Can there be a winner in this debate?

I recently subscribed to a magazine that has led me to some deep thinking. I highly recommend the Skeptical Inquirer; you can learn more about the publication here. Two of its articles immediately caught my attention because they deal with a current and critical aspect of American society.

The first was their cover article, The Social Dynamics of Conspiracy Rumors by Jeffrey Victor. His piece states that we should be using the term “conspiracy rumors” instead of “theories” because that’s exactly what they are. Let’s recall the old demonstration of twenty people in a circle where the moderator whispers a two-sentence story in the ear of the first person. The story is then passed on and heard by each group member. Of course, it gets embellished and changed along the way, and by the time the last person reveals what they heard from the nineteenth group member the story has substantially changed since it was told to the first person. I call the collection of folks in the group “interpreters,” which is the precise role they’re playing.

In 1993, Mr. Victor coined the term Satanic Panic and wrote a book having that name along with the subtitle The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. The book currently retails in hardcover for sixty-six bucks so it must be great, or did I just exploit another contemporary rumor that the more money something costs the better it is?

I don’t want to push us out to the sea of obtusity here, so I’ll move on. Victor’s point is we humans tend to spread rumors. Once we finish talking about the weather, the next step of routine human conversation may be adding perceived value, “Hey, did you know Beverly is having an affair with the boss?” It isn’t a fact, it’s not even a theory, it’s just a question. When asked how the rumor-sharer knows this, they will likely say, “Well, I can’t swear it’s true, it’s just something I know. She’s been so happy lately.”

The conspiracy is hatched prematurely by the rumor mongering and the “could be true,” for many becomes “absolutely accurate.” Think about the recent comment of a county official in New Mexico who refused to certify their local primary election. When asked if he has any proof there was fraud in the process, he said, “I have no proof, I just know it’s true.” There you have the essence of a conspiracy rumor.

Poor Beverly, unknown to anyone else, has just gotten pregnant by her husband of more than fifteen years. She’s not having an affair; she’s ecstatic to have finally been gifted a baby after a decade of trying. Yet a co-worker is all too ready to read into her joy and spread a false and damaging rumor.

Election fraud is a serious offense in America we must all take seriously. Donald Trump is driven to constantly repeat the lie that the 2020 election was rigged, and massive fraud took place. He does this solely because his adolescent ego cannot allow him to admit he lost. The man will risk going to jail, having people killed and destroying our faith in democratic elections just because he cannot say, “It was a fair and free election and Joe Biden won.” As we have witnessed, his rhetoric led to “self-righteous vigilantism,” causing people to be injured and killed.

I’m sure Mo Brooks, who just lost his primary election runoff in Alabama to Katie Britt and will no longer be on the ticket for the US Senate seat, could very easily say, “The election was rigged,” but what good would that do? Brooks spoke at the Stop the Steal rally on January 6th, 2020 but arrived on Trump’s shit list because he did not fully support Trump’s election lies. Trump first endorsed Brooks then pulled his support, and most experts will say that is precisely why Brooks lost. You see, being loyal to Trump is not a part-time job; you must be all in or not in. It’s like the old mob boss warning, “You are either for me, or you are against me.”

People on the far right and in deeply red states have faith that Trump knows better than they do when it comes to candidates. He could endorse a full-on Nazi or KKK member and they will look around the facts and truth to blindly put the future of the republic in his hands. Why? This brings me to the other article in the Skeptical Inquirer.

That piece concerns a lawsuit the Center for Inquiry (CFI) has brought against Boiron, Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic products. You probably know someone who has confidence such medicines actually work and bring them health and happiness. Large drugstore chains such as Walgreens and CVS sell these products and make healthy profits on them, yet scientists claim they have no therapeutic value.

Fake Medicine

The article explains that the CFI investigators and lab techs found one product touted as a cure for nervous agitation in children was nothing more than table sugar diluted in water. You need to know CFI is the parent organization behind the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, but that doesn’t make their claims less true. They are working to get the FDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services to do something about Boiron’s labeling and claims. The CFI believes the company knows there is next to nothing effective about most of what they sell, and even some of what they market, like the Saccharum Officinale mentioned above, could be harmful to those who take it, like kids with diabetes. There are no warnings on the packaging.

Now we arrive at the title of my blog post for this day, Critical Versus Faith-Based Thinking. If these homeopathic fake meds were a vaccine, most Americans would want the FDA and the CDC to verify every aspect of what they will put into our arms or mouths. On the other hand, these potions have been marketed and sold as medicines for so long, we just believe. Why?

The human body is less a mystery than ever before and we should trust and follow the kind of critical thinking that flows from science. Suppose I offered you a six-ounce bottle of a colored liquid to cure lethargy for only twelve dollars. You might be tempted because the bottle is thick and handsome and bears a fancy label with a medical-sounding kind of name and a list of ingredients. If you’re a critical thinker, you will probably check the details on that impressive label to discover one of the ingredients is eight percent dog urine. Would you still want it?

Dr. Oz

I bought a bottle of a vitamin supplement to give me energy and make me lose weight. I thought my doctor had recommended the vitamin and it was also endorsed by TV Doctor Mehmet Oz. After taking it for a few days I learned that my doctor’s portal had been hacked and the recommendations weren’t coming from her, but a nefarious player in this product’s company. Dr. Oz also said he never endorsed the supplement, although he didn’t sue the company. I eventually learned it was nothing but water containing just a bit or red dye and sugar. I threw the bottle away.

Donald Trump is a snake oil salesperson who still has customers giving him money because they simply have faith in what he sells; they don’t read the label. Congress and the January Sixth Select Committee are doing a fantastic job of exposing him and all his criminal activities, but there will be others selling the same sugar water. If you believe a molecule can cure what ails you and God will make it all work, bless you, but what should you do when that one molecule is gone and you’re left with empty promises and nothing gets better? Maybe it’s time to leave the stupidity-inducing conspiracy rumors behind and become more critical about your own safety. Might I remind you that a million people died of Covid-19 and their families know that death is not a rumor.










  1. I was wondering how long it would take you to say the words “Snake oil salesman,” and there is certainly a lot of evidence to back that up. But something that became abundantly clear in the last (Tuesday’s) select committee hearing is that a snake oil salesman is a rather benign bottom-feeder compared with Donald Trump. The historically American traveling trickster is willing to bilk a lot of people out of a little money, and move on. What Trump has done makes snake oil salesman seem like a career aspiration for petty thieves. The testimony of everyday poll-workers and state-government employees who take their jobs seriously is that Trump is a thug — a gangster who intimidates anyone who won’t roll over to get their bellies scratched. No wonder he thought he could pull off stealing this election — he’s been doing business this way all his life. I know this is not the main point you are making here, but “elevating” that man to the role of someone who is just slick enough to empty your wallet with a wink and a grin insults snake oil salesmen, everywhere! Where are the alarm bells and whistles. The damage has already been DONE by conspiracy rumors.

  2. I have always thought that people who gossip — because that’s another name for rumors — do it because it makes them feel important to be more knowledgeable than the person who doesn’t know the REAL story. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that political rumors and gossip spread so readily among those who can’t be bothered to learn the truth. Or find the truth less exciting. The new rumor not only juices up conversation — or coverage, if I may — it makes the gabber “in the know” a more important link in the chain. I fully believe some of these rumors have leaped to such ridiculous conclusions simply because the sharer has felt compelled to add something even more sensational that what he or she HEARD. In the long run, we should be looking at why the reality of our national life appears so boring to rumor mongers they’d rather whisper in the back rows of Democracy, than learn the truth!

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