2016: The year bullshit was weaponized

This will almost certainly be my last post of 2016. Unless something so amazing, terrible, or just plain interesting to me happens between now and tomorrow night, I probably won’t be posting again until January 2 or 3. Many bloggers like to do “end of year roundup”-type posts that list their best or most popular post, trends noted in 2016 relevant to their area of blogging interest, or predictions for the coming year as their last post of the year, but that’s never really been my style. I don’t remember the last time I did a post like that, and I’m too lazy today to bother to go and look it up, given that I’ve now been at this blogging thing for 12(!) years, my very first substantive post having gone live December 12, 2004.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes become contemplative as the year ends, and if there is a year that makes me contemplative as it finally shuffles off ignominiously into history, it’s 2016. Indeed, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to place 2016 in the annals of badness. Certainly it ranks up there in my lifetime. The last time I thought about it, I concluded that 2016 has been the worst year since at least 2001, and 2001, of course, was the year that roughly 3,000 people died in coordinated terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, leading to the “war on terror,” the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq a year and a half later, and a whole lot of really bad things. Given the results of the election, we can’t know how bad this year truly is, but I rather suspect that fifteen years from now in 2031 we’ll be arguing over which year was worse, although, truth be told, 2017 is likely to be the real year to worry about. However, 2016 was still plenty bad. In essence, 2016 was the year bullshit was weaponized.

If 2016 were a person, it would be Mike Adams, the alternative medicine “entrepreneur” huckster who got his start selling Y2K scams in the late 1990s and for whom no conspiracy theory is too outrageous and no quackery is too ridiculous. Indeed, just check out his site now, and you’ll see that, among the usual antivaccine crap and rants against science-based medicine, Mikey is peddling conspiracy theories about President Obama trying to start World War III before January 20, referring to him as “quite literally a ‘sleeper cell’ agent who has been trying to destroy America from day one” and how the feds are supposedly probing NaturalNews.com and InfoWars for DDoS attacks to take them down. That’s because 2016 is the year that saw the rise in belief in conspiracy theories like the ones Adams peddles and their elevation into mainstream prominence, thanks to a presidential candidate and his followers who believe them, including all sorts of antivaccine nonsense. We now have a President who not only believes conspiracy theories like that but believes that vaccines are a “monster shot” that causes autism and has met with, of all people, Andrew Wakefield to discuss vaccine policy. 2016 was a year when Deepak Chopra castigated our new President-Elect for not being sufficiently reality-based. At the time, I said that irony meters everywhere exploded, but, having observed Donald Trump a while longer, I’m not entirely sure that he isn’t less reality-based than Deepak Chopra. We all make mistakes, I guess. That doesn’t change the fact that Trump appointed a man to run the Department of Health and Human Services who belongs to the premiere crank medical “society” in the US, the Association of American Physicians and Scientists (AAPS), which is still cranking out antivaccine nonsense as we speak, while the top to candidates to run the FDA include a man who doesn’t think the FDA should require evidence of efficacy before approving a drug versus a man who is, quite literally, a pharma shill. No wonder I fear for science policy, and that doesn’t even consider climate science.

If 2016 were a blog post, it would be this one, Autism Rates Skyrocket Since SB277 Took Hold In California or this one, Autism Rates in California Schools Jumped As Much as 17% Among Kindergartners Since Mandatory Vaccine Bill Was Signed. The idea is that SB277, the bill that eliminates nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, has already increased autism rates in California. Never mind that the bill was only signed into law in the summer of 2015 and didn’t take effect until the 2016-2017 school year. Never mind that the median age of diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders ranges from 3 years, 10 months for autistic disorder to 6 years, 2 months for Asperger’s, meaning that, even if vaccines cause autism (which they don’t), the earliest we could expect to have a chance of detecting an increase in autism prevalence potentially related to SB 277 for at least two or three years after the law took effect; i.e., 2019 or so. Even then, it would be ridiculous to attribute such a marked increase in autism prevalence to SB 277, given that at most SB 277 could only be expected to increase vaccination rates by a few percent. Why? Because less than 10% of California kindergarten children aren’t fully vaccinated and there will always be at least a couple of percent of children who need medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. That means that, at most, SB 277 will increase vaccine uptake a few percentage points, single digits. That’s enough to make sure that herd immunity isn’t compromised, but, even if you buy into the pseudoscientific belief that vaccines cause autism, it’s not enough to cause a massive increase in autism prevalence as massive as these two reality-challenged antivaccine loons are claiming. Of course, given that vaccines don’t cause autism, these are even dumber posts, perfect for 2016.

Or maybe this post by—who else?—Mike Adams best encapsulates 2016, The top 10 most outrageous science hoaxes of 2016. Indeed, when I first got the idea for this post, I thought that I would spend the whole post deconstructing these “top ten” science “hoaxes,” but, as I wrote, my viewpoint switched to, “Why bother?” It’s the same old, same old, some “hoaxes” so ridiculous that they are practically self-refuting, like the claim that the EPA intentionally poisoned the children of Flint, MI with lead in their drinking water in order to cause brain damage and, well, I’ll let Mikey tell you:

The result of all this was the mass poisoning of mostly African-American children with a toxic heavy metal that’s well known to damage cognitive function and impede learning. What a great way to raise more democrats! It’s all part of the new “science” of keeping the sheeple dumbed down so they will keep voting for corrupt criminals like Hillary Clinton. Instead of “let them eat cake,” the new progressive Jon Podesta version is, “Let them drink lead!”

Any time you see the word “sheeple” used in an article unironically and without mockery of the word, you know you’re dealing with a grade-A idiotic conspiracy theorist. The rest of the “hoaxes are a standard load of right wing, Alex Jones-style conspiracy theories, such as the idea that SB 277 is a plot by pharmaceutical companies, who claim that “vaccines pose zero risk to children (i.e. claiming they do not harm a single child…ever),” something no pro-vaccine advocate, to my knowledge, has ever claimed and that the Zika virus scare was also a conspiracy. Then, of course, there’s the usual anthropogenic climate change denial and rants about transgenderism. (I wonder if any of the lefties who share Adams’ bilge know just how viciously bigoted he is when he talks about transgender people.) The sole exception to the right-wing conspiracy mongering is one that made me chuckle, namely Adams’ unhappiness with Republicans passing a law that banned GMO labeling. I mentioned my amusement with Adams’ discomfiture back when I discussed the nomination of Tom Price to head HHS, given that Adams has reinvented himself as a darling of the alt right and a rabid Donald Trump supporter.

Finally, if 2016 to be described by a survey, it would have to be this one, which shows that Americans believe a lot of crazy things, with 31% believing that vaccines cause autism, 53% believing that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, and 36% believing that President Obama was born in Kenya. Not surprisingly, nearly twice the percentage of Trump supporters believe that vaccines cause autism compared to Clinton supporters (31% vs. 18%), although pretty equal numbers of Trump and Clinton supporters believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” (between 15% and 17%). The point is that belief in things that, objectively, are not true is widespread and always has been. Anyone who’s been involved in skepticism, either organized or not, knows this. Be it ghosts, Bigfoot, the claim that vaccines cause autism, alternative medicine quackery, 9/11 “Truth,” Holocaust denial, or any of a number of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and pseudohistory, belief in things that can be objectively shown not to exist or beliefs that can objectively be shown noto to be true is rampant.

It’s an old problem, too. I think back to a post I wrote about cancer quackery in the late 1970s and how little has changed in the list of alternative medicine cancer “cures” over more than three decades, and I can’t help but think that three decades from now (if I’m still alive) I’ll still be seeing the same stuff. Laetrile, antineoplastons, the Gerson protocol, Hoxsey therapy, and many more were all around then and will likely still be around long after I’m dead. Similarly, antivaccine tropes have been around forever. I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw a post by John Rappaport in which he republished a chapter on vaccines from a book he wrote in 1987, AIDS, Inc.. The same antivaccine misinformation and lies are there, such as:

  • The decline in vaccine-preventable diseases like polio is mostly due to improved housing, to a decrease in the virulence of micro-organisms, but, most importantly, a “higher host-resistance due to better nutrition.” (In other words, vaccines never get the credit.)
  • In outbreaks, more vaccinated than unvaccinated children get the disease. (It’s the same way antivaccine ideologues ignore percentages, which clearly show that in outbreaks, the unvaccinated get the disease at much higher rates than the vaccinated. The only reason that the absolute numbers are higher is because so many more children are vaccinated than unvaccinated.)
  • Serious, life-threatening adverse reactions to vaccines are common when in fact they are rare.
  • Measles and polio had been regressing before the vaccines, and the vaccines had nothing to do with their elimination.

There are several more. If these lies sound familiar, they should. I’ve discussed pretty much every one of them at least once, some many times over the years. I expect that I will continue to have to do so for as long as I manage to continue this blog.

So in one respect, the revelation that people believe nonsense is no revelation at all. I’ve known it for a long time, as have skeptics and critical thinkers. What was different in 2016 is that a perfect storm of politics, anger, a presidential candidate who believes a whole lot of said nonsense, and the facility with which the Internet can be used to spread conspiracy theories and fake news conspired to overwhelm all safeguards that had previously at least kept pseudoscience, pseudohistory, and conspiracy theories from achieving mainstream acceptance. In essence, in 2016 bullshit was weaponized, and it turned out to be an incredibly effective weapon indeed.

We saw the rise of fake news, which, remember, is not the same thing as bad and/or biased reporting, given that fake news is made up nearly completely from whole cloth for profit and influence, while bad and biased reporting at least starts from real events. Unfortunately, the term “fake news” has already been devalued as people like Adams are quick to label the mainstream press “fake news” and even skeptics mistake bad or biased reporting for bad news.

What can we as skeptics do? The weaponization of bullshit is not qualitatively different from anything we’ve seen before. It is, however, quantitatively much worse, and, as always, we remain woefully outmatched. Powerful political and economic forces are behind the weaponization of bullshit. There’s no way we can match the resources they have. Fortunately, the Internet remains a great equalizer, which means that the misinformation can be countered, but that is not enough. What needs to be happen in 2017 and beyond is that skeptics and critical thinkers will need to study the BS and find ways to counter it. Countering pseudoscience and misinformation has always been a battle that will last lifetimes, but unfortunately 2016 just made it a whole lot more difficult.

Maybe Bluto showed us the way, all the way back in 1978:

OK, a really stupid and futile gesture is not the way to go, but we need to ignite this sort of spirit, even if the odds look long and the battle endless, if we are to find a way to combat the misinformation to survive the Age of Trump and minimize the damage done by him and the forces he’s weaponized.

Comments

  1. #1 darwinslapdog
    Still Sailing
    December 30, 2016

    I am not hopeful. I live in a working class neighborhood in the rust belt. I come across people every day, say at at the supermarket, who fully believe the most outrageous things imaginable–and I get this in very casual conversation. What I might hear if I pursued the interaction doesn’t bear thinking about. I’m on my way out of the country–not that I think I can escape Trumpistan.

  2. #2 MikeMa
    December 30, 2016

    With little hope for the US having a happy new year, I extend my best wishes to our host and the minions. This too shall pass.

  3. #3 Lawrence
    December 30, 2016

    For those readers here who haven’t already – I’d recommend reading “The Great Derangement” by Matt Tabibi.

    Although it was published over a decade ago, it neatly encapsulates many of the reasons why we’ve seen a steady drift towards conspiracy theories into the mainstream – and why people find the need to believe the unbelievable.

  4. #4 sadmar
    December 30, 2016

    Fwiw, one of the MSNBC news shows (Chris Hayes, IIRC) did a segment on the Economist survey. It mentioned a couple of the CT beliefs, but focused more on false beliefs about objective facts that can be traced back to ‘fake news’, e.g. 40% of self-identified Republicans replied that the number of people without health insurance in the U.S. has gone up under the ACA, when it has in fact, of course, gone down, 52% of Republicans believe millions of illegal votes were cast in the recent election, 49% of Republicans believe emails beyws between Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff contain codes words for pedophilia, sex trafficing and satanic rituals. In the discussion that followed, politics and communication professor Jason Johnson suggested the unprecedented number and reach of such false beliefs stems from a widespread distrust of social institutions so deep that people will believe government officials are capable of just about anything, “because the system is so corrupt”.

    But then Josh Barro of Business Insider suggested the public might have a better grasp of ‘the true facts’ than polls like the Economist survey indicate. He noted research from U-Texas Poly Sci prof John Bullock who gave the same survey to two groups: one with the usual instructions, but the other with a promise that factually correct answers would enter the respondent in a drawing for a $200 Amazon gift card. In the ‘reward’ group, the answers got more accurate overall and the partisan gaps between responses declined.

    Barro then postulated that many of the participants in the conventional surveys were giving “expressive responses” to the factual questions, meaning they have some awareness that answer they give is false, but give it anyway as a means of registering their opinions. Barro’s example was that responding ‘yes’ to ‘Was Obama born in Kenya?’ just means ‘I don’t like Obama’ for these folks.

    Bullock’s paper:
    http://johnbullock.org/papers/partisanBiasInFactualBeliefs.pdf

    Another study, from Princeton, with similar methods and findings:
    https://www.princeton.edu/~mprior/PSK2015.QJPS.pdf

    While Hayes initially agreed with Barro about the ‘expressive responses’, he didn’t seem much comforted by the thought. Following on Barro’s birtherism example, Hayes noted that however many people may just use a survey question as an opportunity to express a negative view of Obama, he’s still encountered way too many people in person who actually firmly believe Obama was born in Kenya.

    Johnson then returned to his theme of cynicism by noting that the public is aware that certain theses about government misdoings that were once considered ‘conspiracy theories’ have turned out to be true. The example he gave was problematic, but we could come up with several Watergate-and-after revelations (e.g. WMDs in Iraq, “yellow cake” etc.) that may indeed only have deepened post-Watergate cynicism to the point where as moon-hoax debunker s. g collins put it, “If your government hasn’t lied to you today, it’s probably because they haven’t had their coffee yet.”

    Then there’s the thesis that the spread of fake news is acting less to create ideological assent for conservative policies, and more to create a hubub surrounding them that acts as noise to obscure the real work of policy on one hand, and further turn off certain sensible segments of the public from even paying attention to the news out of disgust….

    I suppose my best guess is that all these hypotheses are partly correct, and come together in some synergy of dysfunction…. 🙁

    Have a great weekend, everybody! [/irony]

  5. #5 sadmar
    December 30, 2016

    Lawrence:
    Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds interesting. I’m going to get a copy, and hopefully I’ll be able to surmount my concentration issues and actually get through it.

    BTW, you had a typo: It’s Matt Taibbi. The full title is The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire, published 2008. There are used copies on Amazon for 1¢ plus shipping. There’s also a newer book (2016) with the same main title: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh.

    Huuge derangements seem to be the order of the day. Ah, for the good old days of, say, 2004, when the relatively small pocket derangements of anti-vaxers seemed so unusual. (I have to admit I responded to “Autism Rates Skyrocket Since SB277” with a perverse chuckle.) I guess I’d say 2016 wasn’t “the year bullsh** was weaponized” since the weaponization of BS is probably as old as language (the first long ago example that came to my mind was The Crusades…) It’s more like 2016 was the year some critical mass of the populace started open-carrying the BS equivalents of AR-15s everywhere they go.

    • #6 Orac
      December 30, 2016

      Maybe I should have entitled the post “2016: The year bullshit was nuclear weaponized.”

  6. #7 Lumen2222
    United States
    December 30, 2016

    I’ve been reading “Psychological Warfare” by Paul Linebarger (AKA Cordwainer Smith). I recommend it for anyone attempting to do science communication, though I know that sounds overly dramatic.

    It’s essentially the first manual on propaganda, and is very illuminating.

    The key is to understand that truthful propaganda is very effective, and probably the most effective. But not all truth is good propaganda. You need to craft your message.

    The book assumes (correctly I think) that the ultimate job of “propaganda” is convincing the enemy (in the case of war) or the opposition (in all other situations) that they like you and your ideas/way of life. (In war it would be surrender because they realize that liking you is better than fighting you.)

    I’m finding it a surprisingly useful read. Also the history of propaganda (the book was written in 1940s) is very eye opening and newly relevant. Particularly when he’s discussing Russian propaganda. Let’s just say the more things change…

  7. #8 EBMOD
    December 30, 2016

    If anything, I find that 2016 is prime evidence that a likely solution to the Fermi paradox is that intelligent societies inevitably implode before they reach interstellar capacity. It’s been a really depressing year.

  8. #9 Lawrence
    December 30, 2016

    @samar – thank you for the correction. My copy of the book is currently out on loan at the moment, so I didn’t have it handy for reference.

    I do think you’ll enjoy it.

  9. #10 Narad
    December 30, 2016

    For those readers here who haven’t already – I’d recommend reading “The Great Derangement” by Matt Tabibi.

    Don’t forget ““The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

  10. #11 Denice Walter
    December 30, 2016

    At any rate, I wonder if woo-meisters will find encouragement following the recent trend towards anti-elitism and anti-professionalism as illustrated by Brexit and Trumpism and go totally bonkers?

    Oh wait, they already have ( see Mikey. Gary and Jakey)

    This stew has been cooking for a LONG time. ( Remember, I have been covering prn.fm, Mikey and TMR)

    It’s about to become a new year but I have grave doubts about any substantial changes coming to fruition.
    Only more of the same. Or a change for the worse.

    Robert Costa said ( paraphrase) it’s more work for reporters.

    But whatever, Orac and minions, let’s celebrate anyway!

    Because I live very close to the Heart of Darkness, [redacted]. and unfortunately, as I work part time for a
    ( distant relative) writerish person who is hosting an afternoon cocktail party TOMORROW near the sacred locale itself ( hint: NYE but NOT in Red Square**- which is only the second worst place to be on NYE) where my appearance is required I have to make complicated plans to get there, stay an hour / two and get out while I can before the raving hoards materialise Then I have to go somewhere else in the evening. At least I have reasons to get dressed up-
    always look on the brighter side as they say..

    2016 has been a horrible year for other reasons including enduring an injury which has cramped my style and reduced my activities. HOWEVER I have re-discovered my other talents which has enabled me to expand my CV. Because I am often chained to a desk.. I mean… staying indoors, I have benefitted from watching news and politics all the livelong day. Thus, like sadmar, I hear the ( relatively) good news as well: that people are becoming aware that SIWOTI. And about fake news and general dreck on FB.

    So, like reporters and political wonks on television, we have our work cut out for us:
    woo-meisters and pseudoscientists will expand their venue in light of recent trends and we’ll be there to survey their work and insult them

    It’ll be a festival of stupidity, avarice and fantasy fiction. A veritable circus of inanity.

    I wish Orac and my fellow and sister minions well. We must keep up opposition to the aforementioned nonsense and oppose the Dark Side at all costs
    ( oh wait, we ARE the dark side)

    ** Russians love NYE

  11. #12 Mary Mangan (mem_somerville)
    December 30, 2016

    Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??? Hell no!

    I agree, the quantity of bullshit is really daunting. And on so many diverse fronts. I expect that school voucher queen DeVos will get creationism into schools. I assume the EPA and DOE become nonsense factories. Who knows what the FDA and USDA will look like.

    My current biggest problem is triage. But it’s not over.

  12. #13 Denice Walter
    December 30, 2016

    @ Orac:

    I like your autocorrect fx. Hah!

  13. #14 Mary Mangan (mem_somerville)
    December 30, 2016

    I forgot to add: the most disturbing thing I’m seeing bubble up in new quantities is “race realism” nonsense. I’ve already been in battles where the claims of lower IQ of groups is considered a fact.

    That is the one that will be at the top of my triage list, if I can figure out where to aim.

  14. #15 Denice Walter
    December 30, 2016

    re countering BS

    As a psychologist, I can only note that when people become entranced by fantasy, misinformation or bad ideas, it is the therapist’s job to illustrate – and demonstrate- how far from reality these notions are.

    HOWEVER, taking on an entire political party or woo-fraught faction is somewhat beyond my ken/ pay grade.

    But since I serve reality first, I will humbly submit my own methods when apropos.

  15. #16 Mark Thorson
    December 30, 2016

    Here’s a great read on homeopathy by a couple of Hollywood screenwriters.

    http://johnaugust.com/2016/scriptnotes-ep-281-holiday-homeopathy-spectacular-transcript

  16. #17 Narad
    December 30, 2016

    49% of Republicans believe emails beyws between Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff contain codes words for pedophilia, sex trafficing and satanic rituals

    Uh-oh. Commenter “Reader” at AoA has figured out that Snopes SNOPES is in on it:

    “And in more good news California Democrats legalize child prostitution with SB 1322, starting Jan 1. Don’t worry though, folks, the good people at SNOPES say this doesn’t legalize child prostitution (this from the people in charge of ‘fake news’ that either utilize or have been working in the sex trade). Child trafficking experts sure disagree with that! Pelosi was big on getting this passed too.”

    I find it heartwarming that they’re their own worst enemies.

  17. #18 Mark Thorson
    December 30, 2016
  18. #19 Denice Walter
    December 30, 2016

    Note to self:

    Remember that if one is a loon, everything is automatically a code word.

    Also:
    Confucius said ( paraphrase) that in a sane society people know what all the words they use mean.

  19. #20 George Dawson
    United States
    December 30, 2016

    Being a psychiatrist I am used to seeing a lot of BS in the news directed at my specialty. I found the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle or Brandolini’s Law to be interesting when I read it in a Nature editorial recently. Simply stated: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” In psychiatry it is probably greater than that.

    This is what skeptics and science supporters are up against. It takes a lot more than just debunking the latest baseless news. It is hard to get rid of simply because it appears to level the playing field between the experts on the one hand and the unknowledgeable, scam artists, and quacks on the other. Happy New Year to those who are doing the heavy lifting for science.

    http://real-psychiatry.blogspot.com/2016/12/brandolinis-law.html

  20. #21 Dorit Reiss
    December 30, 2016

    An Israeli article just examined the rise in belief in conspiracy theories – focusing on anti vaccines beliefs and chemtrails – in Israel.

    It’s a global thing. Sigh.

  21. #22 Ralph K
    December 30, 2016

    “Similarly, antivaccine tropes have been around forever. ” How interesting to see you say that. The majority of skeptics I find seem to think it all started with Jenny McCarthy.

  22. #23 titmouse
    December 30, 2016

    My solution: remove the advertising revenue from pages promoting fake news.

    Companies purchasing ads should have a clause in their contracts stating that there will be no charge for ads appearing on pages with fake news stories.

    A large company, like say Dove soap, might recover millions if a percentage of their advertising turns up on fake news sites. Perhaps Dove would even pay fact checkers to report why some story is fake.

  23. #24 Gilbert
    December 30, 2016

    Nifty, titmouse; We can start here:

    CNN, one of the media outfits that regularly complains about “fake news,” ran a fake news story of its own when it claimed that Russia was closing an Anglo-American school in Moscow as retaliation for President Obama’s sanctions.

    http://www.infowars.com/cnn-runs-fake-news-story-about-russia-closing-anglo-american-school-in-moscow/

    I hardly see what this has to do with Morgellon’s the government has sprayed everybody with.

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/07/14/u-s-repeals-propaganda-ban-spreads-government-made-news-to-americans/

  24. #25 titmouse
    December 30, 2016

    Oh yeah, corporate news runs wrong stories often enough because journalists are nobodies easily replaced and nobody wants to pay for fact checking. But if we sucked the money away from bullshit stories maybe fact checking could become a thing again.

  25. #26 Narad
    December 30, 2016

    The majority of skeptics I find seem to think it all started with Jenny McCarthy.

    That there is just plain intellectual slovenliness.

  26. #27 Guy Chapman
    United Kingdom
    December 30, 2016

    2016 is the year that the chief SCAM marketing technique made it into politics. Life is shit, there are no easy answers, but people don’t want to hear that, so glib bullshit – especially bullshit that blames all your problems on some convenient out-group – is seductive.

    The job of the press, politicians and other thought leaders should be to challenge this, to explain the world as it really is, and to help people become stakeholders in changing what they can and accepting what they can’t. But that’s hard. Who wants to tell people they won’t be able to retire at 55 with a final salary pension, and might not be able to retire ever?

    I’m confident the bubble will burst, as all bubbles do. I just hope it does so without a mushroom cloud.

    • #28 Wzrd1
      December 30, 2016

      Who wants to tell people they won’t be able to retire at 55 with a final salary pension, and might not be able to retire ever?</blockquote?

      As I'm trailing edge Baby Boomer, that entirely fails, via path of evidence in the real world.
      As I've repeatedly been forced to liquidate my various 401k plans, due to economic issues, which removed my civilian job, yet none complained, of the Boomer set, of those issues.
      And that I've ascertained, based upon previous trends and losses, that I'll be able to comfortably retire fully when I'm 405 years old, yeah, some irritation.
      Well, until that gets stolen by Congress, I still have a military pension to count on, once I reach age 61 (reservists and Guard get to collect retirement benefits at age 61 and not before).

  27. #29 Wzrd1
    December 30, 2016

    Annoyingly, bullshit was long ago weaponized and used as a weapon.
    It’s just that, well, that fact was classified.

    May I submit evidence that our US press cannot locate at all, lacking the ability to frigging read.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_cyberattack_on_United_States

    The first and linked articles, a primer. Current election interference is below:
    https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/JAR_16-20296.pdf

    I’ve been aware of both APT28 and APT29 for many years. 2016 was the first year where casus belli occurred in a very real way.
    Military resources attacking a civilian government perfects the recipe.

  28. #30 Daniel Corcos
    December 31, 2016

    Bullshit has always been weaponized. In general, everything that can be weaponized will be. Don’t forget that the wheel has been used as a torture device.
    What is new with bullshit is that it was mainly weaponized by governments or corporate interests, whereas today more and more can use bullshit as a weapon.

    • #31 Orac
      December 31, 2016

      No shit, Sherlock. I said that bullshit has always been weaponized in the post above:

      The weaponization of bullshit is not qualitatively different from anything we’ve seen before. It is, however, quantitatively much worse, and, as always, we remain woefully outmatched.

      I’m getting tired of comments saying that “bullshit has always been weaponized,” as though I didn’t say as much in my post.

  29. #32 Cam the Cat
    Cyberspace
    December 31, 2016

    I rather prefer this gem of a rallying cry from the classic movie Network:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGIY5Vyj4YM

    Fight fire with fire, I say…

  30. #33 Daniel Corcos
    December 31, 2016

    @ Orac
    What I am saying is that there is nothing indicating that it is “quantitatively much worse”. Simply, it does not come from people you usually trust.

  31. #34 jean mas
    United States
    December 31, 2016

    The problem is, it takes 2 seconds to come up with bullshits, it takes a lot longer to debunk it.

  32. #35 thetentman
    NJ
    December 31, 2016

    Yes we should be concerned with Fake News and its effects on the great unwashed masses. However you must realize that Fake News is not new and it has been accepted and gone unrecognized for years. Many of you still believe anything your church tells you about your deity and that is FAKE News. So temper your thoughts about the gullible and look in the mirror. Happy New Year.

  33. #36 Chris
    December 31, 2016

    thetentman: “Many of you still believe anything your church tells you about your deity and that is FAKE News.”

    You must be new here. Perhaps you should take a look around at some older articles.

  34. #37 thetentman
    NJ
    December 31, 2016

    Chris – Just arrived on the planet. What’s your point?

  35. #38 Gilbert
    December 31, 2016

    What’s your point?

    What Chris means to say, thetentman, is that this place is a bastion of puritanical fundamentalists such that you have trodden into the wrong baptismal pool.

  36. #39 Chris
    December 31, 2016

    This is a skeptic blog, the most common deity we like is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Welcome to the anti-Htrae, enjoy the jokes.

  37. #40 thetentman
    NJ
    December 31, 2016

    Chris – I passed the FSM on the way in.

  38. #41 Old Rockin' Dave
    December 31, 2016

    @EMBOD: “I find that 2016 is prime evidence that a likely solution to the Fermi paradox is that intelligent societies inevitably implode before they reach interstellar capacity.”
    Based on that premise, I see 2016 as prime evidence that humanity will still be around for at least the next billion years.

  39. #42 Gilbert
    December 31, 2016

    “the next billion years”

    So I considered the world, and, behold, there was peril because of the devices that were come into it.

    2 Esdras 9:20

  40. #43 Chris
    December 31, 2016

    thetentman, did the FSM thank you for proving that mind reading and psychic powers do not exist? Ramen.

  41. #44 thetentman
    NJ
    December 31, 2016

    No, he just waved.

  42. #45 Chris
    December 31, 2016

    Oh, rats. Better luck next time.

  43. #46 doug
    December 31, 2016

    … Fake News is not new …/blockquote>While that is certainly true, much of it used to have more limited distribution channels, such as National Inquirer (I knew a certain former dean of the Faculty of […] at a university which shall remain nameless who used to write for NI) and other such tabloids. The feedback path was very long and whether it was degenerative or regenerative, it didn’t make a lot of difference. Now the feedback loop is short and very frequently regenerative – like sticking a microphone right in front of a loudspeaker and cranking the amp’s gain up to 11. It can produce a really horrendous wail that is hard to ignore.

  44. #47 doug
    December 31, 2016

    Once again, Phui!

  45. #48 Gilbert
    December 31, 2016

    FSM touched me where I did not want to be touched. And doug has a blockquote fail.

  46. #49 doug
    December 31, 2016

    One also does well to remember, when talking of weaponized BS, that the BS is monetized at the same time. To quote Country Joe and the Fish
    There’s plenty of good money to be made
    By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade.

    Whoopie! We’re all gonna die!

  47. #50 Mark Thorson
    December 31, 2016

    It looks like the “Current ye@r” rolled over to 2017 a wee bit early.

  48. #51 doug
    December 31, 2016

    BS kills children.

    While I was writing #46, I could hear fireworks. They were being set off just across the street from where Tamara Lovett took Ryan to the chiroquack (“they get the same training as doctors”) when he was a baby. He never saw a real doctor. The quack’s office is less than a kilometre up the street from another location of the store from which she purchased the dandelion tea she gave Ryan just hours before he died – dandelion tea instead of antibiotics because it “boosts the immune system”. BS is available everywhere. People believe BS. Tamara Lovett believed BS. Ryan Lovett is dead.
    The Stephans believed BS. Ezekiel Stephan is dead.
    The Raditas believed BS. Alex Radita is dead.

    BS kills children.

  49. #52 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    January 1, 2017
  50. #53 Eric
    January 1, 2017

    You mention a Right wing claim that the “poisoning” in Flint was intentional but completely ignore the fact that mainstream media made exactly the bogus claim. NPR, for one example, spent hours and hours promoting this bogus idea. NPR reaches far more people. I have never heard the Right wing claim that you elaborated but NPR’s claims are well known and influential. You’re missing half of the BS.

  51. #54 Gray Squirrel
    January 2, 2017

    “Weaponized Bullshit”: brilliant meme and I’ll be spreading it far & wide.

    Re. Mikey objecting to “big pharma shills:” Has anyone asked him how he feels about Trump’s nominee for head of CDC, who is, as Orac pointed out, one heck of a pharma shill?

    Mary @ 14, “race realism.” Most of that stuff also holds that Asians are smarter than whites. In which case, when you run into it, ask: “So then you don’t object to the Chinese taking your job, because Asians are smarter than whites?” “Would you object to China taking over the US?” And, “So then if you want IQ testing for (whatever), do whites who test below the level get treated the same way as blacks who test below the level? What makes you so sure you’ll pass?”

    George Dawson @ 20: The reason it’s easy to spread BS and hard to clean it up is because dissipation is easy, and the reverse is difficult. It took billions of years of the Sun dissipating photons, to ratchet up the complexity of biologically-relevant molecules to the point where they became rudimentary life (see also Jeremy England @ MIT). More mundanely, try putting the smell of ammonia back in the bottle. This also seems to generalize in the human social ecosystem: it’s hard to build, easy to destroy.

    Titmouse @ 23: Be careful about perverse incentives. Some advertisers would relish the opportunity to get free ads on sites that peddle BS. Think of Mikey Adams’ supplement business, or the purveyors of alcohol who will reach more “heavy consumers” that way. IMHO the entire ad-based internet economy is a bad deal, a vehicle for a surveillance society and also for the spread of malware. Better: subscriptions & micro-payments, and you own all of the information about yourself.

    Re. Flint MI: Mikey is back-asswards as usual. Republicans run the state and ran Flint’s water supply. They realized that lead was their best bet for keeping the party relevant 20 years from now. See also the Republican Congress’ negligence about funding the fight against Zika, which as we all know, causes microcephaly. Who says Republicans don’t think long-term?;-)

  52. #55 sadmar
    January 3, 2017

    I’m getting tired of comments saying that “bullshit has always been weaponized,” as though I didn’t say as much in my post.

    Well, the news editing prof I TAed for would have observed that if the reader’s first impression is the headline 2016: The year bullshit was weaponized, that frame is probably hardened by the time they get to the little historical hedge in the last paragraph… assuming their attention spans hold that long.

    “2016: The year bullshit was nuclear weaponized.”

    Nope. We’d better save that for 2017. Trump hasn’t taken office yet. I’ll stick with “2016: The year weaponized bullshit went open-carry.”
    _________

    We seem to have drawn a troll from NN! Yippee! Uh, no, NPR never claimed “the EPA intentionally poisoned the children of Flint, MI in order to cause brain damage”. They claimed Rick Synder’s minions knowingly allowed the children of Flint to be poisoned in order to cut budgets and preserve the undemocratic social-injustice-enacting authority of the emergency manager system. Which happens to be true.
    ________

    The job of the press should be to challenge seductive glib BS, to explain the world as it really is, and to help people become stakeholders in changing what they can and accepting what they can’t. But that’s hard.

    It’s not hard. It’s just time-consuming, expensive, and offers no financial return. Journalism is a job. Most j-school graduates who get jobs in the biz wind up working in PR, not in ‘news’. Most who are employed in the ‘journalism’ departments of the news biz are low-paid (you probably wouldn’t believe how low) grunts in some arm of a media conglomerate octopus operating on the business model of selling audience exposures to advertisers. What their job IS is getting the maximum number of eyeballs at the lowest cost-per-eyeball. Like most grunts, they follow the dicta of their bosses, who follow their bosses and so on, up to folks like Rupert Murdoch who can be seen as the ultimate authors of their job descriptions. Murdoch is only an outlier among media barons by being bigger and louder, not by being more right wing than average among his peers, or by operating News Corp on a different set of principles.

    Guy seems to have expectations the press would/should challenge seductive BS instead of spread it, explain the world as it really is instead of parroting the dominant ideological fictions, or to help people become stakeholders instead of passive consumers of circuses-without-bread. Talk about a fact averse reality distortion field! Why it’s positively postmodern!
    ________

    Confucius said that in a sane society people know what all the words they use mean.

    I assume you mean ‘The Rectification Of Names”? Connie said that was necessary for a harmonious society, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as a sane one.

    Confucian philosopher Xun Zi explicated that concept as “the ancient sage kings chose names that directly corresponded with actualities, but later generations confused terminology, coined new nomenclature, and thus could no longer distinguish right from wrong.” {Wikipedia) Excuse me if lack faith in the concepts of right and wrong held and promoted by ancient kings, as I’m guessing their “harmonious” society would have left my kind alienated if not outright oppressed.

    Derrida would have said (i paraphrase) that words simply can’t “directly corresponded with actualities” since actualities are unique and precise in too many ways to cover with any functional vocabulary, and words are always vague, general, and bearing the germs of multiple meanings. A sane society, then, would understand the limits of language, and how any community that thinks it knows what all the words used within it mean has been diddled by the social powers that be into taking their meaning as the meaning – which is the foundation of a lot of very nasty BS. To be sane then, would to be alert to the buried meanings, the subjective interests shaping the ‘dominant’ meanings – which would let you weigh the two and give you a chance to figure out which BS is closer to Truth, and which is just a pile of crap.
    __________
    Daniel Corcos may have a point in saying Orac is overestimating the present quantity of BS because it now “does not come from people you usually trust.” But I doubt it’s the point Daniel thinks it is, or the point Orac is likely to take it to be. And even if Orac is under-estimating the old BS, the idea that we don’t have MORE now is just head-in-the-sand wacky.

  53. #56 Denice Walter
    January 3, 2017

    @ sadmar:

    IIRC that quote/ translation comes from a Jungian – need I say more?

  54. #57 sadmar
    January 4, 2017

    @ doug

    Sadly, here’s another dead kid story:
    http://tinyurl.com/j5e26k5
    This couple didn’t bother with doctors, ever, apparently because Jesus.

    They said they didn’t want Seth on any medication and relied on their own research. They concluded Seth was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and from a traumatic brain injury. The Johnsons said Seth [an adoptee] was a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, but authorities found no record of such a diagnosis.

    As Seth’s behavior worsened, the Johnsons increased his vitamin intake and treated his wounds with antibiotic skin ointment Neosporin and “medical honey.” On the weekend before his death, the boy was being watched by his 16-year-old brother while Sarah and Tim Johnson left town for a wedding. The teen called the parents and said Seth wasn’t eating or interacting. [He had] stopped talking and couldn’t get out of bed. The Johnsons were about to leave the wedding early on that Sunday but stayed once they learned Seth had eaten some Cheerios.

    When the couple arrived home that Sunday night, Seth was on the floor and unresponsive. “They prayed for his health,” at that moment, the complaint read. The boy did not react. The parents picked up Seth, sat him at the dinner table and put two small bites of pizza in his mouth. They bathed him, put him on a mattress for the night with no blanket or pillow. They said they contemplated seeking medical care for Seth but decided to wait until morning to decide.

    The next morning, Tim Johnson found Seth unresponsive on the mattress and covered in vomit. They cleaned him off and began CPR. Then they called 911. Police arrived at the home about 7:40 a.m. and found Seth on the bathroom floor, with Timothy Johnson trying to resuscitate [him]. EMS responders declared the child dead at the scene. Seth’s body had bruises on his face, arms, chest, buttocks and lower torso, as well as “breaks on his skin on the majority of his body.”

    You know what? I’m not going to blame this on faith healing. These people are just pond scum with some sort of personality disorder, or sociopathy or some kind of total dysfunction of humanity. I’m blaming the people who place this kid with them as a foster child, then let them adopt him, and were then MIA when they turned on him. I’m blaming all the friends and family who didn’t report them, and if any authorities did get a hint and fail to follow up or dismissed the case, I blame them too. And I blame this damn ideology that says kids are owned by their parents, and always seeks any excuse to return them for ‘another chance’. And I blame a system that can only intervene in these ‘no doctors’ families by taking custody, which everyone is unwilling to have/let them do, when a patently obvious intermediate step would to be a court order requiring the parents to take the kid to a proper court-certified doctor for medical care, and have periodic enforcement checks with that doctor, documenting the kid’s condition and treatment.

  55. […] writers have characterized what happened as the “weaponization” of bullshit or misinformation. This is nothing new, but it did seem to reach new heights, or to cross over some […]

  56. […] 2016: The year bullshit was weaponized on Respectful Insolence […]

  57. #60 big pharma
    dreamland
    January 18, 2017

    gotta love your disclaimer at the end of your bio !!!
    weaponized bullshit sums u up nicely!!!

  58. […] however, the sorts of misinformation I set out to combat in 2004 seem downright quaint, given how much more effectively bullshit was weaponized last year than in years past. It’s basically gotten so bad that once-stodgy journals have […]

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