Philosophy normally follows a top-down approach. Great thinkers put together a view of reality or a strategy to deal with reality which then flows down to their people or is transmitted to other thinkers who repurpose the views or strategies to their particular reality and then it flows down to their people and so on.
For example, the idea of civil disobedience by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau influenced many people in the US. But it also influenced the Indian political leader Mohandas Gandhi who incorporated it into his ideas of non-violence, and this in turn influenced the people of India in their struggle for independence from Britain. The ideas of both Thoreau and Gandhi also influenced the American minister Martin Luther King Jr. who incorporated them into the civil rights movement. When ideas flow in this fashion, they are coherent because they are carefully researched and articulated by exceptionally talented deep-thinking minds.
But have you ever wondered what would happen if the process went in the opposite direction? What would happen if millions of average people participated in crafting a view of reality put together from their combined average wisdom, beliefs, and experience? What ideas would they articulate? What sources of inspiration would they use? Well, no need to wonder anymore because this has already happened and you have witnessed some of the results. It’s called QAnon.
As I mentioned before, QAnon got started when somebody claiming to work at the Department of Energy and to have Q level clearance started posting anonymously enigmatic tidbits of information called Q drops in an image board called 4chan. Most of these Q drops where nothing more than gibberish spiced with innuendo, but people were encouraged to “do their research” and find their meaning. And this they did, spawning a fantastical and dangerous view of reality that has as a central tenet that Trump is fighting a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who control the world and kidnap and torture children to drink their blood. In this post we will take a look at some QAnon ideas, tropes, symbols, and their origin.
The Pedophile Ring at Comet Ping Pong
The conspiracy that spawned the central pillar of the QAnon world view was derived from Pizzagate. This was the claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were running a pedophile operation in the basement of a pizza place in Washington DC called Comet Ping Pong (which has no basement). This claim was put together by 4chan posters interpreting “coded messages” in the e-mails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, released by Wikileaks. With the appearance of Q, the Pizzagate conspiracy was spun to have a worldwide reach, and involve many other actors engaging in much more than pedophilia.
Controlling the World and Drinking the Blood of Children
These are claims that have been made in the past about Jews. A book still popular in anti-Semitic circles entitled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in Russia in 1903, claimed that there was a secret plan by Jews to dominate the world. The “blood libel” was a claim that Jews would kidnap Christian children and drain them of their blood to use in religious rituals. Some of the posts by Q and other posters in the 4chan board have been against prominent Jews or Jews in general.
This is supposed to be a potent drug that the satanic pedophiles harvest from the blood of tortured children to consume and sell. This absurd notion was derived from Hunter Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp in 1998.
Follow the White Rabbit
Originally derived from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol, the “follow the white rabbit” trope is taken from the 1999 movie The Matrix, where the central character, Neo, played by actor Keanu Reeves, is asked to “follow the white rabbit”. Neo does follow a person with a white rabbit tattoo to a place where he meets those who will free him from the Matrix. For QAnon believers, following the white rabbit means following the path to discover the truth.
Taking the Red Pill or Red Pilling
This is another Matrix movie reference. It’s when Neo choses to take the red pill and learns the truth that is hidden about the world around him.
Where We Go One, We Go ALL (WWG1WGA)
The most recognized slogan of QAnon comes from a 1996 movie directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Jeff Bridges called White Squall. The trailer for the movie also features the words “the calm before the storm” (see below).
During a White House function, Donald Trump uttered an enigmatic reference to “the calm before the storm”, and within days Q alluded to this moment. Q’s followers then interpreted the storm to mean the day Trump would triumph over the satanic pedophile cabal whose members would then be arrested and executed. The storm was supposed to happen around the time Trump would be inaugurated to a second term.
Tip Top Tippy-Top Shape
QAnon followers believe that Trump communicates with them through symbolism and coded messages. But a follower once requested that Q ask Donald Trump to say the specific words “tip top tippy-top shape” as a shout out to the community. A few months later during the White House Easter Egg Roll, Trump said just that and he said it standing next to a person dressed as a white rabbit! QAnons were ecstatic and presented this "evidence" to all as proof that everything was real. The problem with this is that "tip top tippy-top shape" is a phrase that Trump had used on several occasions before the request.
The above are some of the “mainstream” (yes, don’t laugh) QAnon ideas, beliefs, tropes, and symbols. There are other other QAnon beliefs that are not shared by the majority of QAnon followers. For example, some claim the members of the Satan-worshipping cabal of pedophiles are really lizard people who have adopted human form.
QAnon is truly a philosophy by the people for the people. No Thoreaus, or Gandhis, or Martin Luther Kings were involved in crafting it. It is a bottom-up crowd-inspired fantastical narrative about the world, its society, and its people, spun from the interpretation of the cryptic utterances of an anonymous poster in an image board. It is a crazy quilt made from stitching shards of reality with old and new unfounded conspiracy theories, fantasies, coded messages, symbols, and book and movie quotes and stories. If QAnon were the product of some fan fiction community that would be one thing, but millions of people ended up not only contributing to create it but also believing this nonsense. And even more disturbing, some of them were and still are willing to act on their beliefs.
The photographs of Henry David Thoreau by Benjamin D. Maxham, of Mohandas Ghandi by Elliott & Fry, and of Martin Luther King from the Nobel foundation, are in the public domain. The typing image from pixabay by Wallusy is free for public use and has been modified.
Rejuvenation, Adrenalized Blood, and Adrenochrome: A Scientific Examination of the QAnon Exsanguination ClaimsRead Now
I discussed some aspects of the QAnon conspiracy in my past post. In this post I will look at the alleged science behind a few of its claims.
As I mentioned before, the central belief of QAnon is that president Trump is battling a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles (which includes politicians, Hollywood celebrities, company CEOs, and billionaires) who torture children and drink their blood. But this torturing and blood drinking serves more than merely ritualistic purposes. It is claimed that the blood extracted from young people has the capacity to rejuvenate those that consume it. Furthermore, if the young people are terrorized before harvesting the blood, their adrenal glands will secrete adrenaline into the blood. It is alleged that this blood containing adrenaline (adrenalized blood) is exhilarating and addictive, and the person drinking it experiences a high like no other. It is also claimed that the most sought after form of adrenaline is a compound that is extracted from adrenalized blood called “adrenochrome” which when consumed causes extreme hallucinations and feelings of empowerment and euphoria. Adrenochrome purified from the blood of tortured children by the blood harvesters of this satanic cabal is purportedly also sold in the dark market at high prices.
So what does science have to say about these claims? Let’s first look at adrenaline.
Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is a stress hormone which prepares the body for the fight or flight response. It increases blood pressure and heart rate, expands the diameter of airway passages and the pupil, directs blood to the muscles, and increases blood glucose concentration. Adrenaline is the active ingredient in “Epipens” which are used as an emergency treatment of severe allergic (anaphylactic) reactions. The effect of adrenaline on the brain is to increase alertness (like an extreme coffee buzz), but adrenaline is not favored as a recreational drug as its effects are short-lived and a far cry from those of other drugs. Adrenaline is not even classified as a controlled substance by the US government, although its administration has side effects that can be dangerous to some people. The argument that adrenaline is addictive comes from the behavior of people whom we call “adrenaline junkies” who engage in thrill-seeking activities. But the inference that injected adrenaline would have the same effect is unwarranted. A person injecting adrenaline in a calm environment lacks the context of a person sky diving or white water rafting. Not only are there many other things going on in the body of a person practicing an extreme sport that are not going on in the body of a person at rest injecting themselves with adrenaline, but the person using the injection, unlike the thrill seeker, is not acting on the effect of adrenaline, which is part of the adrenaline high for the thrill seeker.
As to the exsanguination claims, one of the problems behind the QAnon belief that these people drink the adrenalized blood of children to get high is that scientists have already tried to deliver adrenaline by oral route and found that it is ineffective. This is because adrenaline is degraded by the enzymes of the gastrointestinal tract. If these people were really interested in deriving an effect from adrenaline, then they should be injecting themselves with the blood instead. But adrenaline can be easily synthetized in a laboratory, and chemical companies sell adrenaline at prices around $156 for 10 grams of the compound. Adrenaline synthetized in a lab is just as effective as adrenaline obtained from a natural source such as blood or the adrenal gland. The effectiveness of a compound depends on its purity and formula not on its source. Wealthy people interested in doing adrenaline should have no problem in buying it or having it made. The cost, logistics, and risk of kidnapping thousands of children, torturing and exsanguinating them, and then disposing of the bodies while keeping it all secret just to get high on adrenaline doesn’t make any sense.
What about adrenochrome?
Adrenochrome is a degradation product of adrenaline that is used commercially to promote coagulation and prevent blood loss. High levels of adrenochrome were once proposed to be the causative agent behind schizophrenia, but that theory was not validated. Adrenochrome does not produce the type of hallucinations that other drugs such as LDS or mescaline produce, and it is not used as a recreational drug or even classified as a controlled substance. The false notion that adrenochrome has potent psychedelic effects was created by the writer Hunter Thompson in his 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp in 1998. As with adrenaline, there is no need to torture, terrorize, and exsanguinate anyone to obtain adrenochrome. It is made by chemical labs and sold at prices of $357 for 250 milligrams.
Finally, does drinking the blood of young people have rejuvenating effects?
Again, drinking blood is useless, but results from animal experiments where young blood is injected point to an effect. This was first observed when the circulatory systems of older rats were linked to those of younger rats (a procedure called heterochromic parabiosis). Sharing a circulatory system with a younger rat did not make the older rat younger, but it did have a rejuvenating effect and increased lifespan. Also blood plasma from young mice can reverse age-related impairments in cognitive decline in old mice. There are ongoing investigations to evaluate if blood from young people could help patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s although so far it hasn’t worked in small clinical trials. In any case, even if it works, the long-term goal is to isolate those factors in young blood responsible for the effect and use a cocktail of these factors instead of the actual blood. Nevertheless, while the benefits of young blood in humans remain unproven, there is concern that old rich people could try to inject themselves with the blood of young people to increase longevity. However, no kidnapping, torturing, or murder is necessary. You just have to pay the donor, and the process is no different from donating blood for other uses. This also allows the donor to keep coming back to donate more blood and earn more money.
The use of children for the above process would clearly be a different issue, and QAnon believers claim that hundreds of thousands of children dissapear every year (implying that they are used for the purposes of the conspiracy). However, 99% of missing children make it back home. Although some children are indeed kidnapped and abused by perverted people that act alone or as part of pedophile rings, the purpose of these heinous acts is sexual abuse or trafficking for profit. There is simply no evidence for the existence in the US of the massive exsanguination operation that would be required to service the thousands of people that QAnon claim are involved in the conspiracy.
The exsanguination claims of QAnon believers are a mix of some science with fantasy, ignorance, exaggeration, misinformation, and outright lies. It’s a myth, but one that has gained acceptance by millions of people.
Photograph from flickr by RyAwesome is used here under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
By now you have heard about QAnon. This is a group of people whose most known conspiracy belief is that Donald Trump was (or still is) battling a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, who kidnap children, torture them, and drink their blood. This cabal is made up of politicians, Hollywood celebrities, company CEOs, billionaires, and other personalities in the US and many other countries. The list even includes the British Royal family and the Pope! The cabal is said to control the world, and its members may not even be human (some in QAnon claim they are lizard people masquerading as humans). The inauguration of Trump into his second term was supposed to be “The Storm”, the day he would arrest these pedophiles and execute them. This event in turn would lead to “The Great Awakening” when everyone would realize QAnon was right. This would usher in a new era for humanity with Trump as president for life.
Even though I consider conspiracy believers like global warming or 911 deniers, creationists, and antivaxxers to be self-deluded, the ideas behind QAnon would have struck me not just merely as deluded, but rather as plain bat crap crazy. If you had asked me if a considerable number of people would believe the QAnon conspiracy, I would have answered that QAnon believers, just like flat Earth proponents, would never go beyond being a fringe of a few hundred people.
QAnon got started in 2017 when someone claiming to be a Department of Energy insider with what is called Q-level clearance started posting anonymous messages (hence QAnon) on an obscure image board website known for its sometimes extreme content called 4chan. Some moderators from the site decided to disseminate the utterances of Q (called Q drops or bread crumbs) to a broader audience, and teamed up with content creators for more mainstream sites. A lot of what would end up being the QAnon dogma was inserted into the analysis of Q’s messages in these early days. QAnon mythology borrows heavily from both recent and centuries-old conspiracy theories (some of them with anti-Semitic roots) as well as lines and plots from fantasy books, movies, and television shows.
As the ranks of QAnon swelled, their social media groups and channels multiplied and gained more members aided by influencers and network algorithms. QAnon was boosted by President Trump who is a central character in their beliefs where he is known as Q+. Mr. Trump never renounced the support of the group, and he also retweeted messages from several QAnon believers or sympathizers to his tens of millions of followers. Some Trump allies and members of his inner circle expressed sympathy in one way or another for the group. QAnon adherents started making their presence felt at Trump rallies, and the group began to be covered by media outlets such as Infowars and befriended by political candidates running for office. With the lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of idle people took to the internet for entertainment and many of them found QAnon. The movement gave rise to an industry of QAnon merchandise including books and Apps which became best sellers. In three short years, a conspiracy based on a most absurd set of premises was accepted by millions of people some of whom have been involved in crimes and even participated in the storming of the US Capitol.
What is the allure of QAnon? How is it that people end up believing these things? Everyone is taught about science and the scientific method. Why isn’t this education enough to counter at least these extreme beliefs? It turns out that QAnon is more effective at having many people accept folly than science is effective at having the same people accept facts. This may be rooted in the way human psychology works.
Scientists present a view of reality such as the occurrence of global warming or evolution, the efficacy and safety of vaccines, or that the Earth is round. Scientists then explain what evidence supports these particular views. Many people find the evidence persuasive and accept what the scientists are saying, but quite a number do not, preferring instead to believe things that go contrary to the evidence. Why is this? The problem is that the view presented by the scientists is something external to the inner world of many individuals. These individuals are familiar with their view of reality, and they are reluctant to allow something from the “outside” to come into their minds and replace their views regardless of the evidence.
A superficial analysis of QAnon may suggest that it doesn’t present any view of reality or evidence. To newcomers, Qanon seems to present a body of mysterious sounding tidbits of information (Q drops) and invites people to “do their own research” and find out what these Q drops mean. The people that engage in this activity get the impression that they are in control. They believe they are making sense of this information by themselves on their own terms, and arriving at their own conclusions. This is, of course, not true. The unravelling of the meaning of the messages from Q often occurs within the matrix of a chat board or a group that traffics in information that is heavily biased toward certain interpretations. Therefore, when individuals do their “research” and come to conclusions regarding what the Q drops mean, their conclusions are most of the time not theirs but those of the people they interact with.
But, and here is the key to understanding why QAnon is so incredibly persuasive, the individuals don’t know these conclusions are not theirs. As far as they are concerned, they have come up with these new views by themselves. They feel that these new views are not external to their minds, but rather that they have been generated internally. As a result of this, in those initiated into QAnon these new views, no matter how bizarre, have a very good chance of replacing their old views.
Add to this that the process of “research” is fun. It’s essentially a game such as solving a difficult puzzle. You experience the effort of hard work and the thrill of discovery when you connect the dots and make sense of things. This process, of course, takes place with the encouragement, feedback, and praise of those you interact with. But unlike regular puzzles, the “discoveries” made by QAnon folks are about highly emotional issues such as child abuse, which instill raw outrage, and knowledge of the alleged existence of sinister individuals and organizations who control the world and hide in plain sight, which gives the people “knowing” this information a sense of uniqueness, power, and purpose.
Banned from many social media outlets with its major prophesy as yet unfulfilled, QAnon has retreated in disarray, and a number of its followers have left the group due to exhaustion or disillusionment. The group is down, but not out. I expect not only that we will have to continue to deal with them going forward, but that we will also have to deal with future incarnations of this and other related phenomenons which the internet will spawn.
QAnon banner photograph from flickr by Anthony Crider is used here under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
We have begun to detect early signs that COVID-19 vaccination is having a dramatic effect in reducing the number of new cases and deaths. This data comes from studies performed in nursing homes where the vaccine was made available first. Despite this good news, there is a substantial amount of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine that is stoking doubt among people that would otherwise elect to be vaccinated. In this post I will address some of these claims.
Vaccine development is a process that takes a decade or more. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in a year (Operation Warp Speed), so they were rushed, therefore there is no way they can be safe.
This claim reveals a misunderstanding of what Operation Warp Speed did. This vaccine development operation was not fast because they cut corners. There are several reasons vaccine development was fast, but one of the most important ones was that the government funded multiple stages of the vaccine development process at once. For example, the vaccine was produced at the same time the clinical trials were ongoing. A pharmaceutical company normally waits for the results of the trials before producing the vaccine, because if the trial fails, then it would lose all the investment in producing a vaccine that wouldn’t be approved. In Operation Warp Speed it was the government that assumed this economic risk, and this accelerated the pace of vaccine production. No corners were cut in the development process. The vaccines were tested in regular clinical trials and they were found to be effective and safe.
The coronavirus is a new virus and the Moderna and Pfizer messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines are a new technology. There is no way that a new technology can be applied to a new virus and result in a safe vaccine in such a short time.
This claim ignores the history of both the involvement of scientists with coronaviruses and the history of the development of the mRNA technology. Scientists had been researching coronaviruses such as SARS (2003) and MERS (2012) for many years. By studying these and other viruses they discovered how the proteins in the surface of the virus change when attacking a cell, and they figured out how to make antibodies to the right proteins to avoid problems that can compromise a vaccine. The mRNA technology they used had also been researched for decades and had reached its full potential by the time COVID-19 came around. Finally the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is also as effective and safe as the others and is not based on mRNA technology.
The mRNA vaccines will change your DNA, and can give you COVID-19.
This is not how mRNA works. DNA produces mRNA, and mRNA carries the instructions for the production of proteins. However, mRNA cannot go back to DNA and alter it. If I asked you whether you are concerned that while you are walking on the sidewalk the concrete under your feet will turn into quicksand and swallow you up, you would probably reply that is silly because it’s not in the nature of concrete to do that. Similarly, it is not in the nature of mRNA to alter DNA. The SARS-Cov-2 virus that produces COVID-19 has a total of 29 proteins. The vaccines contain an mRNA molecule that carries the information to produce ONLY ONE viral protein (the spike protein that the virus uses to enter the cells). The body then produces antibodies against this protein, and the mRNA is degraded after a few hours. The mRNA does not carry the information to produce the rest of the proteins of the virus, thus it is impossible for the mRNA vaccine to give you COVID-19.
They tell us that after we get vaccinated, we still need to wear a mask and social distance, so why get vaccinated at all?
It is not known if the vaccine can prevent you from being infected with the virus. What we know is that the vaccine will help you fight the virus and protect you against moderate and severe COVID-19 disease. However, scientists don’t know if vaccinated people are still capable of carrying the virus and transmitting it to other people. Thus, scientists are just being careful and recommending that vaccinated people still use masks and social distance while in the presence of others that may not yet be vaccinated until they can answer this question.
The COVID-19 vaccines have side effects and have caused severe allergic reactions.
The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are an indication that the immune system is working. These side effects, such as pain at the site of injection, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain, normally last 24 hours and are an acceptable tradeoff for gaining immunity against a disease that can potentially be lethal or debilitating to you and others you may transmit it to. In rare cases an allergic reaction to the vaccine has been documented which mostly occurs within 30 minutes of vaccination and can be treated by the medical personnel administering the vaccine. This is why it is recommended that people who have a history of allergic reactions should consult with their doctors before getting the vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccines have caused several deaths.
This piece of misinformation is straight out of the antivaxxer playbook, and it is based on claims that people who died or had a problem after receiving a vaccine died or had the problem because of the vaccine. In a population of millions of individuals, thousands of people naturally die or have health issues every day. If millions of people get a vaccine, some of them will naturally die or have health issues around the time they received the vaccine, but in a manner unrelated to the vaccine. In other words: correlation does not imply causation. So far the alleged vaccine deaths that have been investigated have not been linked to the vaccine.
More than 500,000 American have died as a result of COVID-19 and tens of thousands have been left with long-lasting side effects. All this could have been avoided if we had had a vaccine for the disease at the begining. Well, now we have 3 vaccines against the disease (not counting the Russian, Indian, and Chinese vaccines). There are still tens of millions of people in the US who have not yet had COVID-19, and therefore there is potential for additional morbidity and mortality from the disease. It is important for everyone to get vaccinated to protect both themselves and those around them, so please don’t fall for the vaccine misinformation. Get vaccinated.
The photo of the COVID-19 vaccine by Lisa Ferdinando (DOD) was taken from the Flickr photostream of the US Secretary of Defense and is used here under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.