Natural selection is the mechanism which was shown to drive evolution by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, and was explained in great detail in Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of Species’ which was published in 1859. How it works is fairly simple to understand, although it is often cloaked in jargon. Simply put, in natural selection, genetic mutations that are beneficial to an individual’s survival make them more likely to survive and reproduce. That is it in a nutshell, but a bit more detail can be found in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago on the evolution of the concept of evolution1.
The archetypal example given is usually that of the neck of the giraffe. If you took 1,000 giraffes and measured their necks, they’re not all going to be the same length. Some will be slightly longer than average, others will be slightly shorter than average. That difference from one giraffe to the next is at least in part determined by each giraffe’s genes. If those with longer necks are more likely to survive and therefore to leave proportionally more offspring than those with shorter necks, then the necks of the next generation will be just as variable, but the average will have shifted slightly towards the longer necks. The process carries on generation after generation after generation. That is a simplistic explanation, and the process is much more involved than can be explained in a single paragraph or a single blog post2,3.
We are now at the mercy of the SARS-Cov-2 virus and many governments, but not all, are attempting to reduce the number of their citizens being infected and dying from the COVID-19 disease. And yet we see assorted groups of not very bright people gathering in protest at the efforts to stop themselves from contracting the disease. Fortunately, in Australia, these people are only armed with placards and conspiracy theories, whereas in the United States, in addition to conspiracy theories and placards, they are armed with automatic weapons. In Australia, they are only aided and abetted by the Murdoch media, whereas in the United States, they are aided and abetted by the Murdoch media and the Mango Mussolini. Almost all these protesters eschewed the use of physical distancing, masks and sundry other behaviours which may protect them from becoming infected. In Australia, the protesters spent a large proportion of their time shouting ‘arrest Bill Gates’, in a slavish copying of the protesters in the US. This is quite bizarre as Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation have donated $250 million to help fund the development of a vaccine4. While normal people were occasionally upset at the crashing of Gates’ Microsoft applications, none of them thought it was all a conspiracy to control their thoughts or their sex lives.
Apparently, these gullible fools believe that Bill Gates has somehow been involved in the creation of the SARS-Cov-2 virus; at least those that don’t think it is caused by the 5G mobile phone network, that is. There were also those who believed the pandemic was a cover for the government to gain control over the population. One of the organisers of the Victorian protest, Fano Panayides, said: “If this thing was half as deadly as they said it was, with half the population out there still working – even with the lockdown orders – this thing would’ve spread like wildfire through Australia. There’d be no stopping it.” It is great to know that epidemiologists can rely on informed advice like this. Some others at the protest believed the pandemic was orchestrated by ‘globalists’5,6. Of course, some of the people at the protest were anti-vaxxers (anti-vaccination activists), who will attach themselves to any group of fruitcakes if they think it will get them publicity.
At least one person at the protest was carrying placard listing all sorts of seriously silly conspiracy theories. This placard was headed “WWG1WGA’. This is an abbreviation of a motto ‘where we go one, we go all’ from a bunch of conspiracy theorists known as QAnon7. Also on this placard was “Sheeple No More” and “Educate Yourself Research” (?). This was followed by: “#QAnon, #Plandemic, #Mkultra, #Epstein Island, #Clinton Emails, #The great awakening, #Ritual child sacrifice, #False flag, #Geoengineering, #Illuminati, #Vril Society, #End the fed, #Adrenochrome, #Tesla free energy, #Operation paperclip, #Spirit cooking, #Fiona Barrett, #5G is dangerous, #Psyops, #Vaccine damage, #Mockingbird media, #Lucifer telescope8.
While this list of conspiracies is too long to go into here, I’ll deal with a couple of the most ludicrous items. They are:
Plandemic makes a series of false claims about the SARS-Cov-2 being manufactured so big pharma can make a killing selling a vaccine, and that all vaccines harm people and are designed to control people9.
Illuminati makes the claim that a group which started and ceased to exist in Bavaria in the late 1700s is still in existence and is running the planet10.
Adenochrome is a drug for the liberal elite of Hollywood made from actual human brain stem, and which contains hormones from the adrenal gland. Hillary Clinton manufactures this drug by torturing children in a pizza shop (if you order a cheese pizza that’s code)11.
Lucifer telescope is a telescope (yes, named Lucifer) that the Vatican owns and which they have used to find extra-terrestrials. They are supposed to have found them but the Vatican and, of course, the Jesuits are keeping it secret12.
The fact these people are so supremely gullible as to believe such obviously ludicrous conspiracy theories has often made me wonder why. A recent book ‘Democracy and Truth’ by University of Pennsylvania historian Sophia Rosenfeld argues that conspiracy theories thrive in societies with a large gap between the governing and the governed classes. Such conditions allow some of the governed to reject the advice of experts as out of touch with “the people”, and to create a “populist epistemology” associated with an ‘oppositional’ culture.
Rosenfeld states that: Conspiracy theorists tend to reject science and its methods as a source of information about the real world. Instead, such people prefer to embrace ‘emotional honesty, intuition and truths of the heart’ over scientific evidence, testing and expertise. Modern science in so esoteric, so specialised and advancing so rapidly, and is so alien to everyday experience, it simply accentuates the gap between experts and non-experts, making it possible for populists to interpret their advice as tainted.
Psychologists have also studied those who are prone to believe in conspiracy theories and one recent study by Lantian et al. (2017) summarised the characteristics associated with a person who is likely to believe in conspiracy theories: Their personality traits include openness to experience, distrust, low agreeability and Machiavellianism14,15.
‘Low agreeability’ refers to a trait of ‘agreeableness’, which psychologists define as how much an individual is dependable, kind and cooperative. Someone with ‘low agreeability’ is an individual who is usually not very dependable, kind or cooperative. ‘Machiavellianism’ refers to a personality trait where a person is so “focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive and exploit others to achieve their goals”14. Lantian et al. (2017) also found that, in terms of cognitive processes, people with stronger conspiracy beliefs are more likely to attribute intentionality where it is unlikely to exist, and to have lower levels of analytical thinking. They also argued that people with a great need to feel unique are more likely than others to endorse conspiracy beliefs because conspiracy theories represent the possession of unconventional and potentially scarce information. It makes them feel special because they feel they are more informed than others about important social and political events. It has also been found that there is a positive correlation between belief in conspiracy theories and individual narcissism, or a grandiose idea of the self14,15.
I’d like to start my own conspiracy theory: that Q, the anonymous initiator of this QAnon drivel is in fact from a Russian hacker farm, who, at Putin’s instruction spread these conspiracies around the web, and is now encouraging these gullible buffoons to ignore measures which protect them from infection, just to see if natural selection actually works against those with lower levels of analytical thinking.