For example, consider Dr. Stella Immanuel. Dr. Immanuel has recently become a darling of the pro-Trump faction for her claims that she's cured people with active COVID-19 infections through a combination of hydroxychloroquine, Zithromax (the antibiotic in the "Z-Pak"), and zinc. She was one of the leading voices at a "summit" hosted by a group calling itself "America's Frontline Doctors," which I have to admit has more gravitas than the more accurate "America's Batshit Conspiracy Theorists." The misinformation flew at the "summit," including not only that COVID-19 was curable using hydroxychloroquine (multiple studies have found it to have no positive effects on the course of the illness, and a plethora of nasty side effects, some of which can be fatal), but that the pandemic itself was overblown and that masks aren't necessary to prevent its spread.
Trump, of course, loves Dr. Immanuel, because her message is identical to the one he's been pushing for months. He tweeted a link to a video of Dr. Immanuel defending her coronavirus misinformation, and Donald Jr. retweeted it, calling it a "Must watch!!!" Then the powers-that-be at both Twitter and Facebook, showing a rare burst of ethical behavior, deleted her video, tagged tweets promoting it as "containing misinformation," and most surprising of all, locked Donald Jr.'s Twitter account for twelve hours.
Dr. Immanuel, though, follows Trump's model in more than just espousing ridiculous pseudoscience; her personal motto is apparently "Death before admitting error." After her video was taken down, she and Trump both doubled down on her position. Dr. Immanuel threatened divine intervention, saying that Jesus Christ would destroy Facebook's servers if the video wasn't restored. (They didn't, and he didn't.) Trump, on the other hand, took a more mundane approach, if not substantially more sane. "I can tell you this, she was on air along with many other doctors," he said. "They were big fans of hydroxychloroquine and I thought she was very impressive in the sense that from where she came, I don't know which country she comes from, but she said that she's had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients, and I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her."
The bizarre ideas of this "important voice" go far beyond misinformation about COVID-19, however. Dr. Immanuel is a veritable fountain of loony beliefs, which include the following:
- The medical establishment is working on medicines that are created from extraterrestrial DNA.
- Gynecological disorders occur when women have dreams about having sex with demons. It's the "demon sperm" that causes the problem.
- Wet dreams cause erectile dysfunction, once again because they're accompanied by images of having sex. With demon women, of course.
- The demons themselves, though, aren't just in it for the kicks, but because that's how they reproduce. "They turn into a woman and then they sleep with the man and collect his sperm," Immanuel said in a sermon at the church she runs in Houston, Texas, called "Firepower Ministries." "Then they turn into the man and they sleep with a woman and deposit the sperm and reproduce more of themselves."
- She calls herself a "wealth transfer coach." Presumably that means transferring wealth from your bank account to hers.
- The Illuminati (of course the Illuminati are involved) are trying to destroy the world, and the main way they're doing this has to do with gay marriage. Don't ask me how that works.
- Part of the government is being run by aliens who are reptilian in appearance, and oddly enough, I don't think she meant Mitch McConnell.
- Scientists are currently working on a vaccine to prevent people from being religious.
- Even children's toys are suspect. She calls Pokémon "eastern demons," and has a special hatred for the Magic 8-Ball, which is a "psychic object used to start children in witchcraft." (Sorry, Dr. Immanuel, "My sources say no.")
So this is the person that Donald Trump called "spectacular" and "very respected."
Then others took up the outcry. Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said that because Dr. Immanuel and Donald Trump were saying the same thing, she was being "attacked, ridiculed, and discredited" in a deliberate effort to damage Trump's reputation. (Not, apparently, because what she was saying was certifiable horseshit.) Simone Gold, one of the leaders of America's Frontline Doctors, said that social media was committing a crime by "censoring Physicians from speaking about COVID-19 and Hydroxychloroquine." Radio host Mark Levin criticized several media outlets, such as The Daily Beast, for being part of a "vicious smear machine" -- because they'd quoted Dr. Immanuel verbatim.
As for the doctors who refuse to prescribe hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus infections, Dr. Immanuel said, "You’re no different than a murderer. You’re no different than Hitler."
Here we have a person who in a sane world would be looked at as a wacko, more to be pitied than censured, but because Donald Trump says he likes her, Trump-supporters nationwide suddenly act as if she's the next Jonas Salk. (Oh, and simultaneously, they cast Dr. Anthony Fauci -- one of the world's experts in communicable disease research -- as a fool at best and an evil mastermind at worst, for saying such things as "wear a mask in public" and "don't take medications that don't work and can also kill you.")
So that's the upside-down world we currently live in. I'd like to tell you that things will sort themselves out and that wiser and saner heads will ultimately prevail, but if there's one thing I've learned in the past four years, it's that predicting what will happen next is a loser's game. I even tried asking the best source I have, hoping to get some clarity, desperately seeking a reason to believe that things will improve soon.
But all it would say is "Reply hazy, try again."
Being in the middle of a pandemic, we're constantly being urged to wash our hands and/or use hand sanitizer. It's not a bad idea, of course; multiple studies have shown that communicable diseases spread far less readily if people take the simple precaution of a thirty-second hand-washing with soap.
But as a culture, we're pretty obsessed with cleanliness. Consider how many commercial products -- soaps, shampoos, body washes, and so on -- are dedicated solely to cleaning our skin. Then there are all the products intended to return back to our skin and hair what the first set of products removed; the whole range of conditioners, softeners, lotions, and oils.
How much of this is necessary, or even beneficial? That's the topic of the new book Clean: The New Science of Skin by doctor and journalist James Hamblin, who considers all of this and more -- the role of hyper-cleanliness in allergies, asthma, and eczema, and fascinating and recently-discovered information about our skin microbiome, the bacteria that colonize our skin and which are actually beneficial to our overall health. Along the way, he questions things a lot of us take for granted... such as whether we should be showering daily.
It's a fascinating read, and looks at the question from a data-based, scientific standpoint. Hamblin has put together the most recent evidence on how we should treat the surfaces of our own bodies -- and asks questions that are sure to generate a wealth of discussion.
[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]