White House directs federal agencies to cancel race-related training sessions it calls ‘un-American propaganda’

Administration seeks list of contracts for those that refer to ‘white privilege,’ according to memo.

President Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Friday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Written by Josh Dawsey and Jeff Stein and posted in The Washington Post on 9/5/2020,

President Trump is moving to revamp federal agencies’ racial sensitivity trainings, casting some of them as “divisive” and “un-American,” according to a memo by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

In the two-page memo, OMB Director Russell Vought says Trump has asked him to prevent federal agencies from spending millions in taxpayer dollars on these training sessions. Vought says OMB will instruct federal agencies to come up with a list of all contracts related to training sessions involving “white privilege” or “critical race theory,” and do everything possible within the law to cancel those contracts, the memo states.The memo, released on Friday, also tells all federal agencies to identify and if possible cancel contracts that involve teaching that America is an “inherently racist or evil country.”

Trump’s push to amplify racism unnerves Republicans who have long enabled him

“The President has directed me to ensure that federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions,” the memo states.

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Parts of the memo were carefully worded, but Trump went several steps further in describing his actions in a series of Twitter posts on Saturday morning.

Trump responded “Not any more!” to one person’s tweet, which read “critical race theory is the greatest threat to western civilization and it’s made its way into the US federal government, the military, and the justice system.”

He reposted roughly 20 more Twitter messages from conservative media or other accounts praising his new move.

In the memo, Vought writes that “it has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date ‘training’ government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

He then refers to press reports that say federal employees “have been required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism.’ ”

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It could not immediately be learned what training sessions Vought was referring to in the memo. Recent Fox News segments have heavily criticized “diversity and inclusion” efforts in the federal government started under the Obama administration.

“It’s absolutely astonishing how critical race theory has pervaded every institution in the federal government,” Chris Rufo, research fellow at the right-wing Discovery Institute, told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson earlier this week.

Trump rejects calls to rename military bases honoring Confederate generals

Other experts say racial and diversity awareness trainings are essential steps in helping rectify the pervasive racial inequities in American society, including those perpetuated by the federal government. Several studies have found federal contracts are disproportionately awarded to white-owned businesses. In 2017, a study by the Minority Business Development Agency found a dwindling over two decades in contracts for minority-owned businesses, according to NPR.

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https://3d49a5d912bbac73bd730a4891e69c83.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html OMB said it would soon issue more guidance on curtailing these training sessions. An administration official said the order has already gone into effect: Such a training on “class biases” scheduled for Friday was postponed. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about a postponed session.

Racial awareness trainings can help officials realize unconscious bias in the awarding of contracts from the federal government, the country’s largest employer, said M.E. Hart, an attorney who has given hundreds of diversity training sessions for businesses and the federal government for more than 20 years.

The racial sensitivity trainings can improve morale and cooperation in the workplace, and by increasing the diversity of perspectives, ultimately improve overall efficiency, Hart said.

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“If we are going to live up to this nation’s promise — ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — we have to see each other as human beings, and we have to do whatever it takes, including taking whatever classes make that possible,” Hart said. “These classes have been very powerful in allowing people to do that, and we need them more than ever. There’s danger here.”

The OMB memo later says that “the President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States.” It was first reported by RealClearPolitics.

The memo comes after Trump has put himself at the center of intense national debates about race, police tactics, the Civil War and the Confederate flag. Democrats have long taken aim at Trump’s comments about race, including his false assertion that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

And this year, as numerous Black Lives Matter protests occurred around the country after police officers killed or shot Black Americans, Trump has sharply criticized social justice protesters and called for law enforcement to crack down.

Three Things That Wont persuade a Trump Voter (and Three That Might)

The science behind why your attempts at persuasion fail — and what to do instead.

Written by Karin Tamerius FollowAug 26 · 9 min read Published in Medium.com 8/26/2020

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Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

To change hearts and minds, stop making these common mistakes and start doing what works.

All over America, Democrats are working hard to elect Biden and an important part of that effort is persuading people that voting for Trump is a mistake.

While persuasion is a critical component of any winning strategy, our methods often make things worse, putting us on a war-like footing with the Trump supporters in our lives. We are so terrified about where the nation is headed that our first instincts are to close up, push back, and strike out at our friends, family, and neighbors rather than reach forward and pull them closer in a way that can actually change hearts and minds.

In the heat of the moment, Biden supporters tend to wield Three Big Weapons to persuade people who disagree with us:

1. Debate — hit ’em with arguments and facts

2. Shame — if that doesn’t work, try call outs, bad names, and colorful, descriptive epithets

3. Ostracism — if they still don’t get it, bring on the banning and shunning

The trouble with these aggressive responses, however, is they don’t work. More often, instead of getting through to people, we unintentionally:

  • Undermine our credibility
  • Step on our message
  • Reinforce opposition
  • Discourage future political discussion

To really change public opinion and build support for Biden and the progressive movement as a whole, we need to draw folks in rather than drive them away. That means putting down those three destructive weapons and picking up tools capable of turning adversaries into allies.

Here’s a quick primer on why our current approaches fail and what to do instead.

PUT DOWN: Debate

Our first impulse when talking with Trump voters is to try to persuade them with arguments and evidence. However, science shows this debate-style approach doesn’t work for three primary reasons.

1. Reactance

When we debate, we actively try to shape what others think, believe, and do through the use of facts and reason. For Trump supporters, though, it can feel like we are trying to impose our will on theirs. When that happens, they experience a psychological phenomenon known as reactance: “an acute negative response to the perception of being controlled” that generates an urge to resist, no matter how reasonable or well-supported our arguments.

2. Defensiveness

Debates often get heated even when we don’t want them to. A major reason that happens is because people tend to experience attacks on their political beliefs as attacks on them personallyWhen we tell a Trump voter, “your idea is bad,” they’re likely to hear, “you are bad” even if that’s not what we mean. As a result, they’ll feel they have to rebut our arguments in order to prove they are a good person.

3. Motivated cognition

The human mind is biased toward our existing worldview. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. If our current belief system has kept us alive up to this point, better to cling to those beliefs a bit longer than necessary than go through the energy-intensive and risky process of revising our opinions. The down side of this stability, though, is that people are far less likely to perceive, seek out, listen to, and incorporate facts and arguments that challenge their existing beliefs. As a result, when we present Trump voters with information contrary to their opinions, they are naturally inclined to discount our evidence and generate new rationalizations for why they are right.

PICK UP: Motivational interviewing

If providing reasons to vote against Trump won’t change voters’ minds, what should we do instead? Simple. Encourage them to generate those reasons themselves.

As the French polymath Blaise Pascal once said, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” An argument that’s not persuasive coming from us can be very persuasive when it’s coming from Trump supporters themselves.

This approach takes advantage of the inconsistency and ambivalence of voters’ political attitudes and beliefs. Most Trump supporters, for example, aren’t particularly happy with his tweeting, treatment of women, or the way he’s handled the pandemic even though they plan to vote for him. To shift their evaluations of the president, we need to highlight these contradictions and encourage them to get in touch with their more negative thoughts and feelings by asking questions.

One good approach is to ask the following:

How would you describe the ideal president?

How close do you think President Trump comes to that ideal?

In what ways does he fall short of your ideal president?

This approach, called motivational interviewing (MI) was originally developed as a psychotherapy technique to help people overcome addiction, but is increasingly recognized as a tool to avoid counterproductive reactance and defensiveness in any situation where people are contemplating change.

To learn more about how to use MI in political conversations, check out “Flip Trump Voters the Easy Way.”

PUT DOWN: Shame

By the time we realize the Trump voter we’re talking with is impervious to our arguments and evidence, we’re usually frustrated and weary. It’s at this point that otherwise respectful conversation degenerates into heated argument as we slip from criticizing a voter’s ideas to criticizing them as people.

Sometimes this shift is blatant: We start calling people out, calling them names, and calling in the troops while lobbing a few choice profanities along the way.

More often though, we’re subtler in our attacks, impugning others’ motives while making sweeping generalizations about their character. Disagreeing about economic policy becomes, “You’re selfish.” Disagreeing about affirmative action becomes, “You’re racist.” And voting for Trump becomes, “disgusting.”

But science shows us this kind of shaming is an ineffective method for changing minds for three big reasons.

1. Fight-or-flight

No matter how much the name calling and finger-wagging may feel (and be) justified, it’s bound to trigger people. The normal response to being called out and shamed is fear and an impulse to fight back to or fleeIf the Trump voter opts to fight, the end result is retrenchment and hostility, not opinion change. If they opt to flee, the opportunity to share an alternative perspective is lost. Either way, progress is thwarted.

2. Cognitive shutdown

An added disadvantage of triggering someone’s fight-or-flight response is the effect it has on the reasoning and information-processing parts of the brain. When people are in a state of fear, the most primitive parts of the brain take over. The cerebral cortex largely shuts down, making it very hard to think clearly or process new information. As a result, when triggered, Trump voters are unable to learn or do the intellectual work opinion change requires.

3. Empathy failure

An important part of political persuasion is encouraging people to engage in perspective taking: the process of imagining the world through the eyes of others different from themselves. Unfortunately, when Trump voters are feeling attacked and shamed, they are likely to momentarily lose their capacity for empathy and compassion. This is because when people are shamed they‘re so consumed with alleviating their own suffering that they’re unable to see things from the perspective of others.

PICK UP: Comfort

If shaming people triggers a fight-or-flight response that undermines their capacity for change, what should we do instead? The answer is do the opposite: make them feel safe-enough to think clearly and compassionately.

The ideal political conversation helps people enter and stay in the “Growth Zone”: a place where they feel neither perfectly safe nor so overwhelmed they become frightened and defensive. When people aren’t challenged, they have no motivation to learn. When they are too threatened, they can’t learn. But when you position a conversation between those two poles, you create a space where learning is both desirable and possible.

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Original

Keeping someone in the Growth Zone can be a tricky balance requiring a delicate touch (and trial-and-error practice). To positively enlighten, encourage learning by sparking natural curiosity and providing emotional support. Help folks move out an entrenched worldview without pushing or shaming them so much that they get angry and fight back or defensively shut down and back away.

For more on how to create comfort and meet other emotional needs during a change conversation, check out my piece, “The 5 Kinds of Questions That Will Persuade Trump Voters.”

PUT DOWN: Ostracism

Once it’s clear shaming won’t change a Trump voter’s mind, Democrats often resort to ostracizing them. We’ve all heard the advice to cut toxic people from our lives, and there’s no doubt that’s sometimes necessary in the interest of our own self-care. But much of the time when we sever ties with Trump voters it’s not because they’re treating us badly so much as because we’ve given up on making a difference. This type of ostracism is counterproductive for three reasons.

1. Exposure

People’s political beliefs are not innate and unchanging, but heavily influenced by environmental factors. Biden supporters tend to live in areas with a lot of other Democrats while Trump voters tend to live in areas with a lot of other Republicans. Likewise, media exposure is highly polarized, with most Democrats and independents using and trusting a wide variety of news sources while Republicans overwhelmingly trust Fox News (65%) more than any other source. As a result, when we cut off right-leaning voters, we reduce their exposure to progressive ideas, making it more likely they will continue to support Trump or, worse, support him more.

2. Social identity

Contrary to conventional wisdom, voters’ political choices are mostly driven by group identity not a coherent ideology. Trump voters largely support Trump because they are Republicans and he is the Republican nominee, not because they are particularly drawn to his ideas or even like him as a person. Since group identity is so important in shaping beliefs and political allegiances, our best hope for recruiting Trump voters to our cause is to encourage them to feel like “one of us” rather than enemies or outsiders.

3. Extremism

The final reason to abandon ostracism as a strategy is that it inflicts emotional damage that can drive Trump voters toward greater extremism. Love and belonging are fundamental human needs. When people are rejected from one group, they “go shopping” for new ones, making them ripe for recruitment by any community that makes them feel wanted and valued. In search of the emotional security of belonging, voters may end up aligning their beliefs with whatever group takes them in. Recent research, for example, has shown that ostracized individuals are more open to joining gangs and terrorist organizations target isolated and ostracized individuals for recruitment. Likewise, many former white nationalists report that the desire to belong was the primary reason they embraced an ideology of hate.

PICK UP: Connection

So if ostracism isn’t an effective way to persuade, what should we do instead? The answer is to do the opposite: Rather than end our relationships with Trump voters, strengthen them.

While it may be hard to imagine getting closer to the Trump supporters in our lives, chances are we all have more in common than we think. Begin by focusing on areas where it’s easy to find common ground (Music! Sports! Recipes! Hobbies! Cute kittens and puppies!) and then gradually introduce politics. As relationships get stronger, they will increasingly be able to bear the stress of weightier topics and the trust, affection, and respect we earn in unrelated areas will make others take our political views more seriously.

To learn more about the importance of nurturing relationships with people on the right end of the political spectrum, check out “Why Unfriending Trump Supporters is a Mistake.”


If debate, shame, and ostracism are so bad, why do we use them?

Brains are tricky things and our intuitions about what’s going on in the minds of Trump voters can easily lead us astray. Often, we reach for these weapons because we truly believe they will work: If we can just get them to understand the facts, they’ll see the light!

But let’s be honest. More often than not, we reach for these bludgeons because using them feels good. Whether we’re Shining the Torch of Truth in a dinner-table face-off, piling on a Twitter shame-fest, or hitting the “unfriend” button on Facebook, we get a dopamine-rush of self-righteous satisfaction that’s as pleasurable and addictive as any street drug.

The first step in making the transition from weapons of war to tools of persuasion, then, is to ask ourselves what matters most: Feeling good or making a difference?

If you really care about electing Biden and ensuring that Trump doesn’t spend another four years in office, your choice is clear.


About the Author

Dr. Karin Tamerius is the founder of Smart Politics, a former psychiatrist, and an expert in political psychology who specializes in teaching progressives how to communicate more productively and persuasively with people across the political spectrum. She’s best known for writing the Angry Uncle Bot in the New York Times. Email her at: karin.tamerius@gmail.com.

Many thanks to Locke Peterseim for assistance writing and editing this piece.Progressively Speaking

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Karin Tamerius

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Changing the world by helping others change minds. Writer & activist. Smart Politics founder. Expert in political psychology & psychiatry. Twitter: @tamerius

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Many GOP Voters Value America’s Whiteness More Than Its Democracy

Written by Eric Levitz and published in The Intelligencer, 9/2/2020

In Donald Trump’s America, democracy dies in broad daylight.

Previous presidents have flouted the rule of law and sought to restrict access to the ballot, but none of Trump’s modern predecessors have treated these endeavors like photo ops. Trump has not subverted the independence of federal law enforcement through the quiet appointments of hacks but by openly declaring that he expects the U.S. attorney general to protect him from legal accountability and by warning his allies not to cooperate with FBI investigations. He has not subtly exploited official powers for partisan gain but, rather, has formally strong-armed a foreign government into investigating his chief domestic rival and hosted a Republican National Convention on the White House lawn. He has not evinced a desire to disenfranchise his opposition merely through the orchestration of probes into (nonexistent) voter fraud but by explaining on cable television that he is blocking federal aid to the Postal Service because, if it does not receive such aid, “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

Trump’s refusal to keep his assaults on democracy constrained within limits (and/or shrouded in pretense) has scandalized a significant minority of Republican elites. But his high crimes and misdemeanors have made little impression on the party faithful. None of the president’s affronts to liberal democracy — not his praise for “very fine” white vigilantes or his proposed postponement of November’s election — have shaken his grip on a little over 40 percent of the electorate.

One explanation for Republican indifference to such deeds is that Republicans aren’t aware of them: Fox News’s programming and Facebook’s algorithm have simply kept red America blissfully ignorant of the commander-in-chief’s most tyrannical moods. (If a president executes a political prisoner in the middle of Fifth Avenue and no right-wing pundit is inclined to report it, does his shot make a sound?)

But a new paper from Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels suggests an alternative hypothesis: Many Republican voters value “keeping America great” more than they value democracy — and, by “keeping America great,” such voters typically mean “keeping America’s power structure white.”

In a January 2020 survey fielded by YouGov, a slim majority of GOP voters agreed with the statement “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” Nearly three-fourths agreed with “It is hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout.” More than 40 percent agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” More than 47 percent concurred with the premise that “strong leaders sometimes have to bend the rules in order to get things done.” And on all of these questions, most of those who did not agree were merely unsure.

In our age of polarization, anti-democratic sentiment isn’t confined to the right. One 2017 survey that asked whether “violence would be justified” if the opposing party won the 2020 election found a slightly higher percentage of Democrats agreeing with that sentiment than Republicans (18 to 13 percent, respectively). Still, there is nowhere near as much open advocacy for illiberalism among Democratic elites as there is among Republican ones. And whether for high-minded or self-interested reasons, there is only one party that routinely seeks to restrict the franchise. For these reasons, anti-democratic opinion among GOP voters is of greater consequence than that among Democrats in the present moment.

Bartels’s study therefore aimed to discern the nature of popular indifference to liberal democracy on the American right. Which is to say: What ideological or cultural forces lead Republican voters to subordinate democracy to their desired political outcomes?

The study entertains a range of possibilities. By examining the answers that YouGov’s respondents gave to other survey questions, Bartels explored the degree of correlation between six voter dispositions and anti-democratic sentiment: partisan affect (i.e., a voter’s level of avowed love for Republicans and hostility for Democrats), enthusiasm for President Trump, cynicism about actually existing democracy, ideological commitment to economic conservatism, ideological commitment to cultural conservatism, and white “ethnic antagonism.” That last category refers to a voter’s level of concern about the political and cultural power of nonwhites in the United States. For example, if respondents agreed that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country,” that “discrimination against whites is as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities,” and that speaking English is “essential for being a true American,” they would post a high score on the ethnic-antagonism scale.

Of course, many of these dispositions are heavily correlated. To gauge the independent influence of each factor, Bartels controlled for five of the dispositions (freezing them at the average value among Republican voters) and then looked at how closely a high score on the remaining one correlated with anti-democratic sentiment. Applying this method to all six variables, he found that ethnic antagonism is a better predictor of a Republican’s indifference to democratic niceties than anything else.

Graphic: PNAS

Graphic: PNAS

Notably, what Bartels calls “cultural conservatism” (essentially, attitudes on all “culture war” issues except those concerning race, such as “patriotism, traditional morality … and disdain for big cities, rich people, journalists, and college professors”) is actually negatively correlated with anti-democratic attitudes. In other words: A GOP voter who espouses average levels of ethnic antagonism, partisan affect, and support for Trump — but exceptionally high levels of cultural conservatism — is less likely to agree that defending America’s traditional way of life justifies the use of force than the average Republican is. This suggests that popular support for authoritarianism within the GOP is not animated primarily by concerns with conservative Christianity’s declining influence over public life but rather with that of the white race.

Which makes sense.

When democracy came to America, it was wrapped in white skin and carrying a burning cross. In the early 19th century, the same state constitutional conventions that gave the vote to propertyless white men disenfranchised free Blacks. For the bulk of our republic’s history, racial hierarchy took precedence over democracy. Across the past half century, the U.S. has shed its official caste system, and almost all white Americans have made peace with sharing this polity with people of other phenotypes. But forfeiting de jure supremacy is one thing; handing over de facto ownership of America’s mainstream politics, culture, and history is quite another. And as legal immigration diversifies America’s electorate while the nation’s unpaid debts to its Black population accrue interest and spur unrest, democracy has begun to seek more radical concessions from those who retain an attachment to white identity. A majority of light-skinned Americans may value their republic more than their (tacit) racial dominance. But sometimes, minorities rule.

Interview by Sonne Blauw with Angela Siani about her book, Superior: The Return of Race Science

Reading time 9 – 12 minutes

Published by Sonne Blauw in The Correspondent

Race is a social construct, not a biological reality. Nonetheless, ancient theories of race have been resurfacing in recent years. Why is it happening? And why is it so dangerous? I asked science journalist Angela Saini, who wrote a book on the topic.

Race is a construct. So why is race science still around?

Numeracy correspondent

When.Angela Saini’s son was born, Barack Obama was still president of the United States. She was hopeful. Surely her son would grow up in a better world – possibly even a world without prejudice, without discrimination, without delusional theories about “race”.

Five years later, in the Autumn of 2019, she’s not nearly as optimistic. “In just a few years, far-right and anti-immigrant groups have once more become visible and powerful across Europe and the US,” she writes in her latest book, Superior: The Return of Race Science.

She mentions Poland, where nationalists march under the slogan “Pure Poland, white Poland”; Germany, where far-right populist party Alternative für Deutschland received just over 12% of the votes in 2017; and Steve Bannon,  who stirred up far-right nationalists in France in 2018 with the words: “Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour.” 

Saini (1980)  is a British science journalist and author; her previous books were Geek Nation and Inferior. Her third book, Superior, is about race science. In writing it, she interviewed biologists, geneticists and other scientists who are researching differences between people.

The conclusion is clear: race doesn’t actually exist. At least, not in a biological sense. Although race may be fiction, discrimination is all too real.

Some researchers are still measuring skull shape and size

Not everyone is willing to accept that race is just a social construct. In her book, Saini describes a group of scientists who stubbornly insist that the differences between “races” are a biological reality. According to these researchers, some ethnic groups are allegedly smarter or more athletic than others. Some are even still measuring the shape and size of human skulls.  It’s all pseudo-scientific nonsense, as Superior demonstrates.

But in the current political climate, Saini fears, such ideas provide “scientific” support for dangerous political ideologies. It’s far too easy for such researchers to link such pseudo-science to official policy. They start by asserting that African-Americans are genetically less intelligent. So why, they then ask, would anyone invest in educational programs that aim to help them learn? And why would you allow immigrants to enter the country from nations that have a low average IQ?

Saini does not shy away from referencing the Holocaust. Intellectual racism thrived in Nazi Germany. It has almost vanished since then – but it’s not quite gone. “Those with dangerous ideas about ‘human nature’ and even more dangerous prescriptions for our problems are always content to bide their time,” Saini says in the afterword to Superior. “However dead you might think it is, it needs only a little water, and now it’s raining.”

So what does race science look like across history? And what does that history teach us about the present? I asked Saini those questions. What follows is our conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity. You can also listen to my interview with Saini here.

The rise and fall of race science

The subtitle of your book is The Return of Race Science. Where had race science gone, and how did it return?

I can’t say it really ever went away, because these ideas have been with us for a long time and they never completely disappear. But what has returned is a certain way of thinking that harnesses scientific racism, and that has infiltrated politics.

You described that such ideas were much more mainstream in the past.

We have to remember that today we think of racism as a bad thing. It’s a terrible thing to call someone a racist, and it can be career-ending for some people. But race science was completely acceptable in the past. In the 19th century, even the early 20th century, eugenics  was popular, even fashionable. It was seen as a utopian, scientific, rational way of improving society.

That was largely changed by the events of the second world war. The Nazi programme of racial hygiene was the big wake-up call to the scientific community – not only due to the moral vacuity of this idea but also how it didn’t make any sense scientifically.

Genetics and biology have shown that we are remarkably homogeneous as a species. We have less diversity as a species than chimpanzees, and we cannot be divided into distinct genetic subgroups. We overlap massively. These boundaries that we think of as different races are actually really, really fuzzy to the point of meaninglessness.

So race doesn’t really exist, biologically speaking?

When scientists say that race is a social construct, what they mean is: where we draw boundaries is really arbitrary. The way I like to explain it is: I have a close genetic relationship to my sisters and my son and my parents. I have a weaker one to my cousins and my grandparents and a weaker one still to my further extended family. When you get up to the level of the state and country and continent, that relationship gets fuzzier and fuzzier. 

So where do you want to draw the lines of race? It may be based on something very superficial like skin colour, but even within groups, skin colour will vary widely. What you define as black or white is completely different depending on where you live and when. It’s only relatively recently that Italians and Greeks were considered white in America.

So the ideas of scientists in the 19th and early 20th century turned out to be wrong. How harshly can we judge them?

I think there’s two things we have to bear in mind. One, even then, there were people within the scientific community saying: “This doesn’t make any sense, this isn’t good science, and morally it’s problematic. We shouldn’t be thinking about people in this way.”

The other thing is that when we judge individuals harshly, we forget how mainstream these ideas were. Take Francis Galton,  where the word eugenics originated from. He was a racist and sexist, but the dangerous and problematic ideas he had were popular among so many people. Take Virginia Woolf  and Marie Stopes,  people who we now see as feminist icons; they were eugenicists.

I think that none of us are immune from thinking this way. If it happened then, why could it not happen now? It’s not just the case that there is a certain type of bad person and all the rest of us are just good people.

Race science moved to the margins

In your book, you show that the ideas and ideologies of racial doctrine never went away completely after the second world war.

That’s right. The people who clung to eugenics and race science got together and formed their own networks. They had their own journals and their own sources of funding from political actors who were, for instance, interested in segregation.

Occasionally, they would bubble up into the mainstream. In the 1960s, there were people like the psychologist Arthur Jensen who believed that black Americans were naturally less intelligent than white Americans. There was William Shockley, the physicist, who thought that black women should be sterilised. There was the publication of The Bell Curve  in the 1990s, which relied very heavily on the work of the people I’ve just described here. And now we’re seeing it again in mainstream politics to some extent, and certainly in the “alt right”. 

What are the interests of the people who finance research studies like these?

The key figure [in race science] was Wickliffe Draper, an American textile multimillionaire. He inherited a lot of money and was also deeply wedded to maintaining segregation in the United States. He sought out intellectuals that could give him ballast for his racist views. You see this throughout history: people wanting to justify their prejudices as not being prejudiced at all, but based on fact.

Wickliffe funded the Mankind Quarterly [in 1961], which became the journal of race scientists, and he funded these individuals to the tune of millions. His fund, The Pioneer Fund, is now empty, but in those 50 years or so, it has done an incredible amount of damage.

Are some topics too dangerous to be studied by science? Like IQ differences related to skin colour?

I personally am all for academic freedom. I don’t have an issue with any kind of research. The reason that kind of research isn’t done is because it sounds ridiculous. It’s like saying: “Should we research IQ differences by height? Or shoe size?”

I’m not afraid of dangerous research at all. I think that you should do it, but there are reasons that people don’t ask funding bodies to investigate whether the Earth is flat.

So how big is the group of scientists that are still studying this?

Well, I have to emphasise, none of them are mainstream scientists; there are no mainstream scientists who do this. They are people on the very margins of academia and sometimes outside it. They tend to be political scientists, economists, psychologists, people interested in intelligence research. Very much marginal to the mainstream, but very active.

Are they consciously thinking: “OK, we’re in favour of segregation. Let’s find facts to back it up!” Or is it happening on a more subconscious level?

When you ask these people for scientific evidence, what they say is: “Just look around you, just look at the differences that we see!” That’s not very scientific. That was the argument people used in the 19th century to justify women not getting the vote. “Look around you, women aren’t doing what men are doing.” Well, if you oppress women, then frankly that’s what you’re going to get. So I struggle with understanding how it could be subconscious when you’re clearly resorting to such circular arguments.

Even Nature is described as ‘anti-science’

I was looking at the website of Mankind Quarterly, and I saw they also had a review of your book. Did you read it?

I haven’t read it, because my internet service provider blocks Mankind Quarterly.

I couldn’t read everything, but I have the abstract. Do you want to hear it?

What do they say?

“Saini’s book assails ‘race science’, which is presented as the root cause of racism in modern societies. The content of this science is either not described at all or is grossly misrepresented. The book is nevertheless valuable because it reveals the cognitive structure of one type of anti-science ideology that is influential in modern societies. This ideology turns Enlightenment philosophy on its head, claiming that science and reason create rather than challenge prejudice.”

(Saini laughs.)

I do know the person who wrote that, Gerhard Meisenberg; I interviewed him for my book. He doesn’t come across well in the interview, but entirely through his own fault because he’s just saying such crazy things. But then, even the publications I write for have been described by this group of people as anti-science. That includes Nature Magazine. If you’re going to call Nature anti-science, then the whole of science is anti-science, thank you very much.

In your afterword, you write: “Wear your identity lightly.” How does one do that?

Kwame Anthony Appiah, a British-Ghanaian philosopher, says: “Identity shifts all the time.” And this is why I like to think about it. My identity doesn’t actually belong to me, it belongs to the people who are looking at me.

‘My identity doesn’t actually belong to me, it belongs to the people who are looking at me’ – Kwame Anthony Appiah

When I go to India – where my parents were born – that’s when I am the most British. But in parts of Britain, they see me quite clearly as Indian. We can understand biological identity – and even cultural and social identities for that matter – as something of a cloak that we wear rather than something that is rooted in us.

That’s not to say that you can just change identity at the drop of a hat. Like I said, it belongs to other people. They will see you as they see you, and there’s not a lot you can do about that.

Since the publication of your book, you and your family have been harassed online by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Do you wish you hadn’t written it?

No, I just had to write it. We have to challenge what they’re trying to do. We are, I fear, already losing.

Starting a News Fast

Yesterday my girlfriend told me she was taking a break from TV news reports until after the election. She knows who she wants to vote for and does not need any more information. We have both noticed an increase in tension which at times has spilled over into our relationship. I thought about what she said.

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time watching news and news commentary lately. I told myself that I needed to keep up with political news in order to have something positive to say when I write. Then I realized that I have hardly written anything at all lately. I have posted others’ writing but not much of my own. I have been responding to others’ questions on Quora.com but realized I was not paying much attention to questions in my own mind.

Many people have written about the tension caused by social restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The main parts of this to my mind are limitations on social interaction and swimming, my favorite exercise. We have already missed two trips we had planned. We have others planned but have no assurance that it will be safe to travel or be anyplace else any time soon.

We as a society have become embroiled in political controversy over whether there even is a pandemic, the best ways to respond to minimize it if it does exist and who to believe- scientists or politicians. We have become involved in a war among ourselves rather than working together in response to a common problem.

I am not interested in being part of a war among citizens. We have plenty of challenges to keep us busy and need to work together rather than trying to pull our society in different directions. I wish I had something to contribute to our healing but have no answers, at least not yet. Watching news and news commentary has not brought me closer to a way of bridging our differences.

I turned on the national news last night to watch it by myself. I got as far as a listing of the day’s news topics and turned off the TV. I did not watch it or any of the other shows I usually watch. I did not view any convention coverage. I too know who I will vote for and do not expect that anything I watch will change my mind. I did not try catching up with shows I taped from last night.

I feel more peaceful this morning after a good night’s sleep. I don’t know what I will do about TV news in the long run but, just for today, I don’t need it. And here I am writing. One step at a time.

Simon Sinek Says We Got Global Warming Wrong

Written by Michael Touchton and published in Medium.com 7/22/2020


The problem was never just warming — it was about a disruption in the normal, habitable range of our planet’s climate. Or, as Sinek says, the problem isn’t global warming, it’s climate cancer.

We need to communicate exactly what the problem is in a way that people will immediately understand and emotionally feel. People get cancer. They understand the concept. They feel the need to act. And they understand what almost always happens to a cancer patient when they fail to act: they die.

There is a cancer in our climate. And if we don’t act, there will be death.

But whose death?

2. From save the planet to save your family

That’s Sinek’s second point. We’ve ignorantly believed that we could get humanity to act by telling them we need to save the earth, the animals, and some low-lying cities. But, by and large, people haven’t acted.

We humans generally act in our own self-interest. Especially if it will cost us something. And healing climate cancer will cost us a lot.

Instead of telling people that we need to save someone or something else, we need to warn people that they and their families are in danger. They need to know and feel the fear that failing to act will have on their own lives and those whom they love.

It’s really not about the planet. It’s about us. As Sinek says, “The planet will survive no matter what. Life will continue with us or without us. What we have to do is save our species.”


The way we’re measuring progress is all wrong.

If the first point from Sinek was about how to effectively market the need to address climate change, this point is about how to ensure ongoing action to heal climate cancer.

According to Sinek, the way we measure progress should be about momentum rather than absolutes.

“If we don’t act now, the world as we know it will be gone in 50 years.”

50 years is a long time. And, in addition to being selfish, we’re finite minded creatures. We like to see the results of the sacrifices we’re making. And we want to see them much sooner than 50 years from now.

You probably wouldn’t follow your personal trainer’s regiment if she told you that you would need to make sacrifices and work out every day for the next 50 years, and then and only then would you lose that 15 pounds.

People are overwhelmed with pressing, personal concerns. So lowering some random data point that affects something years into the future is always going to be pretty low on their list of priorities. We need to see and understand the difference we’re making in more immediate terms.

Like viewing the graphs of daily coronavirus cases, people need to understand how we can flatten the curve of climate cancer and environmental damage today, this week, this month, and this year. What actions can I take today, and what results will I see and feel tomorrow?

We need fewer absolutes that feel far off and hard to reach, and more ways to measure that we’re moving in the right direction.


The Final Word

We’ve got a lot wrong with global warming. We’ve assumed that people will just “get it” and act in line with the most altruistic aspects of human nature. But they haven’t. We haven’t.

And it’s not our fault. It’s the messaging, the branding, the marketing. If you made a product you were sure was great and it didn’t end up selling at all, would you blame the consumers who didn’t buy it? Or would you step back and take a long look at your marketing strategy?

Things will only change once we help people understand the climate cancer all around them that threatens the survival of their family and give them clear actions to take with a compelling way to see the progress they’re making.Climate Conscious

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WRITTEN BY

Michael Touchton

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I write to inspire you to move forward today so that we can create a better world tomorrow. Former faith leader; current MBA candidate. 👋 mtouchton@gmail.com

This is Why People Refuse to Practice Social Distancing

We’re all guilty of these 5 common errors in logical thinking.

Francine Mends, MDFollowApr 10 · 6 min read

Written by Francine Mends in Medium.com on 4/10/2020

Image for post
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

Like many of you, I’m spending more of my days scrolling through IG stories of cooked meals, workouts, and insane memes. Thus, a picture of a crowded park in New York City in late March stopped me in my tracks.

Rebecca, an acquaintance of mine, ventured out from her Brooklyn studio for a socially distanced walk around her neighborhood. As she passed a popular waterfront park, she saw something like this:

Image for post
Photo by Jill Evans from Pexels

Who are these monsters? They probably aren’t any of the following:

  • Essential workers. No essential work happening in the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
  • Homeless. Although it’s sometimes difficult to determine who is and isn’t.
  • Folks without consistent electricity or running water.
  • The hungry walking to or from the grocery store.
  • Crazy, insane, nor any other angry label you’ve used.

But why won’t they stay away from each other?


Disgusted, Rebecca retreated to the safety of her apartment. She then posted a graphic showing that this park’s neighborhood is in the highest tier for patients testing positive for COVID-19 at 61–77% as of April 8th in NYC.

This lack of social distancing isn’t unique to NYC. Around the world, friends are meeting up to exercise. Churches insist on holding services for large congregations.

It’s not as simple as a lack of information. Most people understand that COVID-19 is causing a worldwide, deadly illness and everyone should stay home to stop its spread.

Yet the message doesn’t connect with everyone.

Those park-goers probably care about their fellow human. But they’re falling victim to a few common errors in thinking most of us commit in our everyday lives.

Understanding these 5 thinking errors (also called cognitive biases) might might make your persuasion tactics more effective. At least it’ll make you less angry.


Availability Bias

The availability bias is a mental shortcut we use to make judgments about the chance of events occurring based on the ease of examples that come to mind. Essentially, those people in the park can’t recall a similar event, so they conclude it’s not likely to occur.

Car accidents are much more common then plane crashes but your daily evening news doesn’t report the graphic, gruesome details of every car accident in the world.

But the media loves reporting plane crashes so you recall these more easily. Since more people have flight anxiety than driving anxiety, it’s reasonable to conclude they believe their plane is more likely to crash, even though the data says otherwise.

If you ask the average park-goer when the last major pandemic was, they would more likely recall recent epidemics like the Ebola virus instead of the Spanish flu of 1918–1920.

People who choose to congregate have no recent examples of a major pandemic to draw from when rationalizing their choices.

They think,

“There’s never been a time when being outside with others meant that I’ll get sick or die or cause someone else’s death. Thus, it’s not likely to be happening now.”

Instead of doing more research, they commit the next error in thinking or they make a snap decision to go to the park.


Normalcy Bias

The refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before is the normalcy bias. People who fall under the normalcy bias often ask themselves, “If life will continue as it always has. Why change the status quo?”

This is also called the ostrich effect.

We’re seeing how several governments have fallen victim to this cognitive error resulting in many unnecessary deaths.

But how do we as individuals fall prey to the normalcy bias in our everyday lives?


A few years ago I started my first freelancing job. It was a fulfilling gig that allowed me to pay for the nomadic lifestyle I love.

However, I committed the rookie freelancer mistake of not diversifying my income. When that company decided they didn’t need my services anymore, I was stuck.

I expected the gig to continue because, for the prior 10 months, it was a normal part of my life. I didn’t prepare for such an unexpected event.

It was a hard lesson that made me grateful for my emergency fund. Unfortunately, many who live paycheck to paycheck are learning that same lesson now.

Those park congregators are numbing the sting of disruption to their normal life by gathering in public.

When you yell at them for not socially distancing, they get angry because you’re disrupting their short-sighted attempts to feel normal.

And it encourages them to make the next psychological error.


Confirmation Bias

Those who refuse to socially distance are subject to confirmation bias, which means they search for and believe data that supports their beliefs while rejecting information that doesn’t support their opinion.

Let’s say you haven’t heard from your friend Mark in over 2 weeks, but you notice he’s still posting on social media.

You conclude that Mark is angry with you for not returning his bread maker 4 months ago. You minimize the relevance of his most recent Facebook post about a big conference presentation he’s nervous to give.

The people in the park, most of whom appeared to be in the 20–50 age range, assume they’re safe because they heard COVID-19 is killing mostly 60+ people.

They‘re dismissing reports of young people who are moderately sick, hospitalized, and on ventilators.

And they’re disregarding the likelihood of being an asymptomatic spreader which brings us to the next error in logic.


Optimism Bias

The optimism bias is the belief that you’re less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to attain success than reality would suggest.

If you think of optimism bias as the illusion of invulnerability, you‘ll realize most of us have committed this error in thinking in our youth.

My friend Sam never used to wear sunscreen. He preferred roasting and peeling every summer. I’d nag him with stories of twentysomething melanoma patients at the dermatologist’s office where I worked.

Although Sam knew the risk of intense, frequent UV exposure, he still tanned. At some level of consciousness, he didn’t believe cancer could happen to someone young and healthy like him.

People who refuse to socially distance are optimists. They believe their chances of becoming an asymptomatic spreader are less than the average person.

But none of us are special. All of us are susceptible to this virus.

It’s wishful thinking, but it’s difficult to combat optimism bias especially when the next error in logic is so damn tempting.


Hyperbolic Discounting Bias

Also called the present or current moment bias, the hyperbolic discounting bias is the desire for an immediate reward over a delayed but more valuable reward.

If you’ve ever used a credit card to buy that sexy new couch instead of saving up enough cash first, you’ve engaged in hyperbolic discounting bias.

A small house party with 10 people from your building is an immediate, tangible reward. It’s fun!

Yet saving a 60-year-old grandma’s life because her grandson would have also been leaning on the park railing 5 feet away is of much higher value.

But saving Grandma requires overcoming 4 issues of the hyperbolic discounting effect:

  • Low-value reward = tangible. Socializing outside provides a little hit of dopamine from gabbing while basking in the sunlight. The park-goers release pent up energy from weeks of boredom and claustrophobia.
  • Low-value reward = immediate. Humans love good stuff now! The park goers get to pretend that the world is normal and hanging out in the street with their friends is business as usual.
  • High-value reward = Vague, abstract. Grandma can’t thank them for saving her life by staying in because she’ll never know who socially distanced to save her. Let’s face it; socially distancing to save a life is not as sexy and dramatic as rescuing someone from a burning building.
  • High-value reward = Delayed. If they spare her grandson by staying inside, Grandma’s continued health and lack of spreading of the virus to others is also a delayed (and invisible) effect, since average virus incubation is 5 days or up to 2 weeks.

If there was a way to put a face to each person saved by every social distancer (something Instagrammable ideally), it would transform social distancing from a low-value, abstract reward to a high-value, immediate one.

Everyone would be on board.


In normal life, these 5 mental shortcuts serve a purpose. Such shortcuts likely evolved to enable early humans to make quick decisions that avoided threat.

In a pandemic, faulty mental shortcuts cause stressed out, isolated humans to make poor decisions with catastrophic consequences.

Remember these errors in logic next time you trying to persuade someone to stay inside.


For 5 easy ways to create deep connection in your everyday conversations, sign up here.

Listening to your surroundings

TO OPEN YOURSELF UP TO THE WORLD, OPEN YOUR EARS
ZENO SIEMENS-BREGA & JACCO PRANTL
From The Correspondent 8/3/2020
Illustration by editorial designer Luka van Diepen
Humans, just like other animals, are born listeners, says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. But as we grow up in an efficiency-obsessed society, we’re taught at every turn to filter out “useless” information. 

This might be good for coping with parts of our reality – the one we’re participating in when we click through emails in our inboxes or hop on Zoom calls – but it comes at a steep cost. 

What we’re missing when we tune into only what is useful, are the beauty, complexity and fragility of the world around us.

In this intimate podcast, correspondent Zeno Siemens-Brega and producer Jacco Prantl help us unlearn all the things that make us “bad listeners”. Alongside Gordon Hempton, they help us recalibrate our senses to the sounds we have missed, help us stop just extracting information, and start exploring – and connecting with – our environment.

Now listen, really listen: the pristine sounds of nature can change your life
Listening time 35 minutes

Violence in the Forefront

Only humans engage in hostile aggression
performed for the purpose of harming the victim.

~Carol Englander~

*****

What you leave behind
is not what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.

~ Pericles~

The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.

Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you might worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.

If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain invisible to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point when  they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.

The result can also be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if you see others as responsible for your predicament. If you could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in the world might not seem quite so senseless. Violence often makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.

If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to take a break from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.

But what can you do about that pressured feeling? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing you to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet the overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating people rather than bringing them closer together. Here is what General Omar Bradley had to say, “The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

In the process of becoming immediately connected, we seem to have forgotten the purpose of communication. It is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment, validating ourselves and for advertising.

Although our technology to some extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may have goals not much different from our own. Yet they might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life and look for a way to express their frustration.

Violence is seen as aggressive behavior with the intent to cause physical or psychological harm. Hostile aggression also fits our definition of violence for the purposes of this book. It is performed in anger for the purpose of harming another person. By constant exposure to it, we have come to be more accustomed to violence in our society, regardless of the presence or absence of a relationship between perpetrator and victim.

Mindfulness is a way you can come to understand yourself and your inner workings. It involves reflecting on your thoughts and emotions rather than acting on them impulsively. It is a form of meditation and involves making your body and mind still.

You do this by being in a place of serenity free of distractions. You pay attention to your inner state as well as the sounds, sights and smells around you while making no judgments about anything in your awareness. This is a practice where you can exist in just this moment without any concern for the past or future. You can practice mindfulness in order to take your mind and your body down a more constructive path than it might have otherwise taken. Rather than letting your emotions direct your whole day, you could step back from them and put them in context. We will look at this in greater detail later.

Do you usually react with immediate anger when something upsets your routine and then let it consume you for the rest of the day? Do you look for someone to blame for everything that happens to you, when you might be at least partially responsible? Do you let your mood take over your decisions and actions rather than trying to look at situations more rationally? Are you always on alert to find someone at fault? These are a few things to explore in a calmer mood once you find one, but it takes practice to set this mood.

Many people tend to look closely at another person’s behavior, decide what they don’t like about it and then think about how that person should act to make them happy. Yet you are not in charge of what everybody else does or thinks. If you want to understand someone’s inner workings, the closest person at hand is yourself. You can start by looking without judgment at your own thoughts, feelings and actions and work toward understanding them. Again I am referring to mindfulness. With a better understanding of yourself, you will be in a better position to understand and make sense of others’ actions. Maybe you and they can even find ways to work together on handling emotions.

Maybe it’s hard for you to recall the last time you felt at peace. If so, you are not alone. Many people struggle to find peace in their lives. Others have given up on it as a lost cause. What happens when people give up on peaceful ways to address issues in their lives? Look at TV news or the newspaper. More and more frequently, what we think of as senseless violence grabs the headlines. Or maybe it’s just senseless to us readers and viewers.

Almost any act of violence has something behind it. Nobody says, “It’s a nice day today. I think I’ll go out and shoot someone.” Just because you can’t imagine yourself doing it does not mean rage to the point of murder does not arise in the hearts of others. All too often, citizens demand action to stop “senseless” crime. Legislators rush to pass laws to counteract it. Police departments crack down; Courts incarcerate more people. Yet crime continues on its merry way as if no one cared.

People tend to react to what they don’t like in an emotional way. Reasoning often makes little contribution to the process of reacting to what you consider assaults on your rights. Maybe there is a connection between emotional response and the trend toward ongoing violence. If you don’t understand the problem, you are unlikely to discover a solution to it unless you stumble over it. Perhaps understanding violence would give you some hints about how to respond to it in your community and worldwide.

Excerpt from my book, From Violence to Peace

Coronavirus: False and misleading claims about vaccines debunked

By Jack Goodman and Flora Carmichael in BBC Reality Check

  • 26 July 2020

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A syringe and a gloved hand holding a vile labelled "VACCINE COVID-19" with a background graphic illustration of a virus.

In the week that Oxford University announced promising results from its coronavirus vaccine trial, we’re looking at claims on social media about vaccines and misleading statements about their safety.

The anti-vaccination movement has gained traction online in recent years, and campaigners opposed to vaccination have moved their focus to making claims relating to the coronavirus.

Claim about the impact on DNA

First, a video containing inaccurate claims about coronavirus vaccine trials, made by osteopath Carrie Madej, that has proved popular on social media.

Carrie Madej’s video makes a false claim that the vaccines will change recipients’ DNA (which carries genetic information).

“The Covid-19 vaccines are designed to make us into genetically modified organisms.”

Screenshot of the video with Carrie Madej, who is talking into a camera about vaccines. We labelled the video "false"

She also claims – without any evidence – that vaccines will “hook us all up to an artificial intelligence interface”.

There are 25 different candidate vaccines in clinical trials around the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but none of them will alter human DNA and they do not contain technology to link people up to an artificial intelligence interface.

The vaccines are all designed to provoke an immune response by training our bodies to recognise and fight the virus.

Carrie Madej makes a number of other false claims, including that vaccine trials are “not following any sound scientific protocol to make sure this is safe”.

“New vaccines undergo rigorous safety checks before they can be recommended for widespread use,” says Michelle Roberts, BBC online health editor.

We have asked Carrie Madej for comment about these claims, but have received no response at the time of publication.

Where has the video been shared?

It was first uploaded to YouTube in June, where it clocked more than 300,000 views, but it has also been popular on Facebook and Instagram.

It’s still circulating in the United States, the UK and elsewhere.

Anti-vaccination protesters in South Africa holding placards saying "we are not guinea pigs"
Image captionThere was a small protest in South Africa a week after a Covid-19 vaccine trial started in Johannesburg

A scientist in South Africa, Sarah Downs, who writes under the alias Mistress of Science, said she was alerted to the video by her mother whose prayer group had shared it.

The scientist sent her own debunking information to this group and says: “They are now much better informed, which I’m so glad about, because they were all taken in by that video.”

Claims about the pace of vaccine trials

When the preliminary results of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine study were published on Monday, the topic provoked much debate in coronavirus-focused Facebook groups.

Some Facebook users posted comments saying they didn’t want the vaccine as they felt they would be used as “guinea pigs” and that it had been “rushed into production at warp speed”.

Two screenshots of Facebook comments in response to positive developments in the Oxford University vaccine trial. Users say the trials have been "rushed" and therefore are not safe.

While there might be concerns about safety given the accelerated pace of development, Prof Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the BBC the rigorous safety processes included in all clinical trials were in place.

This includes safety reports to regulators in the countries taking part.

The trial has been so fast in concluding the first two phases because of the head start provided by previous work on coronavirus vaccines in Oxford, the acceleration of administrative and funding processes, and the huge interest in the trial which meant no time was spent searching for volunteers.

As the trial moves to its third phase, with thousands more volunteers taking part, all the participants will be monitored for side-effects. There were no dangerous side-effects from taking the vaccine in the first two phases, though 16-18% of trial participants given the vaccine reported a fever. Researchers said side-effects could be managed with paracetamol.

When the Oxford vaccine trial first started, there was a claim that the first volunteer had died.

The story was quickly debunked by fact-checkers and the BBC’s medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, conducted an interview with the volunteer.

Claims about vaccines and Spanish flu

A meme circulating on social media claims vaccines were responsible for 50 million deaths during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

But this is completely wrong.

Inaccurate post on Facebook claims that the 1918 Spanish flu did not kill 50 million people, "vaccines that the government forced them to take did". Includes black and white photo of a hospital ward, apparently from 1918, and a large old fashioned syringe.

Firstly, as the US Centers for Disease Control states, there was no vaccine at the time.

Scientists in Britain and the US did experiment with basic bacterial vaccines, but these were not vaccines as we would recognise them today, says historian and author Mark Honingsbaum.

This was “for the good reason that no-one knew that the influenza was a virus”.

There were two main causes of death – the initial flu infection or from the strong enormous immune response the virus triggered leading to lungs being filled with fluids.

Additional reporting by Olga Robinson, Shayan Sardarizadeh and Peter Mwai.

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