Now is the moment we’ve all been training for. As you know, here at The Rewired Soul, we discuss the importance of using critical thinking and practicing skepticism. On Monday, July 27th, a doctor by the name of Stella Immanuel passionately told the world that not only do we not need masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but hydroxychloroquine is the cure.
Today, we’re going to break down what Dr. Stella Immanuel said and use critical thinking so we can make intelligent decisions. For weeks, COVID numbers have been spiking, and as you saw in a previous video, people still aren’t taking it seriously. It’s of the utmost importance that we know how to critically think about everything being said because we’re literally in a life or death situation.
One of the primary reasons I’m writing this as well is because I’ve had multiple people reach out to me, and I also see people I know sharing this misinformation. You’ve probably noticed this too. In fact, do me a favor, and let me know down in the comments below if you’ve seen people in your life sharing COVID conspiracies on social media.
We’re going to pull out a variety of critical thinking skills, and if you find anything in this piece useful, please share it with others. And remember, as we discussed in a recent video on Andrew Wakefield, insulting those who believe in this misinformation isn’t a good strategy if we hope to change minds.
Countless studies have shown that the best way to get someone to change their mind is to let them come to their own conclusions. When we argue with people, it often makes them believe in the wrong information even more. By simply asking questions and presenting evidence, people will start applying critical thinking naturally.
This is actually one of the ways interventionist helps drug addicts and alcoholics get help. This is a therapeutic technique called Motivational Interviewing. Motivational Interviewing asks the person questions that helps them begin looking at the situation from different angles. So, in this first section, we’re going to look at some of the claims Dr. Stella Immanuel Made and ask questions to see if we can get closer to the truth.
What’s the Motive?
When analyzing potential conspiracies, one of the first things we have to do is ask ourselves, “What’s the motive?” Behind every conspiracy, there are typically claims that a person or group of people is behind it with some nefarious motive. Often times, that motive is financial gains.
What makes conspiracy theories so believable is that there’s often a spec of truth underneath it all. In this case, Dr. Immanuel claims that this is a financial move from Big Pharma. I’ve also seen those who have been sharing this misinformation and attempt to back it up by discussing the fact that Big Pharma is a multi-billion dollar industry only looking out for themselves.
Although I practice critical thinking, this is definitely one of the arguments that could catch me off-guard if I didn’t pause and be skeptical.
I’m a recovering prescription drug addict. I spent almost a decade of my life having my addiction fueled by Big Pharma. My drug dealers weren’t the type of people you see on TV. My drug dealers were doctors who were being manipulated by Big Pharma. As a recovering drug addict who tries to help others, I’ve spoken out publicly many times on this channel and at events about how Big Pharma has turned many of us into addicts.
Due to my own experience with doctors, I can fall for something known as “motivated reasoning”. Motivated reasoning is one of the primary factors that play into why people believe in conspiracies. The phenomenon of motivated reasoning has been studies for years in the fields of cognitive science and social psychology. Motivated reasoning makes us produce justifications for believing information that confirms our beliefs as a way to ease cognitive dissonance.
So, those who already have a reason to distrust Big Pharma are more likely to experience motivated reasoning and believe the claims of Dr. Immanuel. But, if we hope to make the most informed decisions, we need to be aware of our motivated reasoning, step back, and ask questions.
As I saw people share this misinformation and claim that Big Pharma was lying about hydroxychloroquine, they would claim the motivation was money. Well, I know Big Pharma loves money, and if the opioid epidemic has taught us anything, it’s that they don’t mind people dying to line their own pockets. So, to avoid my own motivated reasoning, I started by asking myself a simple question:
“If Big Pharma was doing this for money, why wouldn’t they just start making and selling hydroxychloroquine?”
I want you to ask yourself the same question. If you were Big Pharma and hydroxychloroquine was the cure, wouldn’t you start making it in mass quantities to make a profit? If you remember, the man known as Pharma Bro, Martin Shkreli did this with AIDS medications. He bought the rights to the AIDS medication Daraprim and jacked the price up from $13.50 to $750.
Pharmaceutical companies could make massive amounts of money by producing hydroxychloroquine if it were the answer. In fact, many of them have been making quite a bit of money because after President Trump endorsed this medication as the answer, it began being sold out across the country.
This is another reason we need to practice critical thinking when it comes to these conspiracies. Those who need this medication who struggle with lupus or have malaria benefit from this medication, and they can’t get a hold of it if people are following the misinformation of Dr. Immanuel.
To conclude this section, I want to address some of the rebuttals that may come up. During my own critical thinking process, I try to argue all the possibilities in my head, and some come up when we ask ourselves the motive of Big Pharma.
I believe one argument that would come up would be that Big Pharma can make more money getting funded for research than producing hydroxychloroquine. But, as this pandemic has proceeded, we’ve learned more about the process of racing towards a vaccine. One of the reasons we don’t have preventative vaccines is because our governments don’t buy the 5th vaccine that works; they buy the first.
When the dust settles and a vaccine goes to market, many Big Pharma companies are going to have lost a lot of valuable time and money researching a vaccine that wasn’t purchased.
In this next section, we’re going to discuss some common traits of conspiracy theories and what makes people believe them more than they should.
How to Sell a Conspiracy Theory
In 1954, a group known as The Seekers believed that on December 21st, the world would end, but a UFO was going to come to spare those who believed. The head of The Seekers, Dorothy Martin, convinced a group of people to join her in selling all of their possessions and gathering to be spared from the apocalypse.
During this time, the famous psychologist Leon Festinger predicted that not only would this prophecy not come true, but The Seekers would believe it even more than before. He was right.
Before I tell you how that happened, I want you to pause yourself and ask why someone would believe something even more after it didn’t come true. Rationally, we think that all we need is counter-evidence to change our beliefs, but often times this isn’t the case.
So, what made The Seekers believe the prophecy even more after it didn’t happen? Cognitive dissonance. After the UFO didn’t come, The Seekers started discussing what happened, and they were able to come up with an explanation to ease their cognitive dissonance. What they told themselves was that clearly since they were true believers, God decided to spare the entire world.
To get rid of cognitive dissonance, it was a lot easier to believe they saved the world than that they sold all of their possessions based on a false belief.
You’ll notice something similar happen with modern-day conspiracies. Those who believe in them confabulate a wide range of reasons to believe in the conspiracy even more.
In the age of social media, the best way to sell a conspiracy and get it to spread like wildfire is to tell people to watch it before it gets taken down. As the social media companies try to curb conspiracies and misinformation, they take it down or fact check it. But, like The Seekers, COVID conspiracy theorists just hold their belief even stronger.
They claim that Dr. Immanuel’s talk was taken down because it was true. So, this is when we have to ask the person, “What would it take to make you believe otherwise?”. Often times, they’ll tell you that nothing will change their minds. Although we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it unfortunately takes time for people to change their beliefs. Typically, we can only plant the seed and hope they start thinking about some of the questions we’ve presented them with.
Those who try to spread this information also use one of the oldest sales tactics in the book, which is creating a sense of urgency. To sell the conspiracy, they tell you to watch it before it’s removed. By making people believe that the truth is trying to be hidden, people are going to watch these videos as quick as possible in fear that someone is trying to hide the information.
As you can see in the example on screen, this post claims an ad was banned by YouTube and people need to share it. And it looks like it worked because this post was shared over 255k times.
Avoid Getting Caught in the Conspiracy
No matter what we do or how much we learn, we’re human, so we’re always going to get caught by cognitive biases. You and I are just as susceptible of getting caught up in a conspiracy or misinformation, but we can take action to avoid getting caught by it. Nobody is completely immune, and a prime example is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Doyle was the author of the famous Sherlock Holmes books. Doyle created a character that was the epitome of critical thinking and skepticism, but Doyle even fell for a conspiracy. Due to new technologies with photography, and the world not having as much information as we do now, Doyle fell for The Cottingley Fairies hoax. So, if one of the most rational people in history can fall for a hoax, you and I must stay on guard as well.
Right now, the most dangerous thing we’re facing is doctors who are spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Due to the appeal to authority fallacy, people believe Dr. Immanuel and others must be telling the truth because they have credentials. But, as more information came out about Dr. Immanuel, we found out that she has a history of erroneous claims.
While some argue that people are using her religion as a way to discredit her, that’s not the case. People are using her false claims about proven medical science to discredit her. Some of her claims involve alien DNA being used in medical treatments and that endometriosis is caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.
We must always remember that even doctors can be fallible. Up until the 1800s, doctors couldn’t figure out why so many women were dying during childbirth. It turned out that it was because they weren’t washing their hands. They were transferring infections from corpses to women giving birth. When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis made the discovery that hand washing was the answer, doctors pushed back against him. They believed that it was impossible that people of such high stature as doctors couldn’t possibly have filthy hands.
The world is a complicated, scary place, and we turn to doctors, scientists and experts for answers. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re wrong. So, it’s up to us to do as much research as possible and ask ourselves questions. When presented with a claim, we need to follow it to the logical conclusion. “Who benefits from this?” and “If this is true, then what else has to be true?”
Right now, things are scarier than many of us have ever faced in a lifetime. An invisible virus is infecting and killing us, and the unknown is terrifying. If we hope to get out of this thing safely, we need to start practicing critical thinking and having calm, rational conversations with one another. So, the next time you see someone spreading this information, rather than attacking them, ask them some questions.
If you want to improve your critical thinking skills and learn more about how to separate good from bad science, here are some books I recommend: