Info Wars 2.0: The Bakersfield Doctors, Plandemic, and Anti-Vaxxers vs. Erin Bromage and the Vaxxers

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I've long been fascinated by the question, "How do we decide what to believe?" The question took on extra urgency when fake news became such a pervasive challenge, and it's turbo-charged now that we're trying to make decisions about Covid and our health amidst competing claims from the "Bakersfield doctors," the "Plandemic" video, Anti-Vaxxers, Erin Bromage, Vaxxers, and even within the White House.

The Bakersfield Doctors vs. Erin Bromage

Recently, the "Bakersfield doctors," Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, recorded a viral video claiming the Coronavirus wasn't nearly as contagious, widespread, or concerning as presented by the WHO, the CDC, Fauci, and others. The "Plandemic" video featured Dr. Judy Mikovits claiming that Covid is a global conspiracy to enforce vaccinations. Both videos were widely refuted and removed by YouTube.

Then Erin Bromage, a biology professor, wrote a viral blog post explaining the risks of contracting the Coronavirus and how to avoid or minimize the risks. Her post was widely praised and syndicated by newspapers and websites, including The New York Times.

The Question: Which is True?

How do we decide whether to believe the Bakersfield doctors, Plandemic, the Anti-Vaxxers, or Erin Bromage, Antony Fauci, and the Vaxxers?

Both sets of claims were presented by medical experts. Both were published online, without editors, peer review, or other gatekeepers. Both provided data to back up their claims.

Yet when I heard about the Bakersfield doctors and the response to them, I quickly agreed with the refutations. When I heard about "Plandemic," I immediately decided it was a baseless conspiracy theory. And when I read Bromage's blog post, I decided it was very credible and should be shared widely.

Why? Am I biased? Did I succumb to confirmation bias? Did I engage in motivated reasoning?
If I answer "no" to any of those questions, am I just denying my own bias while providing evidence of it?!

The Answer (Maybe)

Like I said, the question, "How do we decide what to believe?" is fascinating. If we're aware of the potential for underlying bias, then we also have to wonder whether we believe one thing over another because it's more accurate, truthful, or evidence-based or simply because it confirms what we already want to believe.

Here's how I went about deciding to believe Erin Bromage over Erickson, Massihi, and Mikovits.

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Erickson and Massihi based their claims on data from a small sample. The Coronavirus could be almost entirely absent from Bakersfield, CA, but that doesn't reveal anything about the risk of Covid in Los Angeles. Mikovits based her claims on the idea that governments want to vaccinate everyone regardless of their wishes. But wouldn't it make more sense to play down Covid's risks, let as many people get sick as possible, and then come out with the vaccine?

In contrast, Bromage based her claims on what we know about the transmission of the regular flu since we don't yet have much research on the Coronavirus. She used data about flu particles per sneeze/cough/breath as well as real case-studies of Covid transmission to explain the likely risks of contracting the Coronavirus in many different situations.

Bromage's data makes logical, intuitive sense. I don't need to fact-check the number of flu particles in sneezes, coughs, or breaths to know that sneezes and coughs will propel a lot more germs than I care to encounter. I don't need to research airborne illnesses to know that being inside an enclosed area with circulating, recycling air increases exposure to germs.

Erickson and Massihi also have incentives to reopen the economy, as their urgent care clinic could certainly benefit from more routine patients. Mikovits just published a book that I'm sure she wants to promote. Maybe Bromage hoped her blog post would go viral, but it's not clear what incentive she could have to advocate continued lock-down. Teaching biology through Zoom can't be that fun, trust me.

Your Answer (Maybe)

I hope my story helps you decide for yourself what to believe and why. I don't want you to take anyone's word for a source's credibility. You'll find plenty of people who swear by the Bakersfield doctors and Plandemic. If you want to find people vouching for any particular source, argument, or perspective, you can.

Instead, try to understand the claims and evidence on their own footing, assess how logical or reasonable they seem, and then, as a bonus, consider the possible agenda or incentive of the source. To get more tips for deciding what to believe, and some practice, check out Become Your Own Fact-Checker. You'll especially like the chapter on "The Nature of Belief."

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

Eric Sentell teaches writing and rhetoric at Southeast Missouri State University.
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