Myths die hard. Too hard nowadays.
I’m not talking about Greek or Roman or Norse mythology and all those misbehaving gods. Talking about Loki (the mythic version or the Marvel one portrayed by Tom Hiddleston) would make me much happier. (Yes, this nerd is getting excited for the new “Loki” series coming on Disney+.)
No, it’s political myths that, no matter how many times they’re debunked using primary sources (including our own eyes), always seem to keep coming back.
There’s the idea that Joe Biden botched the H1N1 vaccine in 2009, something I talked about in January that still comes up (thanks to the retired doctor who keeps sending in the same letter, nearly a word-for-word Trump talking point). Here’s what I wrote then:
“Biden went too far by saying that he led the response, as his primary role was behind the scenes. Says Politico: ‘Biden’s role, while significant, was not equivalent to leading the response. He was the administration’s main liaison to governors and Congress and succeeded in securing funding from skeptical leaders.’
“Regardless of his level of involvement, the delay in the vaccine was not due to political considerations at all, but simply realities in developing a vaccine for flu (which, though the illness has similar symptoms, isn’t the same as a coronavirus) based on time-consuming incubation in eggs. ‘That meant there would be a lag in preparing the seed stocks of virus that manufacturers needed to start production,’ wrote Natasha Korecki of Politico. ‘But the Obama administration made a significant mistake: [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius’ team at HHS nonetheless announced that if all went as planned, they should have 100 million doses ready for use by mid-October. That was consistent with promises made by the vaccine manufacturers, who had actually contracted for 120 million doses by October, but before the delays in the seed stocks. All did not go as planned. The slowness in growing the virus needed for the vaccine was compounded by a range of additional setbacks, including repeated glitches in manufacturing the drug.’”“Just the facts,” Jan. 26, 2021.
Biden didn’t lead the response, and he certainly didn’t handle vaccine development, so that claim is false, no matter how many times it’s repeated. With the H1N1 vaccine, manufacturers had to deal with setbacks that delayed the vaccines, not because of politicians, but because the process needs more time. As Nature noted, “The world was able to develop covid-19 vaccines so quickly because of years of previous research on related viruses and faster ways to manufacture vaccines, enormous funding that allowed firms to run multiple trials in parallel, and regulators moving more quickly than normal.” But, it noted, scientists got lucky.
The covid-19 vaccine used by Pfizer and Moderna in use in the U.S. is based on mRNA technology explored during previous SARS and MERS outbreaks. A complete genome sequence of the virus was published Jan. 11, 2020, so pharmaceutical researchers around the world were able to begin work immediately. By February 2020, at least two dozen companies were developing a vaccine, a couple of months before Operation Warp Speed was announced, funded by the CARES Act passed in late March. However, any vaccine still had to be tested (the first in the U.S. was Moderna on March 16) before it could gain approval, and that’s primarily what delayed getting shots into arms (and leaving it up to states to determine how to administer them rather than using a central authority to ensure equitable distribution was a mistake, since politics got in the way).
And, by the way, being stubborn about the covid vaccine accomplishes nothing but a continuation of the very restrictions you’ve been railing against. Get the shot, and then more of us can take off our masks.
There’s also the idea that the 2020 election was illegitimate (mainly because President Trump lost). Votes have been counted, recounted, audited, and certified, and no evidence of fraud sufficient to change the results has been found.
Andrew C. Eggers, Haritz Garro, and Justin Grimmer, researchers at the conservative Hoover Institution noted in a paper published in February that after reviewing the most prominent claims, “we conclude that none of them is even remotely convincing. The common logic behind these claims is that, if the election were fairly conducted, some feature of the observed 2020 election result would be unlikely or impossible. In each case, we find that the purportedly anomalous fact is either not a fact or not anomalous.”
Not that it matters to the people who think that voting machines were changing Trump votes to Biden votes (what? no concern for Biden votes being turned into Trump votes??), that thousands of dead people were voting, and that millions of illegal votes were cast (how dare election commissions and legislatures, many of them with Republican majorities, allow mail or extra early voting days in the middle of a pandemic!).
The researchers acknowledged that “a hard-core conspiracy theorist will not be convinced” by their findings, but said that “others may be interested in the basis for the claims made by those who advocated overturning the election result. If Trump’s tactics are emulated by others, similar claims will undoubtedly arise in future elections, and perhaps our analysis will help in evaluating those claims.”
We do need to be prepared, because beliefs like that led directly to the events of Jan. 6.
Now, there’s that bit of partisan political theater going on in Maricopa County, Ariz., which, The Associated Press reports, so far has included searches for nonexistent watermarks (supposedly Trump had watermarked mail ballots, which would be a neat trick since elections are handled locally, not federally) and bamboo fibers (because I guess there’s no paper in South Korea or China, from where a conspiracy theory posits a plane delivered counterfeit ballots to Phoenix). The group running the audit has been less than transparent about its funding and procedures, and has tried to block media access.
The same reasoning for why I trust the fact-checking services I use (they show their work, link to original sources, and freely disclose the sources of their funding) is why I wouldn’t trust the Cyber Ninja audit in Arizona. There are other reasons: The audit (ordered by the Republican-led state Senate, and which is being handled by a private group with ties to Trump supporters) is likely not in accordance with federal election law and sets a dangerous precedent; many of the governors and secretaries of state who certified the vote totals were Republican, and some, like Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, bragged about their states’ handling of the election; and multiple courts have dismissed dozens of lawsuits related to the 2020 campaign, with judges criticizing the sweeping allegations of irregularities and fraud without proof (no, most of those “sworn affidavits” weren’t filed in court, and are considered hearsay).
What voting fraud has been found in elections in the past decade or so was caught because of the measures already in place. Adding more restrictions seems like overkill designed to decrease turnout. But surely no one wants that …
Yeah, I can’t keep a straight face on that one.
Myths can be very entertaining; Greek mythology always seemed like a soap opera to me, which may be why I loved it. (Who will Zeus sleep with next? Can we just let Athena take over?)
But myths can also be dangerous, especially if you put too much faith in them, such as the myths about the 2020 election, or all those myths about the covid vaccine (no, there are no fetal cells in the vaccine, or live virus) or the virus itself. Which means they must be fought.
As John Cook writes on The Conversation, “Myths are persistent, stubborn and memorable. To dislodge a myth, you need to counter it with an even more compelling, memorable fact.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found the truth pretty darn compelling.