A little knowledge is dangerous, but Plandemic, a twenty-six minute film that gets almost everything wrong about coronavirus and how to protect yourself, may be deadly.
Plandemic, a documentary which features an interview with Dr. Judy Mikovits, a scientist previously best known for having a scientific article on chronic fatigue syndrome retracted in 2011, was yanked by YouTube and Facebook, but not before garnering more than twenty-five million engagements across the two platforms.
From whether masks and flu vaccines are the real killers to where the virus comes from, Plandemic unfortunately does something that science still responsibly cannot: It provides only certain answers during an uncertain time—and that’s how conspiracy theories thrive.
“The virus is really stressful because we can’t see it. We don’t know if we’ve been exposed, we don’t know where it is,” said Brian Houston, director of the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri. “Conspiracy theories provide certainty, and that makes some people feel much better about the situation.”
But telling as many as twenty-five million people the wrong information during the most severe public health crisis in one hundred years may get people hurt or worse. Let’s debunk five of the most dangerous lies.
Claim: Judy Mikovits is one of the GOAT scientists
Truth: Judy Mikovits gets basic scientific facts wrong, unlike the nation’s leading epidemiologists and public health authorities.
Within the first minute of the film, the narrator says, “Dr. Judy Mikovits has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation,” which is presumably the first and last time she has been called that.
While we can argue all day over who is the reigning GOAT scientist—Tu Youyou, Jane Goodall, and Terence Tao have got to be in the conversation—there is no doubt that Mikovits is not even playing on the JV team, given that her sole noteworthy accomplishment was retracted because of “poor quality control” and the fact that her team’s results could not be repeated by other labs.
The credibility of the messenger is important here: Plandemic asks us to put our faith in Mikovits, and ignore the evidence from the leading epidemiologists, infectious disease researchers, and public health experts racing to save the world, as well as the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, among others.
But you probably shouldn’t even trust Mikovits to tutor you for AP Biology, given that she says in the doc that “there is no vaccine currently on the schedule for any RNA virus that works,” even though there are vaccines against RNA viruses like Rabies, Ebola, and measles, mumps, and rubella.
Claim: Wearing a mask is what gives you coronavirus
Truth: Wearing a mask can help prevent asymptomatic spread of the virus.
Mikovits tells us that “wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.”
It is difficult to disprove that masks do not reactivate coronavirus expressions, since no one other than Mikovits seems to know what coronavirus “expressions” are.
Since April 3, the CDC has advised that everyone wear a mask in public, which is a shift from the initial guidance from the CDC, Surgeon General, and WHO. The logic is that we do not know who is asymptomatic, since we do not have widespread and rapid testing, so we ought to act as if we have the virus and don’t know it. One estimate says that 25 percent of all infections are caused by people who don’t know they have it. The masks are less about protecting ourselves from other people, and more about protecting others from us.
But Plandemic’s conspiracy theory takes advantage of people who might be understandably confused about the changing advice on masks. “Scientists have to base their recommendations on the best available evidence at the time, but in a situation like this, where so much is unknown, that evidence can shift,” says Emily Vraga, associate professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.
Conspiracy theories, unlike evidence-based guidelines, never change. “Conspiracy theories explain things with absolute certainty. They never come back and say they were wrong,” said Houston.
But saying you are wrong is something responsible scientists, and even mature children, do when they engage in something called “learning” and “trying to save people’s lives.”
Claim: Flu vaccines cause COVID-19
Truth: COVID-19 is not the same as the seasonal flu and the seasonal flu vaccine never includes coronaviruses.
“The game is to prevent the therapies until everyone is infected and push the vaccine, knowing that the flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting COVID-19,” says Mikovits.
Mikovits, who denies being anti-vaccine (“oh, absolutely not,” she answers, when asked in the film), speculates in the doc that mandatory vaccines would “kill millions” and cites a military study of whether flu vaccines cause other illnesses.
But that study, which you can read here, reported that “vaccinated personnel did not have significant odds of respiratory illnesses” and only showed an association with coronaviruses that cause colds, not the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Since our surest shot at stopping COVID-19 is a vaccine, we need to take very seriously conspiracy theories that attempt to scare people out of getting it. “There is increasing evidence that the anti-vaccine movement may be contributing to conspiracy theories about COVID-19,” said Vraga.
Claim: COVID-19 was made in a lab kind of like Nuclear Man in Superman IV, if you saw that
Truth: COVID-19 evolved from nature.
While Mikovits does not say the virus was created on purpose, she does say “this family of viruses was manipulated and studied in a laboratory, where the animals were taken into the laboratory, and this is what was released, whether deliberate or not.”
But back in March, researchers who studied the genetics of the novel coronavirus published otherwise in Nature. The scientists checked COVID-19 against features of other coronaviruses that occur in nature. “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they concluded.
The conspiracy theory is easier to believe, though, since we are more likely to be familiar with action movie plots than functional polybasic cleavage sites. “The elements of conspiracy theories are also elements of other genres like mysteries and thrillers or soap opera,” said Mark Fenster, professor of law at UF and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture.
The conspiracy theory is also easier to stomach than accepting the cold indifference of nature. “I think that for some people it is more comforting to believe that there’s a human agent responsible for chaos and suffering than the alternative explanation: bad things happen randomly in life, and we’ll never be able to change that,” said Joshua Hart, associate professor of psychology at Union College.
Claim: Open the beaches, the healing beaches
Truth: Crowded beaches may accelerate the spread of the disease.
“Why would you close the beach?” Mikovits wonders aloud. “You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.”
Though it is unclear what healing sequences or microbes that Mikovits is alluding to, it is clear that more than three dozen people who attended the Winter Party Festival in Miami Beach in early March soon after reported symptoms or a positive test for COVID-19. If thirty eight sounds like a small number, do the math: people infected with coronavirus infect between two to three others…who infect two to three others…who infect two to three others. Many beaches in Alabama, California, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas have closed to promote life-saving social distancing measures, and those that are reopening have specific distancing guidelines in place.
But even if we all agree that social distancing to prevent people dying lonely deaths and struggling to breathe for two weeks is more important than a lazy day at the beach, we may only further fuel the conspiracy theory fire.
“Conspiracies can be easily crafted when there are areas of mass consensus,” said Jennifer M. Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University. And that’s what’s so dangerous about a film like Plandemic. The more we all agree it is wrong, the more some will see that as evidence it is right—except when the consequences are far more serious to your health than whether you believe Epstein killed himself.