Threats, Facts, and Reads #3.29.21

Dramatic Drug Claims, Everything to Know About Covid Variants, Recap of Pandemic Fake News, and the WHO's Report on Coronavirus' Origin Leaked


  1. New from Novel Science

    • Claims about Immigration Numbers and Drug Seizures Conflict with the Data

  2. Covid Update

    • Everything You Need to Know about Variants

  3. Threats

    • LifeSiteNews Continues to Publish Demonstrably False Claims

  4. Fact Checks

    • Pandemic Fake News Recap

    • Facebook posts mislead on the meaning of 'AstraZeneca'

    • Birx Says Covid Deaths Could Have Been ‘Decreased Substantially’

    • Is UN Chief 'Deeply Shocked' by Conditions at Migrant Detention Centers?

  5. Research

    • WHO Report on Origin of Novel Coronavirus Out Mar 30th But Part of It Has Already Leaked

    • Exercise generates immune cells in the bone

    • Million-year-old DNA provides a glimpse of mammoth evolution

    • Depression Affects How We See

  6. Recommended Reads

    • The Hard Lesson of Dr. Deborah Birx

    • Propaganda Tactic: Decontextualization

  7. How to Support Our Projects, Like the Disinformation Database and Newsletter

New from Novel Science

Data visualizations exploring the data from US Customs and Border Protection compared to the claims by media and elected-officials.

US Fertility Rate (1800 to 2020) compared to yearly abortions and abortions per live birth on a dual-axis.

To cover the issue of immigration we also had to take a close look at the fertility rate in the US. This led us to take a look at the data from 1800 through to the present. What we found was both surprising and far too much to include in the immigration data post, so it will be its own upcoming report.

Covid-19 Update

The US is breaking vaccination records and giving jabs at a pace previously unthinkable.

Overall, COVID-19 cases have dropped off steeply in the last couple of months. The seroprevalence (percentage of people who have immunity against the virus) varies by state, but you can see how your state stacks up below.

Nationwide Commercial Laboratory Seroprevalence Survey

Everything You Need to Know About Variants

Variant Name: B.1.1.7

This variant is estimated to have first emerged in the UK during September 2020. Since December 20, 2020, several countries have reported cases of the B.1.1.7 lineage, including the United States.

  • This variant spreads faster and more easily.

  • Early reports found no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of disease or vaccine efficacy, but scientists in the UK where it first appeared now question that and found evidence it may be increasing the risk of death.

Variant Name: B.1.351

This variant was first identified in South Africa, in samples from October 2020. This variant has since been found in many other countries including the United States.

  • B.1.351 also appeared in Zambia late December 2020, at which time it appeared to be the dominant strain.

  • B.1.351 variant does not appear to cause more deadly or severe illness.

  • Some evidence shows the current vaccines might be less effective against it but that’s not certain. Even if they are less effective, it’s unlikely the virus would totally outmaneuver the vaccines. Vaccines should offer at least partial protection.

Variant Name: P.1

  • The P.1 variant is a branch of the B.1.1.28 variant family that was first found in Japan in four travelers from Brazil.

  • P.1 appears to spread more easily and may differ enough that the vaccines or natural infection might not protect against it as well.

    • Cause for concern: The P.1 variant was identified in 42% of cases in a big outbreak from Dec 2020. This was the same location that had a massive outbreak in Oct 2020 where an estimated 75% of people had been infected.

      • Surging again Dec 2020 may mean the natural immunity people got from their Oct 2020 infection doesn’t protect against P.1. We can’t say for sure yet.

      • This variant was identified in the United States at the end of January 2021.

Percentage of Cases by Strain, Grouped in 2-Week Blocks

We have seen cases rising in the US in places where we would not expect them. Variants are not all the same. Some spread faster while not making people sicker. Some variants appear deadlier.

Michigan is the most worrisome example and it’s no illusion. The cases truly are rising. Deaths haven’t begun to rise yet, but we know those are likely to trail behind cases by 2-6 weeks.

We are in an arms race and the struggle is that everyone is tired of the pandemic, but it is not over. By failing to give the home stretch our all, we could bring about a worst-case scenario where we end up in with re-infection waves all around the country. It’s like 2020 but worse because we just lived through 2020.

It doesn’t have to be like that, but it will if we ignore the situation.

We can see that activity is still down from the norm though not a reduced as this time last year. This varies widely across the country, from state to state. Whether you have mandates or not, please do what you can and urge others to do so as well. We’re so close.

Percent Positive Testing for Past 30 Days


Fact Checks

Recapping the major disinformation narratives related to Covid-19

from EuVsDisinfo

And similar, disinformation on the vaccine:

The Hoaxlines database has over 650 disinformation records and at least 225 directly relate to vaccines. Disinformation and other tactics used in information operations aim to sow distrust in Western institutions and to hurt the US from the inside. A military engagement is not something adversaries could win, but they can win a battle of influence. Our increasingly divisive sentiments are the proof.

Report a Claim/Story to Hoaxlines

Visit Hoaxlines Public Database

Facebook posts mislead on the meaning of 'AstraZeneca'

Facebook posts shared hundreds of times claim AstraZeneca, the name of a British-Swedish drugmaker, means "weapon that kills" in a combination of three languages.

  • The posts circulated online after millions of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines were administered to people around the world. 

  • The claim is misleading: the name "AstraZeneca" was created from the names of two other companies.

  • "Astra" derives from the Greek word "astron", meaning "star", while "Zeneca" refers to "Zeneca Group", a British company whose name was invented by a branding agency.

Birx Says Covid Deaths Could Have Been ‘Decreased Substantially’

In a series of interviews aired by CNN, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and other Trump veterans tell of their own pandemic battles. Variants and eased restrictions are pushing cases up to around the United States.

If the US had performed as well as South Korea, around 10,000 Americans would have died.

  • Over 543,000 people have died in the US, and we account for nearly 20% of deaths worldwide while accounting for just 4% of people in the world.

Is UN Chief 'Deeply Shocked' by Conditions at Migrant Detention Centers?


WHO Final Report on Virus’ Origin Out on Mar 30th

A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press. The full report will be published tomorrow, March 30, 2021.

  1. Very likely to likely: Virus spread from bat to a second animal before jumping to humans.

  2. Likely: Virus moved directly from a bat to a human.

  3. Unlikely: Virus spread through “cold-chain” food products.

  4. Very Unlikely: Virus escaped from a laboratory setting.

  5. Excluded: Man-made virus has been excluded. This virus was not created in a lab. Like plastic surgery, that would leave evidence.

Some wonder whether scientific disinterest in further research concerning the laboratory origin might feed mistrust. In that view, exhaustively exploring this possibility, however unlikely, might assuage doubt. Others argue that no inquiry will convince those who believe without evidence.

We saw a similar scenario when scientists set up a lab in a region that had frequent hemorrhagic fever outbreaks to study the viruses. There was an ebola outbreak in proximity to the new lab and the scientists were immediately blamed, although they had nothing to do with it and outbreaks happened all the time before the lab existed. For some who believed a lab was the source, no inquiry would ever be enough. Where we call it quits on research into it is the question.

US scientists will be examining the report critically and asking the questions needed to ascertain whether this report is reliable or whether we should be skeptical. Dr. Anthony Fauci commented to AP:

“I’d also would like to inquire as to the extent to which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination. I want to read the report first and then get a feel for what they really had access to -- or did not have access to.”

How COVID-19 Affects the Brain

Over 120 million people have been infected with coronavirus and 2.6 million have died. Respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms are accompanied by short- and long-term neuropsychiatric symptoms and long-term brain dysfunction, disorder, or conditions.

  • In layman’s terms, the virus is messing with people’s ability to think clearly, sense of smell, and appears to lead to new mental illness diagnoses like new-onset anxiety, depression, psychosis, seizures, and even suicidal behavior.

  • These strongly suggest independent brain damage happening.

Exercise generates immune cells in the bone

A special type of bone-cell progenitor (a word describing an immature cell capable of becoming different types of cells versus a cell that has matured and is specific, like a red blood cell) has been identified in the bone marrow and shown to support the generation of immune cells in response to movement. It was known that movement can stimulate the immune system, but the advance in Shen and colleagues’ work provides one reason why this is the case.

Million-year-old DNA provides a glimpse of mammoth evolution

DNA has been retrieved from mammoth specimens that are more than one million years old. Comparing the genomes of these animals and their descendants provides insights into the changes that occurred as one species evolved into another. 

Depression affects how we see

"What came as a surprise was that depressed patients perceived the contrast of the images shown differently from non-depressed individuals," says Academy of Finland Research Fellow Viljami Salmela.

Patients suffering from depression perceived the visual illusion presented in the patterns as weaker and, consequently, the contrast as somewhat stronger, than those who had not been diagnosed with depression.

"The contrast was suppressed by roughly 20% among non-depressed subjects, while the corresponding figure for depressed patients was roughly 5%," Salmela explains.

Identifying the changes in brain function underlying mental disorders is important in order to increase understanding of the onset of these disorders and of how to develop effective therapies for them.

This is why the researchers consider it necessary to carry out further research on altered processing of visual information by the brain caused by depression.

Recommended Reads

The hard lesson of Dr. Deborah Birx

Opinion by Megan Ranney

Think back to March 2020. The novel coronavirus pandemic had just been declared a pandemic, and the federal response was already being botched. With the White House alternating between chaos and denial, the nation was looking to two physicians, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, for guidance. They were teammates in shaping our country's response to the novel coronavirus. Although neither was seen as perfect, we were all hopeful.

How times have changed. Over the last year, Fauci has received widespread and well-deserved acclaim, while Birx's previously sterling reputation has been tarnished -- perhaps irrevocably.

As a clinician-scientist (and public health professional), I have criticized Birx. But I also have to wonder:

What Went Wrong?

Propaganda Tactic: Decontextualization

Decontextualizing means presenting all or part of something in a way that alters its meaning. The most common form of decontextualization is a partial quote. When people omit parts of a statement, the quote misleads listeners or readers about the original author’s intent.

Viral Decontextualization:

Here we have Margaret Sanger making a seemingly racist and fascist comment, followed by Hillary Clinton saying how much she admires Margaret Sanger. The juxtaposition leads the reader to conclude that Ms. Clinton is both racist and fascist. It also suggests that Planned Parenthood is a part of a larger diabolical plot.

The convincing aspect is that these are both authentic quotes. It’s the presentation, free from context, that misleads. Here is Sanger’s statement in its entirety:

We don’t want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.

The full quote reveals a different meaning. Sanger was singling out the idea of wanting to “exterminate the Negro population” as a misconception she wanted to avoid rather than a dictum she wanted to follow. Frequently the quote is decontextualized for political reasons.

Read More

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