourced. For reference, here is what an objective look into this story would have produced, and why an obvious conflict of interest that ‘debunked’ the lab origins theory would have been found.

Recently, I’ve heard many people come to the defense of mainstream media and fact checkers when it comes to this ‘new’ information about COVID’s origins. Many have said things like “this is what science and journalism is, we update ideas. When new information comes forward and we see we are wrong we admit it, and move forward – updating our understandings. You should be congratulating people for changing their mind.”

But that’s not what happened. It’s not like no one knew what was going on with this information, they were just too busy hating Trump. Mainstream journalists ignored the evidence – and fact checkers followed right behind mainstream media and did the same. They did an objectively bad job of investigating this story and are now trying to celebrate their mind changing, all while continually attacking the sources that got it right from the start – independent media.

The position we took in our piece in September 2020 was simple: we don’t know enough about the origins of this virus and we need a call for further research. This was met with “this is a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked.” And now those debunkers are admitting “we don’t know enough about the origins of this virus and we need a call for further research.”

So where is our compensation for lost revenues from Facebook or PolitiFact? Where is an apology and notification to people of Facebook that clears our name of wrong doing? There won’t be one and I’m OK with that. Could we really expect otherwise? At the same time, I feel we need to learn from the choices we’re making right now.

Learning From Cultural Mistakes

The sad part is, this is not the first time this has happened to us. To our tally of ‘fact checks’ since the start of Facebook’s campaign, only 2 of 15 have been correct, and they were more so about providing a bit of deeper context as opposed to incorrect facts.  Multiple times we have received ‘fact checks’ that stay on our page for a couple of days, only to be removed by fact checkers a day later claiming “oops this was a mistake” or even sometimes they sit in dead silence. Of course, the damage has already been done by the time they remove their mistaken fact check.

An email we received from Politifact for a fact check they wrongly applied to a piece of content we put out in 2020.

One recent fact check we received was from the small outfit called Lead Stories. They applied a fact check to one of our articles, but they cited an article that wasn’t ours. When we asked to discuss what was wrong our piece in particular they said they would look into it. They took over a month to respond, and they still have not provided any clarity as to why our piece is “missing context.” This too might be a case where pride is getting in the way and admitting there is nothing wrong with our piece is just too much – we don’t know, and that’s the problem. We won’t know if this bogus strike will be added to the pile of strikes we receive on Facebook that could one day lead to facebook terminating our account due to ‘repeated publishing of fake news.’

Another company called Science Feedback has a division called Health Feedback. They are who we deal with most. Typically Health Feedback handles health related stories that are usually the most relevant in culture at any given time. Think of things like COVID-19 or vaccine hesitancy. We’ve had multiple interactions with Health Feedback where they fact check our work and use straw-man arguments, that we do not make in our pieces, so they can debunk the straw-man claim and pretend they’ve debunked our piece. Communication with this organization typically goes nowhere productive as they hold strong to their opinions. Since they hold all the power, they wait for you to concede so you can get your business revenue back. This single fact is probably what the public does not understand about fact checking: they have the power to hold your ad revenue hostage by means of holding your social media traffic hostage.

How This Affects Public Discourse

Mainstream media often sends out a pretty common narrative across the board. Alternative or independent media often provide more information, another perspective, or even a counter perspective. Yet fact checking seems to have come along and ‘debunked’ that alternative perspective by using the same sources the mainstream uses – and in a lot of cases they are downright false. This makes fact checkers an apparently objective re-enforcement of mainstream narratives. This effectively negates the point of independent media.

Look at the COVID lab origins story as just one example of literally hundreds. People gave up on the idea, even called it downright crazy, just because mainstream media and fact checkers wrongly labelled the story a ‘conspiracy theory.’ For over a year, people argued, fought over this story. Companies who stuck with the truth saw their revenues and social media reach cut – only to be vindicated a year later, but with no real benefit to that vindication other than a personal pat on the back.

Fact checking does well to debunk obviously and verifiably false claims, but it is not always objective and thus shutting down meaningful discourse in public policy and science. Both important factors to creating a thriving society.

People have speculated that fact checking is just a way for powerful corporate interests to further police factually based dissenting ideas – they might be right. After all, look at the people behind some of these organizations.

Another way to look at it is, perhaps people began to notice that objectivity in journalism was dying. Fact checking then was a way to bring objectivity back to journalism by being a third party. Only, what’s happening doesn’t seem to support that idea as it appears fact checkers and mainstream media push their narratives in lockstep.

There are real problems in media too that aren’t just about facts. The political slanting in most mainstream and alternative media is obvious. Does that cloud the facts of a story? Does it manipulate the viewer? Does an organization choose to cover what supports its view as opposed to what is in the best interest of people? Sure, news organizations have to make money. And in many cases the first step to that is finding out who your target market is and tailor your message towards them. And in most cases, mainstream and alternative organizations are doing just that; usually aligning their content to the political views of their audience.

But in the case of mainstream media, they are also aligning with corporate interests or their main TV network sponsors, which is likely why when it comes to health and Pharma, one can’t expect to get ‘the whole story’ from mainstream news. It would be a direct conflict of interest. A conflict of interest that is not widely disclosed to you, the viewer, during every broadcast about these products, which it should be.

Now, in June 2021, with the Wuhan lab origins story of COVID being taken seriously by mainstream media, in stead of coming out and admitting they had it wrong from the start because they ignored facts an published improper journalism, they continue to weave a narrative of protection – further confusing the mass populace. Which is why, I hope, you read our news and watch our media, because we have consistently been ahead of the curve over the last 12 years.

This won’t be the last time.

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Essay

If You Want To “Trust The Science” Don’t Read The Washington Post

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    When we trust media sources to explain the science, we are trusting the media source, not the science. The Washington Post's explanation of the risk the unvaccinated face is based on assumptions but presented as measurable fact.

  • Reflect On:

    So called fact checkers rarely challenge narratives coming from the MSM but unfairly attack the dissenting opinion. Who can we rely upon to fact check the fact checkers? In this piece, I demonstrate what is required of a reader to "know for oneself."

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It is being proclaimed on lawn signs and social media memes, on T-shirts and in PSAs. From sea to shining sea, the message is clear: Trust the Science! This is the mantra chanted by pro-vaccine portions of the population to encourage us to do our part. Getting the jab is no longer a matter of debate. There is only one sensible choice: vaccinate or be condemned to the anti-science movement that denies the horrors of polio and remains entrenched in a flat-earth delusion.

Scientists Do Not “Trust The Science”

I have a message for all you “science trusters”: scientists don’t trust the science. Scientists are the most skeptical of the science because they know that science is always changing. That is why our understanding evolves, and why we trust the scientists to begin with.

Scientists trust the scientific method, which is an entirely different thing. In order to do the systematic measurement, experimentation, observation and reformulation of hypotheses, the scientific method demands that we approach what is happening with an open mind, so that all possibilities are on the table to begin with. It is their unbiased approach to examining what is that instills credibility to their opinion.

Unless you are a scientist yourself, it is very hard to understand what the scientists are actually saying. Trusting the science is not the same thing as trusting what the media is telling you what the science says. This is becoming more and more evident as MSM sources continue to distort and oversimplify nuanced and complicated subjects into sound bites, tweets and headlines. In this article I attempt to explain how to critically examine content published in Mainstream Media that attempts to explain “the science”.

“Lab Origins” Was Always The Scientific Position

Perhaps the biggest example of the enormous amount of Mainstream media distortion around scientific matters is the recent acknowledgement that the SARS-COV2 virus was most likely engineered in a laboratory. Of course no new evidence emerged recently. The evidence pointing to lab origins was available 15 months ago, but it was portrayed as an absurd notion unworthy of any consideration by any legitimate news source. Nevertheless, Collective Evolution covered it here nearly three months ago.

How Do We Know If The Vaccine Is Proving Effective ?

The arguments for universal vaccination have been starting to shift now that hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated. Is the vaccine making an impact on the spread of Covid-19? That is an extremely difficult question to answer. Unless we have access to clear data that demonstrates the rate of infection in the unvaccinated compared to the vaccinated we can only guess. Why don’t we have those numbers now? It’s because we haven’t completed Phase III trials of the first vaccines that were formulated. That’s why we do the trials and why we generally wait for them to be completed before giving the vaccine to anyone.

The best data I have seen has come from Israel and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 24, 2021. They matched nearly 600,000 vaccinated individuals with unvaccinated ones and observed them over 42 days. At the end of that period approximately 10,000 documented cases of Covid-19 resulted, the unvaccinated outnumbered the vaccinated by about 5 to 4. To be precise, 57% of the people who got documented Covid-19 in this examination were not vaccinated. What this means is that vaccine efficacy over the entire period of observation is:

(57-43)/57=24.6%

On the other hand, the vaccine seemed to be more effective (over 91%) as time went on. This is of course encouraging and is more representative of what the vaccine’s efficacy really is. However, if we compare the incidence of the disease in the unvaccinated to the vaccinated after 35 days we are now dealing with a much smaller pool of subjects. At that point there were 47 unvaccinated people that contracted the disease compared to 4 that were vaccinated. The vaccines may prove to be that effective as time goes on.

Perhaps what is more telling is that at the end of the study period only about 1% of the people got Covid-19. Of those, 43% were vaccinated. This means the absolute risk reduction of vaccination is just over 0.1%. In other words, in order to prevent 1 case, 1000 people need to be vaccinated. If the vaccine continues to demonstrate a 91% efficacy then 110 vaccinations would prevent a single case in the long run. The point here is that unless one is willing to look more closely it is very easy to come to unsound conclusions, especially around the true impact of the vaccine.

The Washington Post Used Circular Reasoning To Make False Claims

The Washington Post has built an interactive Covid-19 data tracking page called “The Unseen Covid-19 Risk for Unvaccinated People” on May 21, 2021. This page was cited by a member of my social media community as proof that the vaccines were very effective and, based on the title of their page, the unvaccinated were facing a risk “unseen”. This person was quite convinced that remaining unvaccinated was irrational if not unconscionable and the data proved it. After all, it was in the Washington Post, a publication with a long history of balanced and rigorous inquiry.

The page demonstrates rates of infection among unvaccinated compared to the total population over time. From the day that vaccines began, it seemed (from the dozens of graphs presented) that the rate of infection in the total population began to drop faster than that of the unvaccinated. This was demonstrated in a number of selected states and not the country as a whole. Could they be cherry picking data? Of course. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see such a marked effect of the vaccines in any given population, cherry picked or not.

However, upon closer inspection something was missing. Where was the plot showing the rate of infection among the vaccinated? It wasn’t shown. The graphs only plotted total rates compared to unvaccinated rates. The mystery deepens…

Numbers of unvaccinated and vaccinated people with infection were not counted

If you searched for the raw data (the numbers of people who got covid who were vaccinated and unvaccinated), you won’t find it. So how are they able to tell us the rate of infection in the unvaccinated? They weren’t telling us that at all. Instead they created a variable which they call “Rate adjusted for Unvaccinated”. To see how they arrive at this “rate” you must read their methodology section at the bottom. In it they demonstrate their deception. They assume that 85% of all people vaccinated could not contribute to the total number of cases. They make that assumption based on a small study from the CDC involving about 4,000 people (one tenth that of the Pfizer study). They then apply this to all the states in their plots. 

This is a big assumption. Although the authors cite the study upon which this assumption is made in at the bottom of the article in the “methodology” section, the assumed efficacy of the vaccine (85%) is never explicitly stated in the body of the article. Perhaps the vaccine will turn out to be that good. The point here is that there is no consensus on what the vaccine efficacy is (Phase III trials are yet to be completed), and they buried their assumptions in the methodology section.

Let’s go back to the basics. These are the proper scientific definitions:

Total Case rate = Total Number of Cases/Total Population

Vaccinated rate = Number of Cases in Vaccinated/Number of Vaccinated 

Unvaccinated rate = Number of Cases in Unvaccinated/Number of Unvaccinated

Hopefully that was straightforward and logical. The Washington Post then introduces this term:

Rate adjusted for Unvaccinated = Total Cases/(Total Population – 0.85 x Vaccinated)

What is wrong with this? Nothing–as long as they know that only 15% of the vaccinated are contributing to the number of cases. But they don’t know this, they are assuming this in order to make their graphs. To casual Washington Post readers (numbering in the millions), it would be easy to look at the graphs and believe that that is what is being reported while in fact that is what the graphs would look like if their assumption were true. 

They are taking out 85% of the vaccinated people from the total population to calculate the new “rate” and calling that the Rate of Unvaccinated. This would in fact be true if they actually measured every population in each plot and confirmed that 85% of the vaccinated people were not contributing to the case count. But that is not what they did. They assumed that was the case, drew their plots and “demonstrated” that the rates in unvaccinated people were much worse than the vaccinated. This is pure circular reasoning.

Notice that in their formula for “Rate adjusted for Unvaccinated” the denominator is the difference between the Total Population and 85% of the vaccinated. What do you suppose happens to the adjusted unvaccinated rate as more people get vaccinated? Before answering, “it gets bigger!” notice that it depends. It depends on “Total Cases” which had also been dropping day after day. However in every graph they compare Total Case rate and Rate adjusted for Unvaccinated. A quick glance at the formulas above should lead you to the conclusion that “Rate adjusted for Unvaccinated” will always be larger than Total Case rate as more and more people get vaccinated. That is what every graph they published demonstrated. They are not introducing another artifact; it is the direct result of their assumption that in every geographical area plotted 85% of the vaccinated are protected.

They deepen the deception by subsequently referring to their “Rate adjusted for the unvaccinated” as “case rate for the unvaccinated” by subtly removing the word “adjusted”. As explained and defined above, the unvaccinated case rate requires that the actual number of unvaccinated individuals who are infected were counted. This is pure manipulation. What happened to the fact checkers?

They conclude the article by quoting Umair A. Shah, Washington State Secretary of health who makes this audacious claim:

“The people who are not vaccinated are the ones who are not wearing a mask or washing their hands. Those are the very people who oftentimes will socialize and be around similar like-minded people. You’re going to have the pandemic continue in those clusters.”

I wonder how Dr. Shah, an MD and epidemiologist was able to make this measurement? Did he survey unvaccinated people to see if they were wearing masks or washing their hands? Did he surveil them? This level of propaganda coming from the Washington Post or any other media platform is unconscionable yet continues to go unchecked.

The Takeaway

The Washington Post is not the only culprit in this kind of manipulation. In this piece from CE, similar kinds of spin were apparent in the NYTimes in their effort to paint 5G naysayers as Russian apologists and citing articles that contradicted their own position. Are established, corporate funded publications given an enormous amount of latitude because of their reputation? Or is it because they contribute to a narrative that is accepted by their sponsors and “independent” fact-checkers? I believe it is both.

(This article was corrected on June 7, 2021 to clarify the efficacy results from the NEJM paper submitted 2/24/21)

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