Maintenance Phase

COVID Conspiracies

March 07, 2024
COVID Conspiracies
Maintenance Phase
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Show Notes Transcript

[Maintenance Phase theme]

Michael: First tagline of 2024. You have had six months to think about this.


Michael: Better be amazing. 

Aubrey: Have we ever had an amazing tagline? 

Michael: Yeah, good point. That's fair. That's fair. 

Aubrey: Hi, everybody, and welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that is trading in your tinfoil hat for an N95.

Michael: Oh, that's good. That actually is good, Aubrey.

Aubrey: No, thank you, Michael.

Michael: Wow.

Aubrey: What a lovely compliment, tempered only by your disbelief that it can’t be the [Michael laughs] [crosstalk]

Michael: The surprise in my voice. 

Aubrey: Aubrey.

Michael: Wow. Good one [Aubrey laughs] on this show. First time. 

Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon. 

Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes.

Aubrey: And today, we're back. 

Michael: This was supposed to be our RFK Jr. Part 3 Episode and then we took what was supposed to be a brief hiatus. After we did our Ozempic episode, we were burned out, and it was intense and everything. We were like, let's take the rest of the year off. We were supposed to come back in early January. And then I got the flu to end all flus on fucking Christmas morning, and I was basically on the couch sleeping and coughing for seven weeks. So, that ended up delaying us coming back. And in the meantime, RFK Jr. has blessedly fallen out of the news cycle.

Aubrey: Yeah, no complaints over here. 

Michael: So, for clickbait reasons, we are calling this COVID Conspiracies. But if you have been with us for the first two parts, this is a spiritual part three. And if you weren't welcome, let's talk about weird COVID shit. 

Aubrey: Where do you want to kick us off? 

Michael: So, we're starting, as usual, with a series of tedious Meta comments before we begin, [Aubrey laughs] which, 90% of the time, we cut from the episode. And yet the triumph of hope over experience. 

Aubrey: It wouldn't be our show without 20 minutes of trigger warnings and caveats, you know?

Michael: I actually plan on doing a lot of COVID-related episodes this year because I think we're really living in the world that COVID created. There's a sense of, when are things going to get back to normal? But if history is any guide, after these large, cataclysmic events, things rarely go back to normal. We're still figuring out what the new normal is going to look like. So, I just want to talk about it. I feel like I don't know about other people, but maybe this is just because I was sick for the last six weeks, but I'm ready to talk about COVID. I'm ready to process 2020. 

Aubrey: Mike is ready to talk about weird respiratory illnesses. 

Michael: Yeah. My interest in my own lungs has suddenly increased. Unclear why 

Aubrey: Skyrocketed. Yeah.

Michael: So one of the main things that I want to convey in this episode is, just how quickly conspiracies emerged. The first published report of COVID is December 27th of 2019. Within one month, we already start seeing conspiracy theory articles. So, The Daily Mail publishes one called, “China built a lab to study SARS antibola in Wuhan. And US biosafety experts warned in 2017 that a virus could escape.” So, we have lab league shit happening. We also get from this website that, of course, I had never heard of, but becomes one of these major misinformation spreaders, publishes an article called Coronavirus Bioweapon, how China stole coronavirus from Canada and weaponized it.

Aubrey: What?

Michael: I know my favorite thing is the weird little cul-de-sacs of conspiracy theories that people discard. Like, they stole it from Canada part, everyone has just forgotten about. And it's like, “Oh, yeah, not that part, but we're going to keep the rest of this weird bioweapon shit.”

Aubrey: Of all the gin joints in all the world, Canada. 

Michael: I know. I really don't know where this comes, but then this is like just a random tweet, but it showed one of the academic articles I read. This is like a weird QAnon influencer who tweets, “Canada is run and owned by Royal British Crown.” It appears the Royal British Crown helped plan and fund this bioweapon made in Wuhan, China lab. [laughs] So, it's like, from an outbreak of a virus in China to it's from Canada to no, no, it's from the royal family. 

Aubrey: I'm really going through a roller coaster on owned by. 


Aubrey: Mm-mm. Maybe.

Michael: We're not really going to cover the lab leak bioweapon stuff because me and Peter already did an episode on the lab leak. 

Aubrey: Ooh, me and Peter already did. 

Michael: Oh, my other friend. This is like when a member of my book club talks about her other book clubs [Aubrey laughs] and I am going on talk about it. Don't bring it up with me. I'm right here. As of February 2020, we start getting the next coronavirus conspiracy theory, which is, did you hear about the superbug thing? Were you tracking this at all? 

Aubrey: No. At this point in the pandemic, here's what I remember. I remember really, really smart, thoughtful people that I know believing utterly bananas stuff. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Aubrey: Like, I remember having a conversation with someone I know who has a doctorate, who was like, I heard that if you can hold your breath for 15 seconds, you definitely don't have it. 

Michael: Dude, I was going to read this to you.

Aubrey: That was like a big one. 

Michael: That was like a random Facebook post by basically just this random lady. She's like, Stanford scientists or something. And then, of course, somebody contacts Stanford, and they're like, “What the fuck, no, we never said this.”

Aubrey: No, fully made up. People were so hungry for, “This is really scary. I've never experienced anything like it before. What will give me a sense of comfort is some ability to, at the very least, know if I'm carrying this thing.” 

Michael: Totally, totally. So, on February 2, there is a preprint, nonpeer-reviewed, basically just like a random post on a website that looks scientific by these researchers that say they've sequenced the COVID virus and it has a bunch of similarities to HIV. 

Aubrey: Fuck. 

Michael: This paper is retracted within two weeks, but this then results in a wave of articles, one of which, this is on Joseph Mercola's website, he says, “Is SARS-CoV-2, a chimera virus built from HIV, flu, and SARS”?

Aubrey: As ever? 

Michael: Could it, would it, can it be? 

Aubrey: Really instills confidence. 

Michael: There's also some weird shit where Russian propaganda starts saying that it's named the coronavirus because Donald Trump used to put crowns on Miss America contestants. They named it after Donald Trump.

Aubrey: What is happening?

Michael: It doesn't even make fucking sense, but [crosstalk]

Aubrey: Michael? 

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: Michael. 

Michael: I love the conspiracy theories that other countries believe because it's so easy to look at other countries and be like, well, that's obviously like their own weird cultural baggage. No, we have cultural baggage, too.

Aubrey: Yeah. Other countries have it wrong, but adrenochrome-,

Michael: Yeah, exactly.

Aubrey: -just asking questions. 

Michael: So that's January and February, it's like lab leak, super bug shit. March of 2020 is when we get the first wellness conspiracies. And I wanted to talk about this one because this is one that I fell for. One of the things I always try to convey to people who listen to the show is that we are not special. You can host a fucking podcast dedicated to debunking health misinformation and fall for health misinformation. When I was sick for essentially all of 2024, I fell for the dumbest shit. I was ordering, like, cherry tree extract. 

Aubrey: Not bark.

Michael: A tree. I don't even know what a fucking extract is, but I saw literally a random tweet of, “I used to have a cold, and then I took this shit,” and I was like, immediately, like a new tab, It was like, nine bucks. It's like, yeah, fuck it, why not.

Aubrey: Right. This is what they also say about people who enter into cults right? Is that it's not like a kind of person, it's a person in a kind of state. 

Michael: It's also important to me to show a little bit of grace too. People who “fall” for these things despite having the knowledge like me, don't yell at me for ordering the tree bark. 

Aubrey: [laughs] The emails that we're going to get are not yelling at you for ordering the tree bark. The emails that we're going to get are going to be like, actually, it works really well. How dare you? 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, [laughs] that's true, that's true. I know I'm being like, make sure to be nice, but maybe we're too nice. I don't know. So, March 11th of 2020, the WHO declares a pandemic. On March 13th, we get the emergency declaration. The day after the emergency declaration, we get an article in the Lancet by a bunch of doctors who basically were looking at the data coming out of the hospitals in China, and they notice that of the patients who were hospitalized with COVID, 30% of them had hypertension and 12% had diabetes. And that's slightly higher than it is in the population like higher than you would expect. And so, they write this article saying, “We know that when people have these conditions,” one of the things they typically take is ibuprofen. 

And there is some evidence that for other respiratory illnesses, taking anti-inflammatories can actually reduce the activity of your immune system. And so, it's worth looking into, were these patients taking anti-inflammatories? It says in the article, “If this hypothesis were to be confirmed, it could lead to a conflict regarding treatment.” They’re just purely speculative. These are not people in China. These are not people who are working with COVID patients. They're just like, “Hey, people should know, like, this might be at play.” But then, of course, this gets taken up by random people and starts bouncing around online as like, don't take ibuprofen. So, a version of this ends up getting tweeted out by a French doctor who's like, an Instagram influencer, something, something. He's like, “We know ibuprofen is associated with worse COVID outcomes,” which is not true. 

And then it gets taken up by the French minister of health, who says taking anti-inflammatory drugs could be an aggravating factor for the infection. If you have a fever, take paracetamol. That becomes a Reuters article that says, “France warns against use of anti-inflammatory drugs to tackle coronavirus.” And then there's a press conference at the WHO about something else. And at the end of the press conference, somebody asks, “Hey, have you heard about this anti-inflammatory ibuprofen thing?” This is from another Reuters article. It says, “Asked about the study, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva, the UN Health Agency's experts were looking into this to give further guidance. In the meantime, we recommend using rather paracetamol and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication.” That's important. So, this is like an off the cuff answer by their press guy. But this gets reported as the WHO says, “Don't take ibuprofen.”

Aubrey: I mean, I think this is another place where you're like, the social and psychological end of this comes into play, which is people don't want to be the person who's wrong or the person who's behind the times. 

Michael: And also, this was my logic too. I take ibuprofen for my whack little skeleton all the time. And I was like, “Yeah, fuck it, I'll switch to Tylenol or just not take anything.” It's such a low stakes thing. 

Aubrey: Sure. Wiping down your bag of Doritos. 

Michael: Exactly. But then I think one thing that's interesting about this is the relationship between the institutions of public health and these conspiracy theories that run around. I don't know if I would even call this a conspiracy theory. It's more like just false information that goes around. But it's like, I don't think that the actual institutions of public health were as prepared for this as they should have been. 

Aubrey: You would hope that the French Health Minister and the WHO would have a higher threshold than your aunt Susan sharing things on Facebook. 

Michael: This gets debunked. A couple days later, the WHO puts out better guidance. They're like, “Actually, we don't really know this is like super hypothetical. It might turn out to be true later, but right now we can't really say anything.” It added to this sense at the time that it was just there's so much stuff going around. Like, everybody, including me, probably should have been more careful about being like, “Make sure you don't take ibuprofen.” I was like, texting friends. I was like, “If you're taking ibuprofen, don't take it.”

Aubrey: [laughs] You're a super spreader but of incorrect information. 

Michael: This episode is a call out of myself. 

Aubrey: Yeah. Oh, buddy. 

Michael: So, the rest of this episode, we are going to talk about three of the major COVID conspiracies. So, to start off with the drug Ivermectin, this is an anti-parasite medication that actually came up. I don't remember if we cut this or not, but in our Worm Wars episode, when you read about deworming kids in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ivermectin is one of the drugs that they use. It's very cheap. It is very effective at killing parasites. There's an extremely funny section in RFK Jr.'s book where he writes an ode to Ivermectin. He's like, “There are statues built to the inventors of Ivermectin, and it won the Nobel Prize in 2015.” And all this is totally true. If you're someone who's interested in anti-parasite stuff, Ivermectin really is a wonder drug. It's really fucking cool. But the question isn't whether Ivermectin is good or not in general. Chemotherapy is good, but it doesn't cure back pain. We're not talking about these things in general, we're talking about them as treatments for specific conditions. 

Aubrey: Right. 

Michael: There is a long-standing theory that Ivermectin can actually also work for viruses. And so, this had been bouncing around, but it was relatively small scale. On April 3rd of 2020, we get a study of the blast COVID in a Petri dish with Ivermectin and it kills the COVID. They do these things. It's like a super duper, duper, duper preliminary way of understanding whether a treatment works--

Aubrey: Extremely rudimentary. 

Michael: I don't want to be mean, but, like, one of the villains that we've identified on the show over and over again is the press releases from University Communications Departments.

Aubrey: With the caveat that science communications is hard. 

Michael: Yes.

Aubrey:  Right.

Michael: Exactly. 

Aubrey: Super, super hard. 

Michael: For this very preliminary study, we get a press release titled possible coronavirus drug identified. Ivermectin stops SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture. And then the first paragraph of the press release is, “A new study has shown that an antiparasitic drug already available around the world can kill the virus within 48 hours. Scientists found that a single dose of the drug Ivermectin could stop SARS-CoV-2 growing in cell culture. The next steps are to determine the correct human dosage, ensuring the doses shown to effectively treat the virus in vitro are safe for humans.” So, this does say very clearly, like, this isn't a cell culture, but also it sounds pretty promising. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: But the problem with this study is basically the amount, to get the amount of Ivermectin that would be equivalent to the amount that they used in this Petri dish. I've seen different numbers. One of them says you would have to ingest around two and a half pounds of Ivermectin. 

Aubrey: Two and a half pounds is so much. And it just makes me, for some reason, what that conjured for me was that Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook where she's like, just blend up broccoli and put it in your kid’s mac and cheese. 

Michael: Oh, was this a lady who was like, “Hey, here's how you hide vegetables in your kid’s food.”

Aubrey: Yeah. Sneak them into shit. And I'm just thinking about how much you would have to sneak in 2 pounds of Ivermectin. 

Michael: [laughs] It's a milkshake, but it's just a giant tube of Ivermectin attached to the straw. [Aubrey laughs] Thicker than usual. 

Aubrey: That's right. That's right.

Michael: One of the things that is so frustrating about these things is like, this is part of science working normally, and you don't want to say something like, we shouldn't publish cell culture studies because that would be fucking nuts, right? You want all this information to be public, but immediately this then becomes, did you know there's this cheap and easy drug and you can take it and it kills the coronavirus? That's how it is processed. And so, throughout May, we start getting observational studies where they start giving people Ivermectin. It's like, it's readily available. It's generic. So, actually, I'm going to send this to you.

Aubrey: Reading time, story time. 

Michael: So, there's a very good scientific article with just a timeline of the rise and fall of Ivermectin. So, this is from that. 

Aubrey: On May 2nd, Dr. Chang published a preprint of an observational case study of seven patients showing improvement and resolution of fever within 48 hours and a 100% recovery. On May 19th, an Indian newspaper wrote about an observational trial by Alam et al. in Bangladesh, with 60 patients treated with a combination of Ivermectin and doxycycline, recovering within four days. 

Michael: So, the problem with these observational studies, all of which appear to be true and accurate. Basically, that most people recover from COVID. Fatality rate of COVID is roughly 1%. So, if you take any group of people and they get COVID, most of them are going to recover. You could say, they got apple slices and they recovered from COVID.

Aubrey:  Yeah. The ones who picked the apples with an Elmo sticker on it [Michael laughs] recovered [laughs. 

Michael: Yeah. So, I did not know this before I started researching this, but throughout May and June of 2020, a huge number of developing countries started adopting Ivermectin as like a treatment protocol. Peru, Bangladesh, Honduras, all over the place, people are reading these studies, and they're like, well, fuck it. I mean, Ivermectin is, like, very readily available, especially in the developing world. We have buckets of this stuff available, so we might as well start giving it to people. 

Aubrey: Boy, oh boy. 

Michael: So, throughout 2020, there's just more spread of Ivermectin. More of these observational studies are coming out. Randomized control trials take a long time, so those don't really start showing up. There's a couple, but they have, like, really small numbers of patients, so we don't really know anything. All we have is these observational studies. We then get it taken up by the American Right. So, in November of 2020, there's a Wall Street Journal editorial called Too Much Caution Is Killing Covid Patients. 

Aubrey: Oh, no. 

Michael: Send you this.

Aubrey: Too many doctors have interpreted the term evidence-based medicine to mean that the evidence for a treatment must be certain and definitive before it can be given to patients. 

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: Because accusing a physician of not being evidence-based can be a career-damaging allegation. Fear of straying from the pack has prevailed, favoring inertia and inaction amid uncertainty about COVID-19 treatments. Treating high risk patients with COVID-19 at home using safe medications is the most promising public health strategy for preventing hospital overcrowding and death. These treatments are widely available and can be combined with other measures. What Americans need in this crisis is clear-eyed policy inspired by imagination and a genuine desire to protect the vulnerable, rather than fueled by fear or partisan political agendas. Wild that they're like, don't let this be fueled by partisan political agendas. 

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: And then it just immediately became fueled by partisan agendas.

Michael: What's so frustrating about this is, like, the medical establishment at this point is actually, if you look at the fact, is being quite responsible. They are testing Ivermectin. A number of trials are going on, these observational studies are being published, and doctors are giving Ivermectin to their patients. Some of them are like, “Yeah, this is promising. Let's give it to people.” So, all of the things that these Wall Street Journal editorial writers claim to want is happening, but they're immediately casting it as, like, this works, and the medical establishment won't give it to you. Neither one of those two facts are true. 

Aubrey: This also is ascribing quite a bit of intent here. We need clear-eyed policy inspired by imagination-

Michael: Exactly.

Aubrey: -and genuine desire to protect the vulnerable. Once again, I think of the Mr. Show sketch that's like, unlike other grocery stores, “You'll never find a rat in our store.” 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. 

Aubrey: The implication here is our policy is bad. It's not clear eyed. 

Michael: Right. 

Aubrey: I would actually argue at this point in the pandemic is like, when we had the most clear-eyed policy. 

Michael: This is such a good point that you bring up because they're asking for something clear eyed, which again is like, that's an emotional statement. We all wanted clarity, but clarity was not available in fucking November of 2020. At this point, we didn't even know if you could fucking get COVID twice. They're like, we need something that cares about the vulnerable. And it's like, well, caring about the vulnerable is not just fucking spamming people with, like, don't take ibuprofen, do take Ivermectin. We didn't know anything. You have to wait until you have some fucking certainty. And the fact is that just takes time. 

Aubrey: I mean, I think we've talked about this a fair amount with weight loss studies. That there's got to be a level of acknowledgment from researchers around weight loss that their research will get introduced into a context where people are going to figure out how to monetize it as quickly as possible, and people are going to take it as much more declarative than it necessarily is.

Michael: Exactly. 

Aubrey: And I think the COVID stuff is similarly, like, we ignore the social and political and economic landscape at our own peril, right?

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Aubrey: Most people are afraid of dying most days. [Michael laughs] And I suspect many, many, many people who were researching this and were doing sci-com’s on it were really concerned about treading really carefully. 

Michael: Well, this actually brings us to the third and most dispiriting factor behind why Ivermectin became such a big deal. So, alongside the good faith observational studies and the bad faith uptake of this myth by the American Right, we also have a lot of straight up faked studies. So, in the months after the Wall Street Journal editorial, we get a randomized control trial out of Egypt that shows a 90% reduction in death rates from Ivermectin. We also get a study out of Brazil showing a 70% to 85% reduction in deaths. And these are both a huge deal at the time. These are effects roughly on par with the vaccine. But eventually, people circle back and find out that both of these studies essentially could not have happened. 

So, it all starts to unravel when a master's student, basically just a random guy, looks back at the introduction to the Egyptian study and finds that it's almost entirely plagiarized. And then there's a whole weird back and forth. I talked to one of the researchers who worked on this, where they reached out to the authors of the Egyptian study and were like, “We look at your data?” And they were like, “No, you can't have our data.” But then it turns out it was, like, uploaded on some server, and they paid 10 bucks, and they got it. It was a whole thing. But eventually they got the data, the raw data from this Egyptian study. And once they start looking into it, they notice that it's, like, really, really fishy. 

Aubrey: Ah.

Michael: So, they find, first of all, that of the 600 patients in the study, 410 of them have an age that is an even number. They also notice that in the data sheets, a lot of the numbers are actually letters. So instead of 0, it uses the letter O. And then they start noticing, like, weird date things. So, obviously, the way these studies work is you start tracking people on January 1st or whatever, and you track them for six months, and you're like, how many people died? A lot of the deaths of the patients are from before the study started. The Brazilian study falls apart in the same way. People look through their data and there's just a bunch of weird discrepancies, like, way too many people have 0s and 5s at the end of their basic demographic, like, height and weight data. 

There's a really good post from our friend Health Nerd. It's a very good sub-stack of about like various health statistics. And he did a three-part series on, “How the hell did so many people believe that Ivermectin was this miracle cure?” He says Ivermectin literature contains a staggering volume of scientific fraud, not mistakes or oversights or gilded lilies, fraud. My sincere opinion is that at least a third of the evidence supporting the use of Ivermectin as a COVID-19 therapeutic is not just based on shaky data, but consists of studies that may never have happened at all. 

Aubrey: It feels like we're having more and more stories of this, right? 

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: Like that story about the Alzheimer's researchers. 

Michael: And the lying researchers who lied. 

Aubrey: There's just a lot of it, and it's a deeply troubling little mini trend. 

Michael: There's a good article in the Atlantic by James Heathers, who's one of the people who does this forensic analysis of statistics. And he says, “You know part of it is understandable early in the pandemic, it was just like, let's fucking throw everything that could work at the wall. Some bad studies are going to get through in a context like that. This isn't really anybody's fault. But it's like the entire process of peer review is, of course, unpaid. And reviewers have to take the data at face value. It's like, according to the data that you have in your paper, is this methodology sound? Is your analysis sound? Did you do the statistics right, etc. They don't have the resources to check is your data fucking fake? 

Aubrey: No. I mean, I feel like what you're pointing to is a systems gap, right?

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Aubrey: Not a failing of individual responsibility of people who are reviewing these studies, not a whatever. But just like, we actually don't have a system to handle this thing. 

Michael: Right, right. I mean, that's the thing. It's like so much of this is just a basic resources gap.

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: As we move forward into a world where everyone can say anything at any time on the Internet for free. All of these institutions really have to double down on, like, if you read this in the Lancet or wherever, it is true, it is fact checked and be transparent about the processes that go into these things. Dedicate huge resources to, yeah double and triple checking these things. Especially, if we're talking about something like Ivermectin, where it's like we're in the middle of a once in a century pandemic, a study that indicates, “Hey, this is a cure.” Of course, people are going to take that up and start taking fucking Ivermectin. 

Aubrey: Did this lead to an Ivermectin shortage? 

Michael: Not exactly, but it did lead to an outbreak of horse-

Aubrey: Boy oh, boy oh, boy oh, boy [laughs]

Michael: -paste slurping. [Aubrey laughs] So, based on that and the right wing basically taking this up, it's like, well, we know it cures COVID. We have this huge spike in prescriptions. So, before the pandemic, there were around 4000 prescriptions of Ivermectin per week. At the peak of this myth, in August of 2021, there were 40,000 prescriptions per week. So, a tenfold increase. Ivermectin is typically a pill, just like a normal ass pill. You can also get it as a cream that you use for headlice. But very importantly for what comes next, Ivermectin is also a treatment for animals. When animals have parasites, they take a version of Ivermectin. 

And because animals cannot swallow giant ass pills, this is usually given as, like, a paste or what is called a drench, which is like, they stick a tube down the cow's stomach and pump it with Ivermectin. And so, what starts happening when people can't get prescriptions for Ivermectin from their doctor is they then go to pet stores or animal feed stores and they get animal Ivermectin, which appears to be roughly the same formulation. However, there's not like a suggested dosage or there is one, but it's like for a horse. So, people didn't know how much Ivermectin to be taken. So, this is when you started getting these reports of poisonings, deaths. And so, in September of 2021, we get a Rolling Stone article that goes mega viral. I'm going to send this to you. 

Aubrey: The rise in people using Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug usually reserved for deworming horses or livestock as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19 has emergency rooms, “So backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting access to health facilities.” An emergency room doctor in Oklahoma said this week Dr. Jason McElyea told KFOR the overdoses are causing backlogs in rural hospitals leaving both beds and ambulance services scarce. “The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated. All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient and they don't have any. That's it. If there's no ambulance to take the call, there's no ambulance to come to the call.”

Michael: So, this seeded a huge discourse of right wingers falling for this misinformation bullshit and getting poisonings and basically backing up emergency rooms to the point where people with actual COVID couldn't fucking get in. The curve was unflattening. However, this is false. When you actually get into the guts of the story, this is basically an anecdote from a random guy. A couple weeks later, Rolling Stone adds what I consider to be a super chicken shit correction to this. Here's this. 

Aubrey: The doctor is affiliated with a medical staffing group that serves multiple hospitals in Oklahoma. Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor's group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any Ivermectin overdoses. Boy oh boy. And that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care. This and other hospitals that the doctor's group serves did not respond to requests for comment and the doctor has not responded to requests for further comment. 

Michael: So, basically, there's no fucking evidence that what this guy's saying is true. We tried to check it and we can't confirm it, but they left the fucking story up. 

Aubrey: Again, this feels like the challenge of not acknowledging the social and psychological parts of what's happening during this time. Because in addition to people on the ground just seeking comfort, so are reporters, so are doctors. Everybody is looking for some sense of comfort and stability. And I think that's also probably part of how this stuff gets out there. It's part of how this stuff gets printed in the first place. It is a form of comfort to have someone to point to and go, this is actually your fault.

Michael: Exactly. This “Conspiracy theory” is a good example of, this is false. They were never backing up hospitals. The hospitals were not full of people who were taking horse paste, but this is a version of something that is true. So, before the pandemic, it appears there were roughly 500 cases of Ivermectin poisoning throughout the United States every year. And in 2021, there were roughly 2000. So, there was a four-fold increase. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Michael: There were, at the time, two deaths in New Mexico of people that just took way too much Ivermectin, mostly because it was like this livestock dosage and their kidneys failed and they died. So that's actually true. These poisonings were happening. But it's also very important to point out that most of the poisonings were relatively minor. People had gastrointestinal stuff or they felt shitty for a couple of days. Ultimately, they were fine. The normal dose of Ivermectin, like, what you would take if you needed it for anti-parasite anti-scabies, is totally safe. People were going to livestock stores and getting animal doses of Ivermectin. That was happening. But on nowhere near the scale that it seemed like if you were around social media at the time. 

At one point, the FDA puts out a tweet from its official account that says, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all, stop it.” I really object to the FDA doing this, both entrenching the idea that this was happening on a much larger scale than it was and for mocking the people who were doing that. 

Aubrey: There was also some true gremlin behavior on the left around this stuff, which was making fun of people who had died taking good faith efforts to protect themselves and people around them. 

Michael: Who believed what they were told. 

Aubrey: Who believed what they were told. If you're looking for a villain there, it is very clearly like this bizarro Wall Street Journal piece. It is very clearly the extreme spread on Fox News and through right wing channel-- There are villains to be had here. It's not the people who died. 

Michael: So, just to sum up the research on Ivermectin, we're not going to go into it in great detail, because it's basically just a bunch of studies finding the same thing. But it's been very well established by now that Ivermectin does not do anything for COVID.

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: But then what's weird is, I think this is another thing of the difference between the way that the left deals with misinformation and the way that the right deals with misinformation is that nothing gets debunked over there. 

Aubrey: If anything, it gets, I don't know, re-bunked. What's the opposite? 

Michael: Double bunked like summer camp beds. [Aubrey laughs] They've moved on to putting aside the merits of Ivermectin and blaming the CDC and whoever [unintelligible [00:32:41] for shutting down the debate. So, as recently as July 2023, the Wall Street Journal has another op-ed called, “Covid Censorship Proved to Be Deadly,” and it's like, “Oh, we couldn't even debate Ivermectin.” And then in September, they published an article called, “Court to FDA: Stop Playing Doctor.” This is an article about a lawsuit by doctors who said that the FDA should not have authority to tell doctors not to prescribe something. It's this, like, fucking earbud strategy right. It was like [Aubrey laughs] “Who does this in the rules that a dog can't play basketball.” It's like, it doesn't say in the rules that the FDA can tell you not to fucking prescribe something. [Aubrey laughs]

They're trying to remove the FDA's authority to do this on the basis that these are some doctors that prescribed Ivermectin, and then their reputation suffered damage because the FDA was like, “Hey, don't do that.” But like, yeah, you're prescribing something that doesn't work. 

Aubrey: It's extremely goofy. And also, what a bleak time we're in.

Michael: I think that's really it. I feel like one of the central dynamics of this bleak time is we are inundated with messages that look like they are fulfilling a scientific purpose, but they're actually fulfilling an emotion. 

Aubrey: Yep, yep, yep. Totally. 

Michael: And oftentimes, the people delivering them and the people receiving them don't actually understand the purpose that they're serving. They don't know what emotional state they're in. Do you ever have those things where you're about to snap at someone and you're like, “I'm not mad. I'm just hungry.” 

Aubrey: HALT. Have we talked about HALT? 

Michael: No. 

Aubrey: Hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: Hey, you're yelling at somebody. Are you hungry? Are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired? 

Michael: The thing is, I would add one thing to that. I think as we look into the pattern of COVID conspiracies, I think we should change that to hungry, angry, lonely, tired, cryptocurrency. [Aubrey laughs] Those are the reasons why people fall for misinformation.

Aubrey: HALTC.

Michael: Okay, Aubrey, that was Ivermectin.

Aubrey: Boy, that was one? [laughs] 

Michael: That was one. I know. I apologize. It's because I had months to prepare this. 

Aubrey: We're bravely answering the question, is there too much research? Is that a thing.


Michael: This one is going to be shorter because it follows a very similar trajectory to Ivermectin. So, are you ready to talk about hydroxychloroquine?

Aubrey: I have never been more ready. 

Michael: First of all, hydroxychloroquine, again, it's a good drug. It's a malaria medication. It's for lupus. There's other things that it treats. It is good at treating those conditions. 

Aubrey: Straightforwardly. 

Michael: I can't help myself. Let me send you RFK Jr.’s little ode. He does these little odes to the drugs, and it's like, yeah, man, they're good drugs. 

Aubrey: I really like that RFK Jr. in this episode is like clippy. 


Aubrey: It looks like you're trying to take Ivermectin. 

Michael: It looks like you're copying a link to a journal out of context. Yes, it does. 

Aubrey: Hydroxychloroquine is a 65-year-old formula that regulators around the globe long ago approved as both safe and effective against a variety of illnesses. 

Michael: Variety of illnesses. 

Aubrey: Hydroxychloroquine is analog of the quinine found in the bark of the tree that George Washington used to protect his troops from malaria. For decades WHO has listed hydroxychloroquine as an essential medicine, proven effective against a long list of ailments. It is a generally benign prescription medicine, far safer than many popular over-the-counter drugs.

Michael: When you mock hydroxychloroquine, you're mocking George Washington. This is an essential medicine, Aubrey. Did you know it's essential.

Aubrey: To the founding fathers? 

Michael: It's so fucking funny to me that he does this with every single drug. It's like, yeah, man, if you have a thing that hydroxychloroquine treats, it's great. There's also some reason to believe that it might work for various other respiratory conditions. Again, there's, like, various academic journal articles. The first time this came to the public's attention was on March 13, 2020. So, we're rewinding to the beginning of the pandemic again when we have a tweet from James Todaro, MD that says, “There's growing evidence of chloroquine as a highly effective treatment for COVID-19 in a collaborative effort, Gregory Rigano, John Hopkins, Thomas Broker, PhD, Stanford and I explore chloroquine as a treatment/prophylactic to treat and prevent coronavirus.” And with this tweet, he also includes a link to a Google Doc which I am about to send you.

Aubrey: I' m looking at a document and the headline is “An effective treatment for coronavirus COVID-19.”

Michael: It's all in the typewriter font.

Aubrey: Courier? Yep.

Michael: Like, the font is like you're reading something very technical, like, we're not going to dress it up. 

Aubrey: The executive summary right up top is recent guidelines from South Korea and China report that chloroquine is an effective antiviral therapeutic treatment against coronavirus disease 2019. Use of chloroquine tablets is showing favorable outcomes in humans affected with coronavirus, including faster time to recovery and shorter hospital stay. US CDC research shows that chloroquine also has strong potential as a prophylactic preventative measure against coronavirus in the lab. 

Michael: And then, yeah, maybe have a scroll down and just tell me what you see. 

Aubrey: They're talking about treatment guidelines from South Korea.

Michael: That mean they're basically showing that in South Korea they're giving this to patients already. 

Aubrey: They're talking about treatment guidelines from China. 

Michael: Same. 

Aubrey: They've got some graphs. 

Michael: Ham.

Aubrey: There's a section that is one short paragraph and the header is, “The UK has banned the export of chloroquine.” 

Michael: This is basically implying that the UK knows how effective it is and that's why they're keeping it to themselves. 

Aubrey: This document is the only document that I have seen or person that I have heard argue that, you know who really had a lock on COVID? Boris Johnson. 

Michael: Yeah, there. I know.

Aubrey: That guy had it down pat. 

Michael: I've read large chunks of this. It's like they're really leaning into jargon. A little bit further down It says, “The cell surface expression of under glycosylated ACE2 and its poor affinity to SARS-CoV spike protein may be the primary mechanism by which infection is presented by drug pretreatment of cells prior to infection.”

Aubrey: It has the vibe of high school paper where you keep using words like thusly, [Michael laughs] 14-point font.

Michael: Both of us are so trained to get triggered by this kind of shit because actual science communication is so hard. And typically, if you're really trying to educate someone on something, you put things in the most simple, the most direct way possible. But if you're trying to obscure the truth and convince somebody of something for which there's not great evidence, you do extra jargon. 

Aubrey: The vibe of this paper is, “It's a science thing, you wouldn't understand.”

Michael: Totally. So, this is tweeted out by James Todaro, MD, on March 13th. This starts bouncing around, like, Silicon Valley twitter.

Aubrey: A particularly cursed corner of an extra cursed website.

Michael: Within three days, it is tweeted by Elon Musk. 

Aubrey: Oh, fucking God. 

Michael: On the same day, one of the authors of this document, Greg Rigano, shows up on the Laura Ingraham Show on Fox News, and he says hydroxychloroquine can, “Just get rid of the virus completely.” March 18, we get an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that says these drugs are helping our coronavirus patients. The evidence is preliminary on repurposing two treatments, but we don't have the luxury of time, which is basically saying, let's give this to everybody because there's some preliminary evidence that it works. By March 19th, this is less than a week after this random tweet by this random guy with a random Google Doc. Donald Trump says, “Hydroxychloroquine, we're looking into it. We think that it works.”

Aubrey: Good Lord. 

Michael: This is a trajectory that the public knows. It's like public on March 13th, President. by March 19th, we're going to rewind again. The actual origin of this is not on March 13th. It is on March 11th. The question is, how did this guy find out about hydroxychloroquine? This conversation is no longer available. It appears on Twitter, but this begins with this guy, James D'Addario, and Gregory Rigano, the two authors of this Google Doc. They were apparently chatting on Twitter back and forth, like, what are the treatments going to be for COVID? Just sort of speculating-- these guys don't have a ton of followers. They're just chatting back and forth. Then a third person comes into the conversation. This guy's name is Adrian Bai.

And according to various post-hoc descriptions of this, he says chloroquine will keep most people out of hospital. The US hasn't learned about that yet. This is one of his replies to them. And then he starts linking them to the South Korean treatment protocols, the Chinese treatment protocols, the UK stuff. So, that's the actual origin of this. So, after this goes to Donald Trump and starts getting much more attention, what is this hydroxychloroquine thing the fucking president is talking about? That came from two guys on Twitter. People obviously start looking into the fucking two guys on Twitter. So, the number one dude who tweeted this, and it went viral, James Todaro, MD. It is true that he has a medical degree. He graduated from Columbia University. It's also true that it doesn't appear he was ever a practicing doctor. Even before he graduated from medical school, he founded a cryptocurrency [Aubrey laughs] investment fund.

Aubrey: It's really remarkable to me that we haven't had more Crypto Bros appear on this show.

Michael: That's because I refused to learn what cryptocurrency is. [Aubrey laughs] There's so much other bullshit I will look into for this show. I'm drawing a fucking line. 

Aubrey: Mike, I've got good news. There are some videos of a white lady who's now in prison rapping about what crypto is. So, I'm going to send that to you. Don't worry about it. 

Michael: There always is a video of a white lady rapping.

Aubrey: Razzlekhan.

Michael: So, that's James D'Addario. He's basically more of a crypto guy than a doctor guy. Then we get to Gregory Rigano, the dude who went on Fox News. This is a list of his credentials from a write up in the Daily Mail.

Aubrey: Oh, no, the second word is falsely.

Michael: Yeah, there's going to be a lot of falsely.

Aubrey: Rigano falsely claimed to be an advisor to Stanford University's School of Medicine. He also falsely claimed to have consulted with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Rigano previously set up a cryptocurrency firm, which he said was, “Designed to cheat death.”

Michael: On the blockchain, it all happens on the blockchain. 

Aubrey: has made repeated attempts to contact Rigano, a 34-year-old lawyer from Melville, Long Island, who lists being an Eagle Scout on his resume. He uses his parent’s home as his address on public documents.


Michael: That's my favorite shit. 

Aubrey: He's one of those millennials who's trying to kill the housing market. 

Michael: [laughs] Plenty of people live with their parents when they're 30. And, like, in principle, I don't really give a shit, but it's so fucking funny that the Daily Mail lists all this other stuff. Like, “He says he's with Stanford, but he's not really.” And then at the end, they're like, “Lives with his parents.” [laughs]

Aubrey: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michael: Just so you know, he uses his parents’ address.

Aubrey: Oh, you're living with your mom's house.

Michael: Then people start looking into the third guy. Remember, there was this extra random dude who came into their mentions and was like, “Hey, here's the South Korean treatment protocols. His name is Adrian Bai. I am going to send you a description. 

Aubrey: Bai also appears to repeatedly engage with bigoted ideology and far right extremists. 

Michael: Shocking twist. 

Aubrey: Strong start. 

Michael: Right wing politics and Crypto Bros.

Aubrey: Bai has repeatedly tweeted antisemitic ramblings, has replied to white nationalists such as Richard Spencer, and once tweeted a link to an Australian website that has promoted Holocaust denial. In one thread, he complained about Jews taking over, “Major power centers” and speculated about, “Jewish verbal IQ.”

Michael: What are these people reading? What does that even mean? 

Aubrey: While asking if another user had, “Even read Mein Kampf. 

Michael: Yeah, you're talking about-- You haven't even read it. 

Aubrey: Do you even lift, bro? Have you read Mein Kampf? 

Michael: Jesus Christ.

Aubrey: He has stated, “My hobby is researching Jews. It is very enjoyable.” Holy fuck. 

Michael: You're out here saying this guy's antisemitic when his hobby is researching Jews, and he loves it. 

Aubrey: He just wants to know more about the culture.

Michael: After all this stuff comes out. How many of us contacts Adrian Bai and like, you have this history promoting antisemitic rhetoric online. What's the deal? This is the best defense I've ever seen. Take notes. Everybody, take notes. 

Aubrey: I'm not a white nationalist. Not at all. I have a lot of friends who are and I like white nationalists, but I'm not one.

Michael: Like them.

Aubrey: I learned from them because there's important ideas there that we need to understand. 

Michael: I'm not a white nationalist. I just have a lot of friends who are white nationalists. I like them, and I agree with their ideas, but how dare you call me a white nationalist. 

Aubrey: I'm not a white nationalist. I'm just a big fan. 

Michael: So, we're not going to get too into the details, but this follows basically the same fucking trajectory as Ivermectin. It doesn't fucking matter that it comes from Crypto Bros. It doesn't fucking matter that it was seeded by a rank white supremacist. After Trump talks about it, we then get-- There's different numbers, but according to a media matters report, between March 23 and March 29, so one week, Fox News has 146 mentions of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment.

Aubrey: Holy shit. 

Michael: Keep in mind, there's no actual evidence at this point. It's literally just China's using it and South Korea's using it, but they don't know that much more about COVID than we did at that point. Nobody fucking knew anything. 

Aubrey: Well, I think this also fits into a far-right viewpoint that we talked about a little bit in the bonus episode that we did on Tucker Carlson's, The End of Men, right. 

Michael: The ball tanning show.

Aubrey: Featured this whole monologue from a guy who just calls himself raw egg nationalist. 

Michael: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: That was all about gesturing at the “New world order,” which is like a long-standing, straightforwardly antisemitic conspiracy theory. There was this overtone of, they want you docile and soft, and they want you pliable and blah, blah, blah and asking people to do things like social distance, stay at home, and wear masks. If you already believed that there was a greater power trying to control your movements and all this sort of stuff, this plays right into that conspiratorial thinking for conspiracies that have been bouncing around on the far right for decades at this point.

Michael: I will say one of the key differences between Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine is that, as we said, Ivermectin is relatively safe. If you take it at the doses that most people take it at, it's basically fine. There aren't a lot of side effects. Hydroxychloroquine has very well-documented side effects. So, if you have a heart condition, taking hydroxychloroquine can be dangerous because it can cause extra arrhythmias. And so, if you have an existing heart condition, you shouldn't be taking this. This is very well known, very well documented. So, it's not simply the case that let's just give this to everybody in America, and then we all won't get COVID. 

It's like a lot of people are going to have problems if we start giving it to everybody willy nilly or people start lying to their doctors to get it because they think it's going to prevent COVID. So, starting in April, we start getting preliminary reports that people who are put on hydroxychloroquine are getting a much higher rate of heart conditions and are not seeing improvements from COVID. Then in May, we have a study in the Lancet which finds people who take hydroxychloroquine have a higher death rate. So, it might actually be the opposite. So, I'm going to send you the first couple of paragraphs of this. 

Aubrey: The authors of the paper pulled together results for more than 96,000 patients in 671 hospitals taking one of the drugs with or without an antibiotic, the death rate among all groups taking the drugs was higher than among people who were not given them. One in six of those taking the drugs died, while one in four died if they were on hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic. The death rate among patients not taking the drugs was one in eleven. 

Michael: Its almost twice as high. 

Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy. 

Michael: This results in an avalanche of people pulling back recommendations. So, earlier, the FDA had actually issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine. Like, yeah, why not. Start giving it to people, whatever. It seems to be relatively widely prescribed. In June, just after this Lancet report is published. There's also a New England Journal of Medicine report. After these reports come out, the FDA pulls back that advice and is like, “We really shouldn't be giving this to patients until we set it more.” The WHO cancels its own trial. So, basically, the entire medical establishment goes from, this is a promising treatment to this is dangerous and you shouldn't be giving it to patients almost overnight. Mostly on the basis of this Lancet study. But the weird twist of this section is that switch, that recommendation, was based on fraudulent data.

So, this May 2020 Lancet report, if we look back, this Lancet report surveys 96,000 patients in 671 hospitals and finds that the death rate is much higher. After this comes out, a huge number of researchers are like, wait a minute, how did they get data on 96,000 patients in May of 2020? So, the way that the study worked is there is a company called Surgisphere, which is harder to pronounce than hydroxychloroquine. [Aubrey laughs] This Surgisphere company gathered up data from all of these hospitals, basically created this massive database. And then researchers can dive into it, slice and dice the data however they want. And so, the head of this Surgisphere company is listed as a co-author on a lot of the studies that start coming out using this massive trove of data. 

It's not clear to me if it's an academic or a journalist, contacts one of the largest hospitals in New York City, where a lot of the early patients would be. They are like, “Okay, you know, how did you give your data, what format did you give your data over to Surgisphere?” And the hospital's like, “Who's Surgisphere?” Somebody asks Surgisphere, like, “Hey, sorry, do you mind giving us just a list of the hospitals? Like, we're trying to kind of double check this.” And Surgisphere is like, “No,” we won't tell you which hospitals give us our data.

Aubrey: Oh lord.

Michael: Then people start looking into the LinkedIn page and online presence of fucking Surgisphere.

Aubrey: They're just researching Jewish people. [Michael laughs] Have you even read Mein Kampf? 

Michael: So, this is from a guardian overview of this. It says the company's LinkedIn page has fewer than 100 followers and last week listed just six employees. This was changed to three employees as of Wednesday. Until Monday, the get in touch link on Surgisphere's homepage redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, raising questions about how hospitals could easily contact the company to join its database. And then the head of the company's last name is Desai. It says Desai has been named in three medical malpractice lawsuits unrelated to the Surgisphere database. In 2008, Desai launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo, promoting a wearable next generation human augmentation device that can help you achieve what you never thought was possible. The advice never came to fruition.  

Aubrey: What was this supposed to do? 

Michael: I think it was like bionic arms or something, bionic legs. Like a jetpack, edge of tomorrow’s situation.

Aubrey: Listen, if it gets us another Angel of Verdun, I'm for it. 


Aubrey: I love that goddamn movie.

Michael: This is a fascinating thing. Because what we're debunking is not that hydroxychloroquine works. We're debunking the fact that hydroxychloroquine is dangerous. Like the fact that hydroxychloroquine doesn't cure COVID, all of those studies hold up. The data that hydroxychloroquine is dangerous and increases deaths. That's the part that's sketchy. Yeah. So, I am going to make you read the section on this scandal from RFK Jr.'s book. This is about the messy process of retracting the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine Studies that use this data. 

Aubrey: Both the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine finally withdrew their studies in shame. Somebody at the very pinnacle of the medical cartel had twisted arms, kicked groins, and stoved in kneecaps to force these periodicals to abandon their policies, shred their ethics, and spend down their centuries of hard-won credibility in a desperate bid to torpedo hydroxychloroquine. To date, neither the authors nor the journals have explained who induced them to co-author and publish the most momentous fraud in the history of scientific publishing.

Michael: Just tone it down, Robert. 

Aubrey: I’ve got to say, centuries of hard-won credibility.

Michael: [unintelligible [00:54:39] journal that published the Tuskegee Syphilis studies, really.

Aubrey: [laughs] Totally [gasps]. 

Michael: What is amazing to me about this is, this is a scandal in which the scientific establishment worked. If there was a giant conspiracy, people would have looked at this and been like, the data is bullshit. But it says that people shouldn't take hydroxychloroquine. So, let's just leave it in the journals. Who fucking cares? The opposite of that happened. And I'm not saying that people in science never use their biases to guide their decisions about what studies they believe and what gets published, obviously, right? Yeah, but RFK Jr. is literally taking an example that disproves his thesis of a left-wing medical cartel trying to take down Donald Trump or conceal the truth, and he's casting it as evidence for the conspiracy. 

Aubrey: I do think we have to stop viewing retractions as failures and more as an example of the system working well. The way that RFK Jr. presents himself in particular is, I'm just looking at the facts and I've just been analyzing the data, but then is belied by language. Like, the medical cartel had twisted arms, kicked groins, and ba, da, da, da, da, it's designed to make you want to read more and it's designed to outrage you and introduce a worldview that will then carry you through to more conspiratorial thinking about more issues. 

Michael: Ooh, speaking of, we [unintelligible 00:56:07], this brings us to our third COVID conspiracy. 

Aubrey: I'm trying to imagine. Is the third one just adrenochrome?

Michael: No, Aubrey. This, at long last, is our return, circling back to the vitamin D truthers.

Aubrey: Oh, my God. [laughs] 

Michael: We said-- God, when was it even? It was, like, August. 

Aubrey: Michael, it's been more than half of a year. 

Michael: I know you haven't used your computer. I just haven't searched for items on the Internet on the off chance you would run across some supplement news. So, we're actually going to start. This is like the section of RFK Jr.'s book that made me want to do an episode on him. I was reading through his book, [Aubrey laughs] I was like, boring, boring, boring. And then I reached this and I was like, “Oh, this is a rich text, so I'm just going to use this.” 

Aubrey: I was struck during COVID-19s early months that America's doctor apparently preoccupied with his single vaccine solution did little in the way of telling Americans how to bolster their immune response. 

Michael: He's talking about Fauci in case that isn't, like, super-duper obvious. 

Aubrey: Sidenote, here's the neighborhood I live in. The number of, in our America science is out of control. 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, in this house.

Aubrey: I have a neighbor whose standard poodle is named Fauci. 

Michael: Ooh, they went deep. 

Aubrey: That's the level we're at over here. 

Michael: RFK would kick that dog, [Aubrey laughs] absolutely kick that dog. 

Aubrey: He never took time during his daily White House briefings from March to May 2020 to instruct Americans to avoid tobacco smoking and e-cigarettes/vaping, double death rates from COVID. He didn't tell them to get plenty of sunlight and to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. “Nearly 60% of patients with Covid-19 were vitamin D deficient upon hospitalization, nor did he tell them to diet, exercise, and lose weight. 78% of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 were overweight or obese. He didn't recommend avoiding sugar and soft drinks, processed foods and chemical residues, all of which amplify inflammation, compromise immune response, and disrupt the gut biome, which governs the immune system. During the centuries that science has fruitlessly sought remedies against coronavirus, aka the common cold, only zinc has-- fucking God damn it, only zinc has repeatedly proven its efficacy in peer-reviewed studies. 

Michael: We're not going to do zinc. We're not going to do a whole fucking thing on zinc because I already looked into all the other shit. 

Aubrey: I'm just thinking about the Simpsons episode where they have a school film about zinc and a guy's having a nightmare about a world without zinc, and then you just see him tossing and turning in bed, going zinc, zinc, in his sleep. [Michael laughs] It's delightful. 

Michael: So, what do you make of this? 

Aubrey: I don't know that Americans need further instruction to stop smoking. 

Michael: This is also this bizarre forbidden wisdom thing that they always go back to. 

Aubrey: This one weird trick doctors don't want you to know. 

Michael: Yeah. And it's like the one weird trick they fucking tell you all the time. Like the idea that the CDC and even Fauci himself was not telling people regularly to diet and exercise. Like, get a balanced diet, try to go outside. They were not prescribing this as a cure to Covid, obviously, because none of those things work. But the entire public health establishment is built around telling you the shit all the time. 

Aubrey: Don't smoke, exercise, eat fruits and vegetables, take the stairs. 

Michael: This is such a rich text because it's so ideological, right? That it's like, well, when there's mass death going on, what if the people dying are just the wrong kind of people? 

Aubrey: It's like a very passive version of a style of logic that is very prevalent in eugenics, right? 

Michael: Yes. 

Aubrey: Instead of engineering it, instead of creating social and political systems that guarantee that some people die off and don't reproduce, we're just going to quietly allow that to happen and draw conclusions in public about the failings of the people who are dying. 

Michael: Some of this is like dense ideological rich text. And some of this is just like America's poor public education system that people do not understand how viruses work. You can make little connections, correlations, whatever wellness, immune system fine. But it's like taking zinc will not prevent a virus from-- it's little like spike proteins, like linking into your cells. That just isn't the way that it works guys.

Aubrey: Zinc, zinc.


Michael: This was my limit. I was like, I'm not doing the zinc stuff. I can’t. I'm just going to assume that he's fucking lying. I'm not doing zinc. 

Aubrey: Interestingly, it's not zinc, it's terbium.

Michael: It's actually unobtainium. [Aubrey laughs] It’s

Aubrey: It's always an element. 

Michael: So, to go back to the beginning of the vitamin D truthing.

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: There's actually like a long history of bizarre hype around vitamin D, especially like taking vitamin D supplements. So, there's a weird wave of vitamin D hype in the 2010s, I'm sending you a fucking cursed paragraph about this. This is from a New York Times article talking about the hype.

Aubrey: Dr. Mehmet Oz has described vitamin D as, “The number one thing you need more of,” telling his audience that it can help them avoid heart disease, depression, weight gain, memory loss, and cancer. And Oprah Winfrey's website tells readers that, “Knowing your vitamin D levels might save your life.” Mainstream doctors have also urged Americans to get more of the hormone including Dr. Walter Willett, a widely respected professor at Harvard Medical School.

Michael: This is like a reunion tour of like a 1980s band. [Aubrey laughs] It's like, oh, every previous episode of Maintenance Phase, they're all here.

Aubrey: The boy genius of Maintenance Phase. 


Michael: Yeah. So, we have been having these overblown claims about vitamin D for like, a very long time. There's a fascinating 2018 New York Times article about this one guy who wrote a book called The Vitamin D Solution. So, I'm going to send you the first couple paragraphs of that. 

Aubrey: Dr. Michael Holick's enthusiasm for vitamin D can be fairly described as extreme. The Boston University endocrinologist elevates his own levels of the stuff with supplements and fortified milk. When he bikes outdoors, he won't put sunscreen on his limbs.

Michael: Sunscreen truther.

Aubrey: He has written book length odes to vitamin D and has warned in multiple scholarly articles about a, “vitamin D deficiency pandemic” that explains disease and suboptimal health across the world. His fixation is so intense that it extends to the dinosaurs. 

Michael: Love this. 

Aubrey: What if the real problem with that asteroid 65 million years ago wasn't a lack of food, but the weak bones that follow a lack of sunlight?

Michael: Weak bones. 

Aubrey: Sometimes I wonder, Dr. Holick has written, did the dinosaurs die of rickets and osteomalacia? 

Michael: I think dinosaurs were getting enough outside time. [Aubrey laughs] I think dinosaurs were outdoors fairly frequently. 

Aubrey: They weren't inside on their PS5s with their mom going, it's a beautiful day out. 

Michael: It's also, it's so funny to me that he's like, dinosaur like, what if their bones were weakened due to lack of vitamin D? It's like the bones are the only thing we have from the dinosaurs. [Aubrey laughs] That's literally all the evidence of dinosaurs that we have is the bones. So, we can very readily check the bones. 

Aubrey: I've never loved anything as much as I love the last two sentences [Michael laughs] of that paragraph. 

Michael: There's something very interesting in the vitamin D truthiness and COVID in that, just like Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, there's some plausible mechanism by which vitamin D could have actually prevented COVID or treated COVID. There's links to other respiratory illnesses and vitamin D levels tend to fall throughout the course of your life. So, there are some super, duper speculative early papers that are like, “Hey, this might be some of the reason why old people have such higher death rates.” Again, this is all just very early scientific speculation. The vitamin D truth or narrative really ramps up in April of 2020 with an article called “Patterns of COVID-19 Mortality and Vitamin D, an Indonesian study.” So, this is a study where they take 780 patients at an Indonesian hospital. 

And just like they do with these other studies, they look through a huge database of everybody's characteristics of age, preexisting conditions, time of entry, time of discharge, etc. And they look at, like, people who died and people who didn't die, and they're like, okay, what are the differences between these two people? 

Aubrey: They try and compare and contrast, right?

Michael: Exactly. 

Aubrey: Find some common threads that might link folks together.

Michael: And so, when they look at the data directly, they find that people who have high vitamin D levels, people who have enough vitamin D, are a lot less likely to die. And then they start controlling for things like age, preexisting conditions, and the association becomes even stronger. 

Aubrey: That's why so many people in Florida just ignored mask mandates. 

Michael: They were like as well as preventing asteroids, [Aubrey laughs] this also prevents COVID. I'm in. So, this paper, according to the later debunking of it, it's been viewed more than 100,000 times, downloaded more than 17,000 times, shared on social media 8000 times. It's cited in the British Medical Journal. It is cited by-- There's this body as part of the NHS in the UK that does evidence reviews of, what drugs are we going to cover? We're going to look at all the evidence. It's called NICE. It's cited in a NICE report on treatments for COVID-19, it's of course cited in the Daily Mail and The Sun and other popular newspapers. So, this paper, very early in the pandemic is everywhere. And people like the ibuprofen thing. People are just like, well, fuck it, you might as well start supplementing vitamin D. 

Aubrey: Yeah. And we don't know shit about shit at this point in the pandemic. And people are desperate for some level of solution easy to reach for. And many of us reached for.

Michael: The debunking of this article is like maybe the longest and most thorough thing we've ever had on this podcast.

Aubrey: Really.

Michael: Disappears in an academic journal. And it's like, I had to cut this down because it's just like, it's so repetitive. So, listen to this. So, it says, “The authors of the current paper are from Indonesia. We launched an independent investigation to look for their track record. First, we performed a search in Google Scholar, Scopus, and PubMed for any prior publications by the authors. We found no records. Second, we performed a search in the Indonesian Medical Doctor Council Database and found none of the authors. Third, we searched using the Google search engine with their names. We did not find any related content. And then this goes on. It's like, fourth, we looked here, fifth, we looked here. [Aubrey laughs] It's just like, we tried to find them here, we tried to find them there.” 

Aubrey: I asked my neighbor. I checked the Heinicke.

Michael: [laughs] I yelled out of my window. Yeah. 

Aubrey: I opened my copy of Where's Waldo


Michael: And then they keep going. So, then they start talking about the actual study. The authors did not mention the name of the hospitals or the number of hospitals and how they obtained the confidential data for their manuscript. At the time, this paper was written, there were only two cases of confirmed COVID-19 in Sukamara Regency, where the Sukamara Regional Public Hospital is located. Vitamin D is not routinely checked in Indonesia. Data collection method was retrospective, which is suspicious. [Aubrey laughs] and this keeps going. There's like four more paragraphs of this. 

Aubrey: I am a person who watches a fair amount of courtroom dramas which are terrible representations of actual trial law, because actual trial law sounds a lot like this, where it's like you ask every single possible question, permutation of a question. 

Michael: The thing is, I actually find this very chilling. This is being cited in the British Medical Journal and by the NHS and affecting policy. And no one fucking googles the authors. 

Aubrey: Yeah. And it's all just fully, completely fabricated. 

Michael: Like, the most fabricated shit. And also, someone made up authors. Someone made up an entire study. We talk a lot on the show about the bad incentives within science and public health and all the structural stuff, like, structural weaknesses. This is something else. 

Aubrey: God. 

Michael: And people point out, even at the time, it's like, “Oh, it's not peer reviewed, etc., but it's like, in a fast moving, deadly pandemic, you need to get information out as quickly as possible. A lot of preprints during COVID turned out to be true and turned out to be really important. And so, you don't want to have something where every single thing during a deadly pandemic must be triple checked. That's not workable. But also, the problem with especially these conspiracy narratives is that there's, like, there's so many bad faith actors out there. 

Aubrey: Yeah, boy oh boy oh boy.

Michael: This might be like a vitamin D truther. Like a grifter who wants to sell some supplements or something. Who knows? 

Aubrey: It's just RFK Jr. in the glasses with the nose and mustache attached.

Michael: [laughs] At his computer. You don't need a disguise, Robert. Why are you doing this? 

Aubrey: Yeah [laughs].

Michael: So anyway, this comes out in April of 2020. It's not debunked until a couple of months later. So, there's this what appears to be this trickle of information coming out that vitamin D has some connection with preventing COVID, preventing deaths from COVID There's also a really interesting scientific debate about country correlations. So, people start looking at COVID case rates, COVID death rates, etc., and then correlating that with the vitamin D levels in the population. And they find there's the first paper is like, well, countries with higher vitamin D levels don't have as bad COVID outcomes. But then another paper comes out that controls for different things and they find no significant results. 

And then other papers come out controlling for other things and find a result again. And there's this really interesting debate throughout summer of 2020 about how to measure, how to do correlations like this. Because there's all these theories about what affects COVID rates. We were at the time talking about temperature. People were like, “Oh, when the summer comes, COVID won't be as bad.” We were talking about population density, which didn't really pan out. We were talking about altitude was like another thing that people were throwing out. So, it's like, you either get a relationship with COVID-19 and vitamin D or you don't. But we didn't know what to control for at the time.

Aubrey: I mean however you do it, it's going to take more time than May 2020. 

Michael: Exactly. Yeah. So again, at this time in summer of 2020, there's some reason to believe vitamin D could be helpful for COVID. So, on August 29th, 2020, we get the first randomized control trial that tests vitamin D and COVID outcomes. It is called Jesus fucking Christ “Effect of calcifediol treatment and best available therapy versus best available therapy on intensive care unit admission and mortality among patients hospitalized for COVID-19: A pilot randomized clinical study.” 

Aubrey: This is why when people are like, I read a study and it was called the cancer is caused by plastic or whatever, like, no, it wasn't. 

Michael: It's basically, don't read me, don’t read me. 

Aubrey: They're daring you to read them. [laughs]

Michael: So, this is a study of 76 patients in Spain. At the end of the 50 patients treated with vitamin D, only one of them, so 2% ends up in the ICU. Whereas in the control group 50% ended up in the ICU. So, 2% versus 50%. It's like, holy shit, this is a massive effect. I was looking around because I was interested in the sort of, the spread of this paper, and I was looking around at, like, how was this framed at the time? And I found this website called rootclaim, which, like, the Google Doc has the aesthetics of a like, we're just like, nonideological, just objective people looking at data and trying to present you the data. Like this kind of explainer website. It really looks like something very credible. This study obviously, huge reduction death rate from vitamin D. 

This rootclaim website has a long blog post, like, dissecting it, and it's such a masterpiece. I just want to read you the headline. And then it has, like, these little sections. So, the headline is “Vitamin D can likely end the COVID-19 pandemic--" So this is a study of 76 patients, by the way. 

Aubrey: Sounds like science. 

Michael: I'm not going to go through the whole thing, but these are the headers. Headline one, the sample size is small, so the findings may be due to chance. Two, the control group included more people with risk factors. Three, patients in both groups were also treated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Four, the experiment was not double blind, placebo controlled. Five, there may be another yet unidentified factor. Summary, the findings are true.

Aubrey: Summary, the findings are true. 

Michael: So, I don't want to dunk on this random fucking website, but it's like-- 

Aubrey: But I'm going to. 

Michael: The information that people had access to was garbage. I think a lot of people in good faith were like, “Hey, is there anything to this?” And they find a website that is like, “Hey, we look into this stuff for you. You don't have time to do all this analysis. We're experts.” And then it's just crank shit. It's like, this is a very small study. It's a study where they give people three different treatments. And so, you can't really say that vitamin D does anything because they're also getting other treatments. The size of the effect is way too big, like suspiciously big and yet there's this massive hype cycle. 

Aubrey: That's what scientific studies usually say outright is-

Michael: Exactly.

Aubrey: -further investigation is required, especially with something that matters this much. 

Michael: So, this is bouncing around. This doesn't really explode. I think it's very telling that the vitamin D truth or shit really blows up in spring of 2021, which is right when the vaccine comes out. I found this really fascinating study called why were Twitter users obsessed with vitamin D during the first year of the pandemic? Fucking great title. I love it. Straight to the point. That's what my study's about. They look at all these tweets and they include some excerpts of actual tweets that were going around at this time. So, one of them says, actually, let me send this to you because I like it when you do like weird person voice. Do your QAnon voice.

Aubrey: Have heard two different seasoned and previously reliable physicians state that they have never seen a COVID case in a person with adequate levels of vitamin D. So simple.

Michael: There's so many. But this one is fun because it has some all caps.

Aubrey: Masks don't work. Eat healthy, Exercise, Take vitamins. Vitamin D especially. It's proven to fit COVID. 

Michael: The spelling is not very well done. 

Aubrey: I don't wear a mask. And guess what? I haven't gotten COVID. 

Michael: Boom. Can you even argue with that, Aubrey? 

Aubrey: Have you even read Mein Kampf? 


Michael: You need to not make that a thing that you start saying because-

Aubrey: You really do need to make it.

Michael: -people are going to think you’re not being sarcastic. You're going to say it to somebody, they’ll be like, ooh. 

Aubrey: Listen, I'm only saying it in the context of the record for this episode. 

Michael: You said it to me earlier when weren't recording. It's happening, Aubrey. It's happening.

Aubrey: I was recording. 


Michael: This is I mean we're not going to go through the whole debunking of this because it basically covers the same trajectory as Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. It's like eventually RCTs start coming out because it takes a long time to do these. And it's like, it doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It's not bad for you, it's not terrible, whatever. But it's just like, there's no evidence that vitamin D does anything for COVID. One of the other myths that RFK Jr. and other people keep coming back to is like, they don't want to tell you about vitamin D. And it's like, do you know how fucking happy everybody would have been if vitamin D cured COVID? 

Aubrey: People including doctors are never done yelling about vitamin D. No one doesn't want you to know about vitamin D.

Michael: We're are not going to belabor it, but basically, the consensus is that vitamin D does not prevent or cure COVID. The twist, the big reveal of the episode though, is that vitamin D supplements probably don't work for anything else. 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: [laughs] So, this whole thing, vitamin D, osteoporosis, like, you hear all these bone fractures and it prevents heart attacks. It makes you live longer, whatever. A lot of that is based on very small studies from the 1980s that essentially researchers have been trying to replicate ever since with larger studies. And they don't replicate. Study after study after study has been coming out for like decades now. Eventually, there's an International Organization of Medicine Panel 2011, they put together a 1100-page report on, like, vitamin D and its links to all of these other conditions. This is from a New York Times article. It concluded that the vast majority of Americans get plenty of the hormone naturally and advise doctors to test only patients at high risk of certain disorders such as osteoporosis. 

So, this thing where everybody needs to be supplementing with vitamin D, everybody needs to be testing for vitamin D. It does not appear to be the case. And there's been tons of other randomized control trials. There's one in 2018 that finds no evidence that it prevents heart attack or cancer. There's another one in 2019 that says it has no effect on cancer. There's a meta-analysis in 2022 that finds no effect. There's eventually an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association that is about this latest study. I hate these, Aubrey. It's called “VITAL.” That's the acronym. But it's VITamin D and omegA-3 triaL. So, it's the last letter of omega-3. 

Aubrey: No, no.

Michael: Also, if you take the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial. If you just do the letters, it's VDOT. You could just be the VDOT study. I don't know why you have to do this thing where it's like, the VITAL study. 

Aubrey: Michael, that's the Virginia Department of Transportation and I think you know that. 

Michael: I know. But come on. I put this online and everybody's like, “It's taken.” It's like we use acronyms for different things all the time, everybody. 

Aubrey: As someone who worked with both black led organizations working on police violence and people responding to the Malheur standoff.

Michael: Okay.

Aubrey:  BLM stands for two extremely different things. 

Michael: Why are you booing me? I'm right. I'm right. I should have been the VDOT study. 

Aubrey: Booing me, [laughs] I'm right. The Michael Hobbes story. 

Michael: So, there's eventually this editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association called VITAL findings. The findings from this VDOT trial, a decisive verdict on vitamin D supplementation. It says, what are the implications of VITAL? Fact that vitamin D had no effect on fractures should put to rest any notion of an important benefit of vitamin D alone to prevent fractures in the larger population. Adding those findings to previous reports from VITAL and other trials showing the lack of an effect for preventing numerous conditions suggests that providers should stop screening for vitamin D levels or recommending vitamin D supplements. People should stop taking vitamin D supplements to prevent major diseases or extend life. This has gone under the radar. I didn't really know this. I do take a vitamin D supplement. 

I probably honestly will continue taking one because it's like $5 for a six-month supply. It's really not that big of a deal. It doesn't appear to be dangerous. Vitamin D is good. You should go outside. All that stuff is great. But taking a supplement every day, it's not clear that does anything. 

Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy. As you were walking that through, I was like, this is so similar to the arc of calories in, calories out. Which is that Wishnofsky paper that we talked about that came out in the 50s, that was like this many calories equals a pound of fat. And then people started studying it. They were like, “It's way more complicated than that.” And it lives on in people's minds as like an old tried and true saying. Like, people really continue to believe it to their core. It's fascinating. 

Michael: The thing is, I want to circle back to this wellness paradigm. One of the most persistent myths that you find in the Joe Rogan podcasts and the wellness space or whatever is that vitamins are an alternative to Big Pharma. So, it's like Big Pharma wants to keep you sick so they can sell you medicine. This guy, Michael Holick, who is the vitamin D dinosaur truther guy who we met earlier, he has a quote from this New York Times article where he says, “Drug companies can sell fear, but they can't sell sunlight, so there's no promotion of the sun's health benefits.”

Aubrey: This is straight up raw egg nationalist bullshit. You can't patent an egg. 

Michael: Yes, yes. 

Aubrey: We have got to get ourselves past the point of believing that taking medication is being in collusion with Big Pharma or that it means submitting to being docile. It's a real disaster of a mindset and we just have got to get off of it. 

Michael: I will also say, as well as being, like, problematic philosophically, it's also not true empirically. 

Aubrey: Yes. Great. Thanks, Mike. 

Michael: The vitamin supplement industry is a $40-billion-a-year industry. The vitamin D industry, just vitamin D is a billion-dollar industry. The vitamin D testing sector is also a fucking industry with lobbyists and shit. You're not escaping from big business. You are swapping one form of big business for another. When we are talking about the emotional appeal of these conspiracy theories, an extremely potent emotional appeal is the idea that you can very easily opt out of these systems that everybody knows are very unjust. We're all participating in this form of capitalism that is so fucking exploitative and indefensible and bad. And what they are selling you is this idea of like, “Ooh, don't subscribe to the pharmaceutical companies. Ooh, what you're doing is just drinking in the sun's rays.” But you're not. You're going to fucking Walgreens and you're spending $8 on some vitamin D supplements. That's fine. But that is not a break from capitalism. That is not not supporting corporations.

Aubrey: It is functionally, don't take those pills. Take these pills. 

Michael: It's literally these pills. It's literally a different set of pills. And also, this guy, the dinosaur vitamin D guy, in this New York Times article, this is the subject of this New York Times article in 2017, they talk about how much money he is getting from supplement companies. He's getting $1,000 a month from one string of income. He's also taking money from the indoor tanning industry, which, [Aubrey laughs] because I edit those places out when I'm walking around. I just don't see them in my vision. 

Aubrey: You don't see Tan Republic? 

Michael: [laughs] That doesn't even ring a bell. I physically do not notice. It's like hot street people. I'm just like, whatever. It's like a blur to me. So, I want to end by just talking in general about what these three myths have in common. One thing I was not expecting when I started this is that in 2020, in the early, probably six months of the pandemic, there was fairly good reason to believe that vitamin D and Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were promising. All three of these things started out. It's like, yeah, there's a plausible mechanism here. There's a couple of observational studies, and then that attracts an entire ecosystem of grifters, So, we have the online wellness bullshit grifters who are just like, “This will cure COVID immediately.” But then we also have grifters who start producing studies and who produce all this bizarre, fraudulent data that we see in all of these stories. 

Aubrey: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Michael: And then once we start getting the studies that are like, “Ah, this doesn't really work, or there's no effect, or the effect is far smaller than we thought it would be, or it's detrimental.” They then go into this weird, defensive crouch. They've painted themselves into a corner where, like, I've promised you that this was going to deliver an 80% reduction in death rate. It's going to prevent you from getting COVID. All these studies start coming out that are like, “It doesn't really work. It doesn't do any of the things that you've claimed.” And instead of just saying, “Oh, hey, I've learned from this. My bad. I may have overinflated how big of a deal this is.” They double down. It then has to become this conspiracy and this forbidden knowledge and something the powers that be, are keeping from you. 

Aubrey: That's the point at which it really reveals itself as a worldview. 

Michael: Yes, exactly. 

Aubrey: And not an evidence thing. 

Michael: Yes. I also think a very important insight from the last couple of years is that it's not just a worldview, but it's a fundamentally right-wing worldview. I think that people like us, who are educated, liberal, coastal elites, whatever, are a little bit reluctant to say that the right wing has a lot more conspiracy stuff than the left wing. It feels one dimensional. It feels like it fits your priors too well. You're like, “Oh, they're all crazy over there.” But then I think the allergy to saying conspiracy theories are primarily a right-wing problem. I think people then go into this other thing where they're like, well, it's equally a problem on the left and the right. And that's also not true. 

Aubrey: That desire to avoid naming a partisan dynamic seems to me like it springs forth potentially from a desire not to have a public health crisis become a partisan issue. 

Michael: Exactly. 

Aubrey: I think that's what people think they are avoiding, by avoiding using those kinds of descriptive terms. 

Michael: Exactly. Ironically, it's fulfilling the same emotional need that we see behind these drugs coming out and everybody getting so excited about them. It's like people don't want to admit the empirical reality that conspiracy theories have really taken over the American right. As of now, the best predictor of whether or not someone is anti-vaxxer is their partisan affiliation. I don't think that necessarily says anything about philosophical conservatism. People always debate this as if it's like a conservative versus liberal issue. But it's really about the institutions of the American right as we have them now as a political movement. What we have is we have institutions on the right specifically, Fox News and Breitbart, these essentially propaganda outlets that do not have the ability to take in new information. 

Aubrey: I mean, I think part of it is that sort of passivity of, they won't root out people who lie. And part of it is, it benefits them. 

Michael: Yeah. Oh, absolutely yes. 

Aubrey: It benefits them in ratings. It benefits them in viewership. It benefits them to whip people up and then sell them solutions. 

Michael: There's money in keeping people scared. There's money in presenting somebody as a victim. There's money in this story of, “Here's this obvious truth, but it's something they won't tell you.” Peddling those things is a great way to keep an audience. And I think that the incentives, frankly, of podcasts, of us, of everybody else too, the incentives of media are not ideal in this way. But some institutions give into those incentives much more than others.

Aubrey: I mean, mostly I just think it's fascinating how much of this started with a kernel of knowledge and just from the human impulse to find comfort and stability in a really discomforting, unstable time. And in those times, the place that I turn to for comfort.

Michael: I know. Where you're going now. 


Michael: Get it over with. Get it over with. 

Aubrey: Twitter white supremacist. 


Michael: I know you have a little tone of voice when you're about to zing us out. I'm like, okay, here she goes. [Aubrey laughs] She's going back to the mind club joke. All right.


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