Antivaccine nonsense Bad science Medicine

Vaccines and SIDS: Steve Kirsch amps up the stupid

Antivaxxers have long claimed that childhood vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Now “new school” antivaxxer Steve Kirsch has resurrected this hoary old lie using the thinnest of evidence plus a lot of handwaving.

I have an annoying propensity to keep repeating how, in narratives of antivax conspiracy theories, everything old is new again. I was reminded of this again when I encountered a particularly stupid invocation of the old antivax claim that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome invoked by tech bro turned antivaxxer Steve Kirsch, as epitomized by two posts on his Substack:

Unfortunately, it’s true that there is nothing new under the sun as far as antivax narratives go Indeed, I spent the time during the lead-up to the introduction of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020 and then perhaps a year afterward documenting how the narratives weaponized against COVID-19 vaccines by antivaxxers were nothing more than the same ol’, same ol’. Basically, very old antivax tropes were rapidly repurposed to be wielded against the new COVID-19 vaccines, examples including:

You get the idea.

By 2022, I was documenting how “new school” antivaxxers, who had become anti-COVID-19 vaccine over the past year or so, were fast becoming just “antivax” as they embraced more general antivax conspiracy theories to the point where they were rapidly becoming indistinguishable from what I used to call “old school” antivaxxers, complete with going all-in on the main false claim of the antivaccine movement since the 1990s, that vaccines cause autism. During this stage, “new school” antivaxxers started consorting with “old school” antivaxxers like Andrew Wakefield and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and, as a result, imbibing their more general hostility to all vaccines. Because they were unaware that there is nothing new under the sun in antivax narratives and conspiracy theories, they were, unsurprisingly, attracted to the older, more general versions of the false and pseudoscientific claims that had been made against COVID-19 vaccines. It’s as though light bulbs started going off in the brains of new school “I’m just anti-COVID-19 vaccine” antivaxxers, leading them to proclaim, “Gee, all vaccines do the same horrible things that COVID-19 vaccines do! All vaccines must do more harm than good, not just COVID-19 vaccines!” And thus merged the new school and old school to become just one big happy antivax family again.

Now, after millions of deaths worldwide and nearly three and a half years after the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we’ve reached a new stage: “New school” antivaxxers” trying to outdo “old school” antivaxxers in peak stupidity, which brings me back to Steve Kirsch, who excels at rediscovering hoary old antivax tropes, marveling over them as though they were new and he was the first to discover them, and then selling them to his credulous readers with more verve and enthusiasm than any 19th century snake oil salesman could muster.

As you might recall, Steve Kirsch is wealthy, wealthy tech bro turned antivax conspiracy theorist in the age of COVID-19. Known before the pandemic for being one of the independent inventors of the optical mouse back in the 1980s and having founded Infoseek in the 1990s. Early in the pandemic Kirsch founded the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund (CETF) in order to fund research into off-label treatments for COVID-19 using existing drugs already having FDA approval for other diseases. He donated $1 million himself and solicited donations from others. So far, not so bad, right? It actually wasn’t a bad idea. The problem, however, is that Kirsch didn’t seem to understand how clinical research works and what the failure rate is for testing repurposed drugs for pretty much anything, which made it unsurprising that things started going horribly wrong with Kirsch descending into COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories, in the process becoming what the MIT Technology Review once called a “misinformation superspreader.”

Basically, failure of research by scientists funded by CETF to validate ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as magic bullets to treatment seemed to break Kirsch, who rapidly descended into conspiracy theories about these repurposed drugs. Then, predictably, when the new mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, followed by vaccine mandates in a variety of situations, it didn’t take long at all for Kirsch to turn rabidly anti-COVID-19 vaccine. Now, he’s trying to “prove” that vaccines—not just COVID-19 vaccines—kill babies, because of course he is. Let’s look at his rationale (such as it is):

They are lying to you.

Most of the SIDS cases (likely 75% or more) are due to the childhood vaccines. Vaccines are the main cause of autism as well, likely 75% or more.

In fact, pediatric clinics that avoid vaccines have zero, or near-zero, rates of SIDS and autism.

In this article, I’m going to discuss how just two black swans can destroy the medical consensus by proving that the medical community couldn’t have gotten it right on their claims that vaccines don’t cause autism or SIDS:

  • A police officer who investigated 300 SIDS cases over a 7 year period (about 3 to 4 cases per month), observed that 75% of the cases happened within 48 hours after a vaccine.
  • A couple who got their triplets (not identical) vaccinated all developed autism within hours after the shot (and each other).

These anecdotes happened, and they are “statistically impossible” to have happened by chance (at least not in our lifetime).

I don’t believe it is possible to attack this data or explain it away.

Wanna bet, Mr. Kirsch? Oh wait. Scratch that. He does, but only in the most rigged way possible and then dodging even that sort of bet even though he was the one making the bet and then doxxing and suing anyone who calls him out for his dishonest behavior. Never mind.

Instead, let’s look at his “data.” I’m not going to discuss his claims that vaccines cause autism, at least not here, because, as is the case of nearly all new school antivaxxers, he merely regurgitates the same old misinformation, pseudoscience, bad science, and cherry picked science that antivaxxers have been citing for decades. I will, however, note that I did discuss the specific case that he mentions above, and I did it five years ago. One case does not trump epidemiological evidence, nor is it “statistically impossible,” particularly when the story isn’t clear and a combination of selective memory and confirmation bias could easily explain it.

Instead, let’s get to the evidence that Kirsch finds so compelling for a link between vaccines and SIDS:

A police officer in a town of 350,000 investigated 3 to 4 SIDS cases a month for the past 7 years. She realized early in the process that gathering vaccine data was useful. So she has 7 years worth of data and it shows that over half the cases happened within 1 week from a vaccine. 

That is statistically impossible if the vaccines are not causing SIDS.

You can see Ben Tapper talk about her and her direct testimony.

She doesn’t come up publicly with her name and her department to avoid retaliation. She brought it up to her superiors but was told to keep it to herself by her bosses.

What struck me immediately reading the very first paragraph of Kirsch’s “executive summary” is something that likely will strike my regular readers too: ” She realized early in the process that gathering vaccine data was useful.” In other words, she was looking for a connection between vaccines and SIDS. She clearly believed from the beginning that vaccines cause SIDS.

Kirsch includes this video of the woman claiming to be a police officer who “investigated” SIDS deaths in her city:

“She doesn’t come up publicly with her name and her department to avoid retaliation”? But apparently she does videos, as if no one who might know here would recognize her if they happened to see this video.

The first thing I noticed is how Jennifer (no last name) weaves a tale of how the medical examiner would “leave no stone unturned” looking for a potential cause of the death, including smoking in the house, how the baby was feeding, health issues, etc., but would not look at vaccinations. In other words, she’s weaving a classic conspiracy theory-style narrative of babies dying but the ME ignoring the “obvious” cause. So Jennifer “started doing my own digging” and started looking at vaccination histories and:

…found out that because vaccines do not have liability, that manufacturers do not carry liability, then the medical examiners were not obligated to put vaccines on the report. And this is what really started my journey on investigating vaccines…

She further characterizers herself as having been raised to “question everything.” Yet she notes that she never saw a SIDS report that didn’t list some symptoms on it. What she really means is findings, not symptoms, as the findings she mentions are petechiae, small bleeds, found in the lungs and the brain, which, she points out, are also found in shaken baby syndrome but somehow doctors could tell the difference between traumatic and non-traumatic petechiae. Jennifer is amazed that these could be found if the baby “just died,” but hypoxic deaths can be associated with such findings. In any event, it’s no surprise that Jennifer did not vaccinate her children.

The second thing that I wondered about was exactly what cases Jennifer was investigating. SIDS is a subclassification of what is now generally called SUID, or sudden unexpected infant death, defined by the CDC as the “sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation.” The CDC further notes:

About 3,400 babies in the United States die suddenly and unexpectedly each year. A thorough investigation is necessary to learn what caused these deaths. Sudden unexpected infant deaths include sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation in a sleeping environment, and other deaths from unknown causes. Although the SUID rate has declined since 1990s, significant racial and ethnic differences continue.

A declining rate of SUID would rather argue against vaccines being the cause, given that, as antivaxxers love to point out, the vaccine schedule expanded in a major way in the 1990s. Indeed, here is the incidence of SIDS by year since 1980 from the American SIDS Institute taken from CDC statistics:

SIDS incidence
SIDS incidence is not consistent with vaccines as a cause.

And here is the incidence compared to the incidence of other causes of infant death, all added up to produce the incidence of SUID:

SUID incidence
SUID incidence is not consistent with vaccines as a cause.

Another point to consider about SIDS:

SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history.

It’s often called a “diagnosis of exclusion,” meaning it’s the diagnosis that’s given when everything else has been ruled out. But, Tackitt says, often the term SIDS comes up prematurely.

“We find that in many cases, families have been told from the time the ambulance drove up to the time that the clergy saw them in the emergency room … that this is going to be a SIDS death,” Tackitt says. “All that means is, ‘We don’t know.’ Why would we start out saying ‘we don’t know,’ when we haven’t even looked yet?”

The article above also notes that there are around 50-60 cases of SUID in Wayne County, where I live. Wayne County has a population of around 1,757,043, or five times the population of Officer SIDS’s city, making her number implausible and suspect by comparison.

Speaking of implausible numbers, let’s do another bit of math, just to check the plausibility of Jennifer’s story. After all, if Kirsch is going to do math to “prove” that Jennifers’s story is impossible if vaccines don’t cause SIDS, I can do a basic plausibility check. If 36-48 babies a year are dying of SIDS in a city of 350,000, then how would that scale? The current population of the US is around 333 million according to Wikipedia. That makes 350K a little more than 0.1% of the population of the US. Scaling up to the population of the US, 36-48 cases of SIDS/year in a town of 350K people would translate to ~34,251 to 45,668 cases, which would be 10- to 13-fold more cases on a per-population basis than the national average!

By way of further comparison, there are only around 3,800 deaths of children under the age of four (not the age of one, but ages one through four) every year in the US. (And that number is still too high for a wealthy nation!) Whenever I encounter a claim as incredible as Jennifer’s, I find that doing a little basic math often tells you how plausible the claim is. (It’s what I did for the claim that medical errors kill 250,000 people a year, a number that is not very plausible based on simple math and logic.) Jennifer’s claim just doesn’t pass the smell test of basic plausibility just with back-of-the-envelope rough calculations. I might believe a rough estimate of two or three times the incidence of SIDS, but ten ten to thirteen times? That strains credulity. Moreover, there’s no way public health officials would not notice such a “hot spot” of SIDS.

Let’s just put it this way. If 3-4 children are truly dying of SIDS in Jennifer’s medium-sized city every month, then the CDC needs to get there STAT to investigate a rate of SIDS that, by rough calculation realizing that the actual way to calculate SIDS incidence is by live births and not overall population, is at least 10-fold higher than it should be based on the rate in the US overall. Also, if there is a SIDS “hotspot” that intense in Jennifer’s town, it would be highly implausible that vaccines are the cause given that it’s highly unlikely that there is a huge difference in the percentage of babies receiving their regular vaccines according to the CDC schedule on time. More likely what is going on is that 3-4 children/month are not actually dying of SIDS and Jennifer’s story is a load of fetid dingos’ kidneys. I strongly suspect that another reason she won’t divulge where she supposedly investigated all of these cases is because, if she did, then she could be fact-checked. I (and others) could look up the actual state health department statistics for SIDS deaths in her city and compare them to her claims. We could contact her police department and ask how many cases of SIDS have been investigated every year for the last 5-7 years. No doubt Jennifer would consider that “persecution” and part of “Them” trying to “silence” and “cancel” her.

Another thing makes Jennifer’s story dubious. In the video, she claims that most commonly the SIDS deaths occur after the six month vaccinations. If such a large proportion of the SIDS cases she claims to have seen were truly around six months old, that would be inconsistent with the known epidemiology of SIDS, in which the peak incidence is between 1-4 months of age, with 90% of cases occurring before 6 months of age. Her numbers just don’t seem very credible. In fact, given that they can’t be checked against official statistics, they are most likely nonsense produced as a result of selective memory, confirmation bias, and perhaps a biased sample.

Kirsch does the maths himself to try to convince you:

So if there are 300 babies who died of SIDS, we’d expect that 37.5 of them, on average, would happen within a week after a vaccine if the vaccine isn’t causing the death.

So what are the chances of 50% of these deaths (or more) happening within a week after the shot?

The calculation is simple:

>>> poisson.sf(150-1,37.5) 

In other words, it will never happen by chance.

In other words, if SIDS is randomly happening with respect to the time of vaccination, it is impossible to have made this observation. We can cherry pick all we want, we’ll never find a cherry like this to pick. Ever.

I do love, however, the way that Kirsch does statistical probability calculation that assume a random distribution on a clearly non-random sample, though

I love how this genius does probability calculations on a highly nonrandom sample with incomplete and questionable data using statistical methods that assume a random distribution. He’s almost as hilarious as Brian Hooker and his “simplicity” in statistics. It’s so bd that I hardly even care about the 2019 Japanese study that he cherry picked that found that only 22% of deaths—not 50%—occurred within a week of vaccination and was actually way more circumspect in its speculation regarding vaccination and SIDS than represented. (He also didn’t comment on how different its finding was regarding the percent of cases that occurred within seven days of vaccination.) Let’s put it this way. The authors concluded only, “Judgment of the disorders as truly related to vaccination is difficult, but suspicious cases do exist.” That’s a far cry from Kirsch’s taking unverifiable anecdotal numbers from an anonymous police officer and using them to claim that vaccines cause most cases of SIDS.

The bottom line is that Steve Kirsch is one of the most rabid and ignorant antivaxxers I have ever encountered in all the time going back to the turn of the millennium that I’ve been involved in debunking antivax pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. As I’ve been pointing out for years and years now, the epidemiological evidence is clear that vaccination is not associated with SIDS and might actually be protective. Steve Kirsch promises a video stating otherwise. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerously stupid.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

31 replies on “Vaccines and SIDS: Steve Kirsch amps up the stupid”

I’ve commented here before on the research done by Bristol University’s Professor Peter Fleming into whether vaccines cause SIDS. Spoiler alert: they don’t. But it is still shocking how antivaxxers lie to make their case.

With many of these folks, one is tempted to flip the old chestnut around and ask “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”

So basically, Kirsch got one anonymous antivaxx woman on camera, and claims that her single anecdotal and highly questionable testimony is irrefutable evidence that SIDS is caused by vaccines, destroying not just the medical consensus but also THOUSANDS of documented scientific studies over many decades in one fell swoop.

Kirsch must be one of the stupidest people alive. One might even say that Kirsch does to science what Trump does to democracy.

(And oh, it’s of course just a matter of time before this antivaxx woman is identified and her story is checked – and I would not be surprised at all if every claim she made was made up.)

IKR? How can anyone publish video that shows their face and features their unaltered voice on a public website and expect to remain anonymous, even if her first name isn’t really Jennifer.

The problem of course is that it doesn’t matter if every single claim made here by Kirsch or ‘Jennifer’ turns out to be untrue, up to and including if this lady was ever a police woman.
This story is now out there in all its stupidity and ugliness, and will henceforth be part of the antivaxx doctrine, period. At the very least, it will be added to the ever-growing antivaxx Gish Gallop of ‘1,000 reasons why vaccines are Evil’ or something similar.

That’s actually a lot better “documented” than what Steve usually comes up with. Another current example re Covid vaccination:

“On a recorded Twitter space I just did…someone told the story of a PharmD who post-vaccine treated 60 colon cancer patients who were <25 years old. All were vaccinated.”

“someone” told “a story”, an anonymous PharmD who magically had access to vaccination records, and an incredible tale of 60 under-25-year-olds with colon CA who all were vaccinated.

Can you say “bullshit”?

Increasingly, he seems not to care about retaining the tiniest shred of credibility, as long as he gets clicks and attention.

““On a recorded Twitter space I just did…someone told the story of a PharmD who post-vaccine treated 60 colon cancer patients who were <25 years old. All were vaccinated.””

So someone rediscovered selection bias? Cool.

“So you developped an optical mouse?
That don’t impress me much.
I want someone with real knowledge about vaccines.”

A. I wonder if the early treatment issue broke Kirsch or just exposed an inherently closed mind and overconfidence that may have worked better in other areas than in scientific research. What his early treatment issue seems to have shown is that he decides on the conclusion, and anything that does not fit has to be wrong or fraudulent.

That says, he does seem broken. If he was that unable to think clearly and that unable to follow basic standards of behavior (not stalking people), he’d probably have had more issues before.

B. The deep trust in unverifiable (and implausible, as you so nicely show) claims of people he does not know just because they fit his bias actually fits in with overconfidence and closed mind and deep bias.

C. I also wonder about the McDowell story. I do not know what happened there, but as you point out, the story is problematic on its face. I did not find a vaccine court case, but online, Scott Shoemaker has a fund raiser that claimed that they missed the statute of limitations.

Honestly, this is a bit strange. Among other things, this was the time of the Autism Omnibus Proceedings – the decisions came down in early 2009, so that would be within the statute of limitations.

There was some coverage of it, too, and if they immediately suspected vaccines, there were multiple sources that would have directed them. Not impossible, but unlikely, as is the story. There’s no real way to fact check it without a case that won’t happen, unless someone close to the family tells us more, but that also means there’s reason to approach the story with caution.

She was raised to question everything, except for questions about her medical qualifications to make unfounded assertions. The Triple Risk Model forgot to add just asking questions by the po-po.

Wow! If Jennifer is an expert witness for Steve she’s got some ‘splaining to do for these two whoppers: i) doctors can tell the difference between traumatic and non-traumatic petechiae, and ii) vaccines do not carry liability. Steve considers that it is not possible to attack this data (he really means anecdotes)?? Yikes!

Repeatedly Orac has (embarrassingly easily) refuted Steve’s interpretations of vaccine issues. This seems largely because Steve lacks any introspective abilities whatsoever. Steve’s therapist would be wise to encourage him to try an introspection exercise: contact Orac or Dorit for their input BEFORE he writes more about vaccines or liability. If he does that, he might spare himself very public humiliation, repeatedly, and learn to project less and introspect more.

From a Wall St. Journal article about Elon Musk’s recent weirdnesses:

“Before the cult of personality, he would get feedback and adjust the wildness appropriately,” tweeted Fred Lambert, editor of a website devoted to electric cars called Electrek.

“Now with the cult of personality in full force, the feedback loop is broken. He gets validation from the millions of fans who think he can do no wrong, and those who disagree are labeled as the enemy,” wrote Lambert, who has described Musk as his hero.”

Sound familiar? Though with Steve Kirsch, it’s thousands of fans, for whom he must keep ramping up the crazy* to keep them sated.

*both Kirsch and Mercola have promoted the Maui-fires-were-caused-by-directed-energy-weapons conspiracy theory.

Mercola appeared with Mikey yesterday ( NN 54 minutes) where he discussed his banking problems, censorship, depopulation, tyranny and what happens when the internet is shut down. He is recording his accumulated wisdom as a guide for humans so they can treat and save themselves ( 5 USD per month). Mike is preparing a de-centralised, peer to peer alternative so he and his legions can stay in touch during the end times.
I don’t make this stuff up I just report.

Poor Joe Mercola – he’s constantly being debunked, and now de-banked.

Yes, that’s a term for getting one’s banking account(‘s) shut down. A National Review article claims conservatives are being targeted for de-banking, and includes Mercola as a supposed victim of “viewpoint discrimination”.

De-banking looks to be a bit more complicated than what National Review claims. One entity allegedly discriminated against by a Chase subsidiary reportedly was viewed as a “high-risk” customer. The following article notes that high-risk businesses include those linked with fraud, subscription issues, regulatory troubles and negative brand associations (for the latter, they give an example of PayPal not wanting to work with gun dealers or adult businesses).

Whether or not Mercola falls into any of these categories is a matter of speculation, because Chase isn’t talking, for “legal reasons”.

De-banking looks to be a bit more complicated than what National Review claims.

Think about the target audience for National Review [also for Reason and American Spectator]: that population isn’t filled with deep thinkers or people who can deal with complicated issues: they want simple, short answers to complicated questions, and that’s what the “publications” listed give them.

“Mike is preparing a de-centralised, peer to peer alternative so he and his legions can stay in touch during the end times”

I guess he’s having trouble with the concepts of electricity, distance and infrastructure.

Maybe he means ‘end times-lite’.

…And since Mikey thinks wireless/5G is dangerous per mind control and causes cancer his survivalist minions can’t use that.
The wireless system and wired/fibre system will be down or controlled by the eevyil “THEY” anyway so Mikey will have to build his own infrastructure.
Watch for his techs… They’ll be the ones up on poles stretching string between tin cans while wearing flower planters for hard hats like DEVO.
Have fun.

Pierre Kory recently claimed he comes from the college of Steve Kirsch in an interview with Paul Thomas, Elizabeth Mumper.

That’s not the resume booster you think it is Pierre.

After his proclaiming on Twitter last December that he would never vaccinate himself or his family again, it tracks, though.

Since reading Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” I see any rich conservative libertarian’s pseudoscience as just a tool used to manipulate Republican voters to want deregulation and tax cuts on the rich. What he’s really upset about is pandemic mitigation. You could say I’m now a conspiracy theorist, except that it’s well documented that this is exactly what the rich tech and fossil fuel bros are spending their money on and why they’re so interested in anti-vax/mask covid denial.

I see any rich conservative libertarian’s pseudoscience as just a tool used to manipulate Republican voters to want deregulation

Good point. That brand of libertarian want to claim they’re “self made” [don’t all of them want that?] so one of their goals is to get all of the safety nets and aids they themselves used on their way to the top removed so that “others” won’t have the same opportunities. It’s just more of their “might makes right” and “people are poor and sick because they deserve to be” mentality.

In one place Kirsch says “A police officer … observed that 75% of the cases happened within 48 hours after a vaccine.” In another he says: “So she has 7 years worth of data and it shows that over half the cases happened within 1 week from a vaccine.” Which is it 75% within 48h or 50% within 1 week?

Why be so precise about statistics, and then be so imprecise about the data? If you wanted to bluff with data of unclear provenance, wouldn’t it be better to be precise and consistent about what the bogus data are?


I just went back and watched the Ben Tapper video about this “police officer.” He claims that there weren’t 3-4 cases of SIDS per month investigated by the whole department, but 3-4 cases per month per investigator, including this woman’s husband, which cranks up the estimate by at least double and makes it at least twice as implausible.

Dunno what “broke” Kirsch, but the intactness of Dr. Robert Malone (self-proclaimed “inventor” of mRNA vaccines turned antivaxer) is open to question. In response to claims by another antivaxer of some prominence, Karen Kingston, that Malone was involved in a CIA plot to assassinate her, Malone responded thusly on Substack:

“As some of you may know, I write about fifth generation warfare from the point of view of someone who has been constantly subjected to it for about three years. Day in and day out. Five, ten times a day. Coordinated waves of attacks, some clearly coming from corporate media cooperating with the US Government and Pharma, others from the fevered imaginations of a wide variety of individual actors with a wide variety of motivations, and some coming from coordinated cyberstalker teams of bots and trolls – which the Epoch Times has documented are at least partially paid for and facilitated by the Foundation for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

It’s a very lengthy and detailed article, such that my eyes glazed over about halfway through, but if you want to get the flavor of a truly dramatic paranoia-laden crank fight, check out the summary on Natural News. Looks like Mike Adams is pissed off about mobilizing the Freedom Force in vain. 🙁

The alternative to his being a liar is that he’s just dumb. 50% within 48 hours and 75% within a week is at least something not completely barred by possibility. The other way round is.
I suppose we must allow for the possibility (to be charitable – likelihood is is more likely) that people who believe him are too damned dumb to catch the conflict in the claims.

Asserting that someone is “broken” or “just dumb” or “one of the stupidest people alive” isn’t a precise hypotheses. These are basically figurative expressions of incredulity about specific actions or statements projected back into a general characteristic of the source. But to the extent we may take these statements more literally, they’re clearly wrong.

The clue here is Dorit’s observation of Kirsch: “If he was that unable to think clearly… he’d probably have had more issues before.” Well, if he was GENERALLY that unable to think clearly, he’d be all but unable to navigate everyday life now. Which is to say his anti-vax screeds are a level of “off” so extreme that if they typified all his mental activities he wouldn’t be able to operate his computer and generate more Substack posts.

Malone’s beyond-General-Ripper paranoid conspiracy raving falls into the same category. Anyone generally that bonkers would be residing in the kind of hospital ward where they make sure the patients don’t have access to sharp objects.

Between “broken” and “stupid” as the source of “dumb” claims, (Which are typically, I’d argue, more bizarre than dumb). I definitely think it’s “broken”. But it’s not the PERSON who’s broken, just some maybe fairly narrow aspect of their personas. I mean, I’ve encountered several people during my life who seemed perfectly functional or ‘normal’ unless/until their attention turned to some weird obsession, resulting in a detour to crazy town. I’d guess many of you have similar experiences. This is, of course, all the more acute when we’re talking about internet personas, which are often quite divorced from meatspace personas residing in the same brain.

The reason I think this distinction between stupid whole-person and broken facet relates to how we conjecture what, if anything, might be done about the deleterious effects on public health the sickness exemplified by Kirsch represents. Kirsch himself is not such a big deal — we’ve always had and always will have a certain number of people engaged in weird campaigns and conspiracy theories. However, in the past these were mainly confined to the social fringe where we could comfortably point and laugh along with Orac’s takedown’s in the Friday Dose of Woo.

No more. Kirsch (and Mike Adams) may have only a fraction of Musk’s fans individually, but they all interact and influence one another, collectively reaching a very large audience.

I shall say again that we need to look at these phenomena not in isolation, but in the context of the fact that ~70% of people who identify as belonging to one of our two major political parties are enwrapped in a thoroughly upside-down “reality” and a cult devoted to returning a criminal narcissistic psychopath to the POTUS. Against that background, Kirsch’s antivax kookery doesn’t seem like much of an outlier.

As they say, you can’t fix stupid, so saying the people involved in antivax crusades are just too dumb to know better is too close to a shrugging resignation. If what we’re seeing is closer to a form of mass mental illness, cult psychology/sociology or the like, we at least have historical evidence that such pathologies come and go, and cultures, like individual cult members, may emerge from the fever and return to more normal, productive lives. Not that I have the answers as to how we might help this along, the mass scale version of therapy, but it’s something we can think about instead of just throwing up our hands.

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