237,987 words

That’s the current word count for published chapters of Debarkle. Not quite as long as Game of Thrones but getting there.

Still working on formating and copyedits on Volume 2 and working up to the first chapter of the next part very soon.

The Science of Rainbows Explained…by a cat

I, your humble host Timothy the Talking Cat, am a great believer in science. “Follow the science,” is what I say. Follow it! Keep following it! A bit further! Oops, too far…back up a bit. Look! A rainbow!

But how they work? How does this atmospheric miracle come about? Come with me as we follow the science over the rainbow and onto the yellow brick road of explanation!

Rainbows: what are they? Where are they? Who are they? You probably remember the song you learnt as a tiny kitten: Blue and blue and green and green, bluey-green, greeny-blue and mushy-grey-red, I can howl a rainbow, howl a rainbow, howl a rainbow, whatever…stupid song.

Yes, rainbows the technicolor disappointment in the sky. Frankly I don’t get what all the fuss is about. “Look Timothy, there’s a rainbow!” says the human but frankly if it’s not within 20 feet of my eyes then I’m not going to be focusing on it. When we were hiding from Russian ninjas I nearly caught a rainbow lorikeet but despite their names, they aren’t genetically related to rainbows. Instead they are a species of bird, whereas rainbows are a species of mountain goat (or something else that stands a long way away).

But where do all the colours come from? Well from their feathers I guess. I mean the lorikeet, not the goats. The goats don’t have feather which is why they aren’t colourful. This is the infamous goat-rainbow paradox. If goats don’t have feathers then how come rainbows are so colourful?

This is where the science comes in. To understand we have to go back in time to the age of Isaac Newton. Newton owned a cat called Spithead and it was Spithead who discovered the science of refracturing. Fracturing is when you break something and refracturing is when you break something twice. Before Spithead, cats didn’t know how to break stuff multiple times. Sure they could break something once but not twice. Spithead worked that out and also worked out how to break goats even though goats stand a long way away.

Spithead’s secret was to use a prison. Luckily, Isaac Netwon lived in the Tower of London which is easily the most posh prison in the world. Spithead would get the goats and push them through the prison where they would get refractured into many tiny goats. Soon all the cats in London could see rainbows all over the Eastend because the goats were small enough to see and also really close and not on a mountain.

So the next time you push a human’s favourite mug off a table, you can thank Spithead for the science of refracturing and keeping us free from the scourge of goats.

Larry Correia is a better writer than John C. Wright

Oh, controversial stuff today! This isn’t about fiction writing though. Actually, it is about fiction but not fiction writing as a type of writing. Yeah, I’m still on about the Maricopa election “audit”. Hey, I invested time reading that report, so you all have to listen to me go on about it a bit more.

My panel of right-wing commentators (aka the writers formerly known as Puppies) have naturally been talking about the “audit” of the US Presidential election results in Maricopa County, Arizona. My own earlier discussion is here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2021/09/26/ninja-fud-in-arizona/

So far four former pups have expressed their opinion. Vox Day has once again given up on electoralism and is dismissive of the whole project — he’s far more excited by the Chinese Communist Party these days. That leaves three of them who have leapt to the defence of the so-called CyberNinjas:

Grant leads with a screenshot of a claim about the proportion of legible signatures found on ballots in the “audit”. I can’t find that claim anywhere except the blog he links to and I don’t think there’s something like it in the report. I may be mistaken though, as the report PDF is hard to search (the actual report is a mix of text sections and images of text. Aside from that, it is mainly invective about fraud etc. etc. and avoids the details of the report.

Wright quotes some numbers before launching into a tortured analogy:

“In this case, the audit found:
• 3,432 more ballots cast than voters listed as having cast a ballot.
• 277 Precincts show more ballots cast than people who showed up to vote (VMSS) for a total of 1,551 excess votes.
• 9,041 more mail-in ballots returned than they were mailed out.
In sum, the fraudulent ballots alone total 50,252, whereas Biden’s margin was 10,457, roughly one fifth that total.”

Of course, the actual report didn’t identify ANY fraudulent ballots. It is interesting the specific cases Wright highlights. He picks one of the “High” rated issues and two “Medium” rated issues. What they have in common is that they are the more opaque issues in terms of what the company did and what they actually represent. The largest of those three (the only “High” one) does have an explanation:

Wright naturally overcooks his point so he can go off on a string of “the falsehood is so brazen, so insolent, so vituperative, and so ubiquitous”.

So why am I saying Larry Correia is a better writer? Compare and contrast. Like Grant and Wright, Correia leads with the (correct) claim that the press led with the fact that the outcome of the audit was that Biden still beat Trump. He then continues:

“As I scrolled through dozens of these, I realized that none of them actually said what was in the audit report. Nor were there any links to the actual audit report. As a guy who used to write audit reports I’d rather read the actual document than take some journalism major’s take on it.”

Well, that’s surely very reasonable! Don’t just trust the headlines, go and read the actual report. Makes sense to me. What a calm, rational guy he is! He then continues:

“Except, the second part they aren’t talking about is… are those votes all actual legal votes? And the answer is possibly not (why possibly? I’ll get to that). Then see all those bullet points of problems, weirdness, and fuckery. Which comes down to there being about five times as many questionable votes as Biden’s margin of victory (for the state, in this one county).”

He’ll get to that, you see…when he gets into the details of the claims…which, well, he never does. Essentially, he just repeats Wright’s claim about the total number of votes the report raised questions about, without discussing what the numbers are. It’s basically the same nonsense as Wright but packaged in a more considered tone but with the added spin of authority.

Just under half of these supposedly “questionable votes” come from one category: people who may have changed address during the election.

Fractal misinformation but presented in three different styles (or maybe two and half different styles). As for the mainstream press not digging into this further, I think they made the right call. The main takeaway remains that Biden won, the CyberNinja report attempts to then cloud that finding but when you dig further…Biden still won.

Review: Foundation Episode 2

Episode 1 took the short and thin Asimov story ‘The Psychohistorians’ and expanded it into a minor epic but the bones of the story were there. However, even at that rate of expansion, Asimov’s Foundation novels are not going to be sufficient material to sustain an epic miniseries, never mind several seasons.

Which takes us to episode 2 where we discover how the showrunners intend to fabricate a Game of Thrones from Asimov’s entertaining but thin material. I also learn the very obvious clue I was looking for and didn’t spot in episode 1 and from here on in we get actual, genuine spoilers…

Continue reading “Review: Foundation Episode 2”

Susan’s Salon: 2021 September 26/27


Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

Ninja FUD in Arizona

Cast your mind back to the closing weeks of 2020 and in the US the right was all aflutter about electoral fraud i.e. not at all coping with losing. I’ve covered the extent to which US elections are impacted by fraud before and the answer is lots-and-lots-and-none-at-all. The lots are overt and technically legal and come in the form of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It’s fraud because it is a systematic effort to distort the results of elections so that people who do not have the support of most eligible voters win elections. All election systems have flaws but if you put your effort into making those flaws worse for your own advantage then I have no issue calling that fraudulent, at least morally if not legally.

Putting that aside, the issue of in-person voter fraud and similar shenanigans is rare in the US, largely focused on local elections and (usually) has little impact. Past coverage of the issue prior to 2020 can be read here:

Of course, November 2020 brought fresh claims of voter fraud when Donald Trump was beaten by Joe Biden in the Presidential election. Those claims got quite wild, with all sorts of nonsense from misapplication of Benford’s Law to absurd claims about voting machines, a supposed military “raid” in Germany (wholly made up it seems) and at least one Kraken. What was missing at that point was ninjas.

Amid these attempts to deny reality, those states that swung the electoral college numbers in Biden’s favour received the most attention. Arizona was one of those states, and within Arizona, the populous Maricopa County was of particular interest because it sits electorally and demographically as a place shifting from Republican to Democratic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maricopa_County,_Arizona

As a consequence of the desire to change reality, Arizona Senate Republicans hired private contractors to conduct an audit of Maricopa County https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Maricopa_County_presidential_ballot_audit and things only got stranger from there. The company, calling itself “CyberNinjas” at least added a cyberpunk theme to the process but aside from that, approached the process in a manner that generously could be called “sloppy” https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation-politics/observers-of-arizonas-gop-led-election-audit-document-security-breaches-prohibited-items-on-counting-floor/

The audit itself was a bit of a circus but apparently, it was sufficient to convince Donald Trump that it would lead to him being re-instated as US President by August 2021 https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/06/maggie-haberman-is-right/ (Observant readers will have noticed that Donald Trump was not re-instated as US President last month)

Fast forward to this week. The CyberNinjas report was leaked ahead of its public reveal and surprise, surprise Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Maricopa County…which, of course, we all already knew. https://www.azfamily.com/full-report-cyber-ninjas-results-on-election-audit/pdf_e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f.html In fact, in the CyberNinja’s recount Biden had more votes but…let’s face it that’s likely an error on their part in some way. This was not a group that inspired confidence.

Of course, the point of the audit was not intended to come up if with a different value than the previous recounts but to either find a ‘smoking gun’ of electoral shenanigans and failing that just generally cast doubt on the results. That Biden won (again) carries some amusement value but the substantial effort by the GOP was to use the audit report to claim that the results were in some vague way not wholly legitimate. Which, is what they were doing beforehand anyway but now they have spent a lot of money and can do it again.

The GOP spin on the report is a claim that 40 thousand votes, far more than Biden’s margin in the county, are somehow dubious. Interestingly, the CyberNinja’s report is more equivocal. They do list a whole pile of things but looking at the points in detail reveal a whole pile of vague hand waving. You can read the report here https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/azfamily.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/19/e1967608-1d99-11ec-9f0f-c394f7c3dc5f/614e7177ca92c.pdf.pdf (and archive version here)

So what’s this 40K+ that the right is touting? The report breaks down 22 issues and the number of ballots impacted by those issues. The issues are presented with titles and a rating from “Critical” to “Low”. The emphasis from the right is on the names of the issues rather than a. the actual numbers and b. what those numbers actually indicate or c. whether those numbers are in any way correct and d. whether they changed the result. The idea is really just to get a figure big enough that Biden’s margin in this one county can be called doubtful in some sense, which helps fuel further voter suppression policies.

The single biggest issue highlighted by the report is the ominous-sounding “5.3.1 Mail-in ballots voted from prior address” which is the only issue rated as “Critical” in the report. According to the CyberNinjas, this numbers 23,344 ballots i.e. about half of the supposed 40K. Digging into the details, the issue is primarily people who moved house WITHIN Maricopa County between receiving a mail-in ballot and posting it. Hmmm. OK, sure, not even remotely something indicating mass electoral fraud but possibly in breach of the actual rules…except…it isn’t really 23,344 ballots WERE THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, it’s just 23,344 were maybe that’s what happened.

“Mail-in ballots were cast under voter registration IDs for people that may not have received their ballots by mail because they had moved, and no one with the same last name remained at the address. Through extensive data analysis we have discovered approximately 23,344 votes that may have met this condition.”

The ‘extensive data analysis was a comparison with a third-party address validation tool of the kind used by companies to validate their direct marketing tools etc. So some proportion of those would be false positives in terms of an actual change of address, even more, would be false positives of a change of address within the window where it would have been a problem. The ‘audit’ did not actually confirm a single one of these ballots as actually being a problem. Nor did the report in any way connect this issue with any indication of systematic fraud, indeed taking the claim at face value it was eligible voters voting but with not wholly up-to-date details.

In short, it is largely smoke but this one issue bulks up the numbers.

The next highest issue is “5.4.1 More Ballots Returned By Voter Than Received” with 9,041 ballots ‘impacted’. Again, the title doesn’t describe the actual thing found but the potential inference that could be made from the discrepancy. The idea being with these titles, that either intentional or through sloppy reporting the whole “maybe” aspect of the report gets skipped over.

The actual substance of the figure is where there are discrepancies between the number of ballots sent to a person and the number returned e.g. somebody was sent one mail-in ballot but two were received. Note also “received” not “counted” and the report assumes only one ballot was counted. In addition, the report isn’t entirely sure what the figures they have actually indicate, noting:

“NOTE: We’ve been informed shortly before the release of this report that some of the discrepancies outlined could be due to the protected voter list. This has not been able to be validated at this time, but we thought it was important to disclose this information for accuracy.”

But…OK, follow the chains of maybes down the line and there’s at least a possibility of some fraction of that 9,041 being people who voted twice (although probably only counted once). Might that impact the results? The report provides a table that breaks down the nine thousand approximately by party registration.

  • Democrat [sic] Party 34.4%
  • Republican Party 30.4%
  • Prefer not to declare 30.1%
  • Independent 3.7%
  • Libertarian Party 1.3%

So we are well into fractions or fractions of maybes.

I won’t cover every point but the next highest was “5.4.2 VOTERS THAT POTENTIALLY VOTED IN MULTIPLE COUNTIES” with 5,295 votes and this is more of a classic. The CyberNinjas matched first, middle and last names AND year of birth across voter records to find duplicates. They found 10,342 votes out of 2,076,086 votes actually counted in the election.

“Comparing the Maricopa County VMSS Final Voted File to the equivalent files of the other fourteen Arizona counties resulted in 5,047 voters with the same first, middle, last name and birth year, representing 10,342 votes among all the counties. While it is possible for multiple individuals to share all these details, it is not common although the incidence
here (roughly one-third of one percent) may be the rate of commonalities in identifying information between legitimate, separate individual voters especially with common last names.”

Yes, it may well be the actual rate of commonalities and if I was paying for this report that ACTUAL rate (or a research-based estimate) is something I’d expect to see in that paragraph. It’s unlikely that two people would share all those identifying features in common but also the proportion they found was very small…which is what you would expect. This extensive data analysis discovered that a rare thing was rare.

These three issues by themselves (those rated “High” or “Critical”) account for 37,680 of the ballots that the propaganda spin is claiming are in some way evidence of fraud or potential fraud. The report itself makes more moderate claims about those figures and yet even those more moderate claims are poorly substantiated.

The issues with smaller figures have much the same issues. Name matching (e.g. of 282 possibly deceased people) that may or may not be accurate, a lack of clarity on what the figure might indicate and no obvious connection with any kind of systematic fraud.

Even taking the dubious report at face value, the broader narrative of some kind of extensive fraud by the Democratic Party (or the Deep State or satanic cultists or whoever is supposed to be conspiring today) is more disproven by the report than it is supported. A proportion of Arizona residents moving house with a plot to steal an election makes no sense but then none of the conspiratorial plots mooted in the wake of Trump’s defeat made any sense.

The details of the report won’t matter though. You’ll be getting sound bites of 40 thousand bad ballots in Arizona for literally years after this even though the actual report, dodgy as it is, doesn’t even support that figure.

Oh, and a little twist in the story. Do you remember Benford’s Law? Well if you check the leading digits of the figures in the CyberNinja report (page 5), the most common leading digit is 2 not 1. Of course, given the data there’s no reason why you should expect it to follow Benford’s law but for all those people who were claiming that any departure from the rule is sure evidence of fraud…well…OK those people don’t believe in logical consistency anyway so.

Review: Foundation Episode 1 (Apple TV)

2021 for all its faults, is offering fans of classic science fiction two (potential) treats: a new movie version of Dune and a TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s interesting that of these two highly influential stories that with first you can make a good guess about what specific scenes will appear and in the second I’ve no idea what we will be getting.

Towards the end of episode 1 of Foundation, Hari Seldon’s science of psychohistory is explained as being able to predict the flow of history but not individual actions. Fans of Asimov’s Foundation books find ourselves in the same position. We know the shape of the century-spanning plot, what Terminus will become, what will happen to the Empire, how Seldon’s plans go awry (and why and because of whom) and how they get back on track. At the same time, it was obvious from the start that a Foundation dramatisation was going to have to do more than flesh out Asimov’s characters. In the second half of the second book in the trilogy when The Mule (name-checked at the start of Episode 1) is where Asimov’s Foundation shifts gear into something more easily adapted for a TV show. Getting there is going to require new characters, motivations and plot twists over the top of Asimov’s original short stories.

Episode 1 unapologetically launches into the process with some new characters with old names. We first meet (briefly) Salvor Hardin on Terminus in a flash-forward from the main events of the episode and I assume Episode 2 she will be the main character — although I assume that aside from the gender change, she’s not intended to be particularly like the character from Asimov’s “The Encyclopedists”.

A lot more time (and background) is devoted to Gaal Dornick. As with the character from the story “The Psychohistorians”, Dornick is a mathematician recruited by the famed Dr Hari Seldon to work with him on Trantor on his theory of psychohistory. For the episode, Dornick is from a watery planet with a highly religious culture that eschews (and later we learn, persecutes) science and scientists. To work with Seldon, Dornick has not only left her family and home but has cut ties with her religion and culture. I’m not sure why they picked this particular back story as it largely undermines the dilemmas Dornick is faced with (e.g. fleeing Trantor and returning home is also a potential death sentence).

In a choice that I cannot but applaud, the show has really ramped up the space-opera visuals, to give everything a strong fantastical look. Some of the spaceships have a definite Foss look to them, and there’s a definite concern about visual style. To add to the space opera, we also have the Galactic Emperors intervening directly in the events. A triumvirate of clones known as Brother Dusk (an ageing emperor), Brother Day (in mid-life) and Brother Dawn (a boy), who maintain the imperial office in a continuous rule.

And, well, we know the score. Seldon predicts the empire will collapse, that is seen as seditious, maybe they’ll kill him, and after some alarming things happen…they decide to exile his project to the remote planet of Terminus where it won’t do any harm if it is nonsense and where it might be useful if it isn’t.

It’s a slow episode but with a decent cast and dialogue that avoids being terrible. Jared Harris is a plausible Hari Seldon, Lee Pace is almost type-cast as the calculating Brother Day clone of the Emperor. Lou Llobell does a decent job as Gaal Dornick but I felt like the writers were confused about who the character should be.

Looking at the listings at IMDB, many of the actors in episode 1 will be recurring characters throughout the series. That’s going to be interesting but I suspect it also points to the show taking its time to get through the next two chapters of the first novel in the trilogy.

Thematically, I thought episode 1 was oddly faithful to the general Asimovian approach. I say ‘oddly’ because the addition of the whole anti-science religion of Synnax felt off to me but also fitting in with Asimov’s glorification of the rational over superstition. Laying it all on a bit too thick perhaps when the writers had a chance to take a bit more of a critical eye to Asimov’s technocratic dreams.

Anyway, overall, nice cast, mainly clever choices, big space opera visuals and long episodes. I will be watching more. I wonder what happens next? Sadly, no robots not even a hint of a one secretly controlling everything after wandering off from a different set of books.

Timothy’s Twelve Volume Fantasy Series [updated]

I’ve been passed a memo by my cat telling me to tell you that he has finished his 12 book epic fantasy series. Which is odd because I don’t think he has written a 12 book epic fantasy series. I’ll go check…

ETA: OK, what he means is that he has written the END of his 12 book epic fantasy series but he might not have written all of the preceding parts.

ETA2: OK, new memo. “Just to reassure my fans that this series will be completed, I have written the end first. Signed Timothy T.T. Cat Esquire”

ETA3: I’ve got a sample:

“As Flargon emptied the final flagon of demon blood onto the last firey remains of King Jerrob what was left of the Companionship of the Cutlery rested their weary heads knowing that evil had finally been vanquished.”

So there you go.

Update: Apparently that isn’t a sample…that’s the whole thing. That’s all he’s written. I’m so sorry. OK, new note… he’s going to write the middle next to make sure it doesn’t sag. So far he’s literally written more memos than story.

Meanwhile in Melbourne

Victoria had a literal earthquake yesterday, an event that is unusual in Australia. However, the bigger news over the past three days is a series of protests in Melbourne that have resulted in violent clashes with police. Here’s the ABC on yesterday’s protest:

“More than 200 protesters have been arrested after a stand-off with police at the Shrine of Remembrance, with two police officers sustaining injuries in the showdown. The protesters were given penalty infringement notices, with some charged with more serious offences for discharging flares, and throwing golf balls, tap handles and batteries at police.

The two police officers injured were struck in the head with bottles, while another was admitted to hospital with chest pains.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the war memorial on Wednesday to protest against the coronavirus lockdown and mandatory vaccines.”


It’s worth adding a degree of scepticism as to why a protest turns violent when there are riot police involved but overall these appear to be more than just rowdy protests that became violent once police attempted to disrupt them.

Ostensibly, the protests were because of new restrictions on construction sites due to anti-covid measures. Construction work had been allowed during recent lockdowns but under strict rules to prevent the spread of covid on sites. However, due to poor compliance with these measures, the Victorian government had indicated that tougher measures would need to be implemented. After Monday’s protest, they shut down most construction work for two weeks.

And this is where things get murky. Monday’s protests focused on the construction worker’s union, the CFMEU and appeared to be construction workers unhappy with lockdown measures and mandatory vaccinations for people on construction sites. However, the CFMEU doesn’t support mandatory vaccinations and quickly alleged that many of the protestors were not members of the union and also that many might not be construction workers at all (or “tradies” i.e. people in associated trades). Observers pointed out that while protestors were wearing the characteristic hi-vis clothing, that often the clothing was new and unlabelled. (Having said that, wearing clothes without elements that make it easier for you to be identified would be a smart thing to do regardless.)

The counter-claim, which has a lot of substance, is the protests were predominantly anti-vax/anti-lockdown protestors with some construction workers, as well as far-right groups and (of course) in a big city there are going to be at least some people who are all three of those things. News reports are also suggesting that the proportional makeup of the protests has shifted over the past few days so that the number of construction workers involved has reduced.

There’s a longer analysis of the protests here:

“The far right has really sought to mobilise frustrated people and push them more toward right-wing narratives, particularly white nationalist narratives. There is a strong historical animosity toward trade unions (as the vanguard of the political left) by the far right. It would be disingenuous to view the far right as unintelligent thugs. They are learned in the history of national socialism and fascism and the preconditions for its rise.

So you see the far right working very hard to undermine trade unions and the way they represent the organised working class. There is an attempt to undermine trust in trade unions and paint them as traitors and sell-outs who are in bed with the government.

Among the protesters there was a really self-conscious effort to represent themselves as themselves as tradies and workers. Some observed protest organisers encouraging people to wear hi-vis clothing to these rallies.”


Anatomy of the backlash against covid measures

Partly this came out of trying to describe the journey some right-wing figures have taken during the covid pandemic. Once you step into right-wing social media there’s often a Gish Gallop of stuff on covid with a broad conspiratorial message (i.e. the idea that covid is somehow a plot by the government against everybody). The problem is you get such a mix of things that reasonable and semi-reasonable positions are mixed in with utter crackpot stuff. For example, there are legitimate questions about lockdown measures and about heavy-handed police tactics that are actually becoming harder to discuss because those issues keep getting hijacked by gibberish.

The overall goal is to undermine the consensus and effectiveness of public health measures by tapping into a. legitimate fears and b. existing nonsensical fears. By legitimate fears, I mean for example the usual kind of policing & surveillance powers governments grab in a crisis but also legitimate questions about jobs or the psychological & social impacts of the current situation.

If you want an example of the kind of omelette of covid-conspiracy being served up, here is Peter Grant https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-covid-19-lies-are-falling-apart.html

If you are careful you can pick out things that are semi-reasonable amid the things that are nonsense, and some of the nonsense has plausible elements.

I’m playing with a list of common elements in these kinds of positions to help clarify how far down the conspiracy trail particular figures have gone. Some of these elements are, by themselves, reasonable positions or, at some point in time, were reasonable positions to have questions about. Others are just nonsense or built from more general anti-vaccine or anti-government tropes reapplied to the current crisis.

This is a rough initial list and not presented in a particular order. I would expect a reasonable, non-conspiracy theory minded person to at least have some sympathy or accept the reasonableness of some of these points i.e. many of these in isolation don’t make you a covid-denier by any means and several of them have their own spectrum that runs from reasonable doubts to full-on conspiracy-mongering.

  • Blames China: this is more of general tone of attributing Covid-19 as the fault of China in a vague sense. More spin and framing than conspiracy theory if presented in isolation.
  • Claims China created the pandemic: this is an overt conspiracy theory, more common in the early days of 2020, that the virus is a deliberate policy of the Chinese government. This grew less popular on the right because it sits poorly with the other conspiracy idea that covid-19 is a minor ailment.
  • Lab leak hypothesis: a hypothesis isn’t a conspiracy theory and currently it’s not impossible that covid-19 arose in a medical laboratory researching corona viruses. Not impossible…but also the evidence remains thin and circumstantial. The path into conspiratorial thinking is the step were a hypothesis is asserted as fact despite the paucity of evidence AND the idea that the ‘truth’ is being hidden by governments internationally.
  • Covid statistics/reporting is false: obviously medical statistics are imperfect and as we’ve seen in other fields, any legitimate uncertainty in figures can be used to cast doubt on everything. We legitimately don’t know the ‘true’ rate of infections because cases of covid can be asymptomatic but that’s not the same as people having no idea at all.
  • Low mortality claims: a more specific claim about covid stats is that the number of deaths is exaggerated. More common last year but still present and usually based on the idea that older people dying of covid may have been close to death anyway. Obviously, there are going to be edge cases with cause-of-death reporting but that’s always true. This is also an example where the initial situation when health officials had little information to go on is used to discredit official information in general (i.e. the figures changed over time as people got better data).
  • Low infection rates claims: similar to the above but with the degree to which data on infection rates is imperfect and subject to change.
  • Strawman claims social distancing doesn’t work: arguably it doesn’t “work” because by itself it doesn’t stop covid but the claim here is were people ignore that social distancing is part of multiple strategies to slow the spread. The arguments presented by the more conspiratorial minded treat social distancing as a strawman where it was supposed to (somehow) stop covid completely…and as it hasn’t therefore everything was a big lie etc.
  • Strawman claims masks don’t work: this one has had a long evolution and was exacerbated by initial confused messaging about masks. You can find people on the right who were initially pro-mask when the official advice was at best mixed about masks (first quarter of 2020) who shifted to being anti-max when the advice changed in favour of masks. Rules mandating masks have been an obvious point of friction and understandably so. However, the efficacy of masks follows arguments similar to ones about social distancing i.e. if they are imperfect then they must (somehow) be useless with no territory inbetween 100% effective and 0%. Also, it really isn’t impossible that when all is said & done and long term studies of mask policies evaluate their effecitvness, that perhaps those policies didn’t do much (or maybe the opposite and they saved many lives). Imperfect knowledge is part of the nature of dealing with a new disease.
  • Claims that messaging on anti-covid measure were lies because they changed: these are agument intended to discredit whatever the current advice is and tie into questions about social distancing, masks and lockdowns or other restrictions. There’s an undeniable fact there that public health messaging changed over time but the reasons are obvious. Firstly imperfect knowledge and secondly public policy is always going to be a trade off based on multiple political factors.
  • Claims lockdowns don’t work: another big spectrum of claims that range from reasonable criticism to absurdities. International and regional approaches to lockdowns have been varied and the implimentation of them has raised many legitimate questions. Mixed in with that spectrum of discussion are variations on some of the same style of strawman arguments discussed above.
  • Lockdowns are damaging: this is undeniable. Clealry being stuck in a house is psychologically unpleasant at best and very difficult for many people. There are clear economic impacts as well. However, the impact of lockdowns is not easy to quantify and in the more conspiratorial social media space you quickly find poorly sourced claims that impact is much higher than has been documented.
  • Lockdowns are some sort of plot: this is more overt conspiracy mongering i.e. the idea that government are trying to trap people in their homes for nefarious reasons. It’s hard to deny the authoritarian streak in many governments but that streak has always been accompanied by those same governments wanting people going to work and if not working, going to the shops.
  • Survelliance issues: government covid tracking apps or sign-in apps have created an issue where the balance of a public health crisis meets the genuine fear of how the government or police might abuse the information they collect. Many abosultely 100% legitimate concerns but also an entry point into broader conspiracies.
  • Food shortage predictions: these were more common mid-2020 with the idea that lockdown measures were going to stop farmers growing food or a general economic collapse because of covid.
  • Anti-Fauci: specifically in the US. This is one of the simplest and most direct indications of somebody going a long way down the covid-denial rabbit hole. Memes or rhetoric attacking Dr Anthony Fauci because of his high profile role as chief medical advisor to the US President. In other countries, this might be directed at similar figures who have had equivalent roles.
  • Experts were wrong: this is similar to the issue about changing messaging on public health advice but with a specific focus on claiming that key experts (such as Dr Fauci) were wrong at some point in the pandemic but in particular focusing on what was said in the first several months of 2020. The point here is to discredit medical expertise in general (as opposed to just government public health advice in general but obviously the two are connected).
  • Experts lied: the more extreme version of the point above but with the added twist that what was said was lies or intended to decieve the public for nefarious reasons.
  • Pro-Hydroxychloroquine: the drug did really once look like it might have some effect against covid-19 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroxychloroquine but systematic trials showed that whatever benefits it might have were slim (at best) compared to the risks. So there’s a bit of a time spectrum here, somebody saying in March 2020 “hydroxychloroquine might be a cure” is speculating whereas somebody saying that it is a cure in March 2021 is ignoring medical evidence. Again, medical understanding changes and who knows, somebody might discover a way it treats covid in some people or in some circumstances at some point in the future…or they very well might not. Claiming it is a cure now is making claims that run counter to known facts.
  • Pro-Ivermectin: there genuinely were studies showing some effectiveness of this anti-parasite drug against covid but those were in-vitro studies with high concentration. Clinical trials led to a mess of information when a number of low-quality (and possibly fraudulent) trials showed amazing success, along with other trials that showed little or no positive results. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivermectin So again, there’s a time factor here. A reasonable person could have looked at the available evidence late in 2020 and concluded that ivermectin had promise. Not changing your mind about that in the face of evidence is a different matter. There’s another dimension here which is the socioeconomics of the pandemic. With access to vaccines being far more limited in many developing nations, the use of ivermectin has continued because of its relative availability as an anti-parisitic drug for humans and animals. If, on the other hand, you are an affluent person in a affluent city taking horse paste instead of a vaccine then, yes, you deserve at least some mockery.
  • Other fake cures: by this is mean the more obvious non-science based quackery. If somebody is selling homeopathic cures for covid for example.
  • General anti-vaccine nonsense: there is a two-way street here. There are reasonable and semi-reasonable issues listed above that help bring some people along into more weird positions. Similarly, people who were already anti-vaccine follow a path to adopting other positions (or joining an anti-lockdown protest). In principle somebody could be anti-vaccine but pro-lockdowns or pro-vaccine specifically as an alternative to lockdowns but the further down the conspiracy path you go, the more the whole set of beliefs gets adopted.
  • Covid vaccine dangers: vaccines don’t have zero risks but they have low risks compared to other common medication. Hyping up actual side effects or claiming false causality when a vaccinated person suffers some unrelated ailment, are standard anti-vaccine tactics. Again, there’s a spectrum here of reasonable concern through to conspiratorial nonsense.
  • Claims covid vaccines don’t work: this varies from ‘just asking questions’ stances as to why the vaccines haven’t been miracle cures already to overt claims that the vaccines don’t work. This is often accompanied by misinformation or misleading stats (e.g. pointing to the proportion of covid cases in the vaccinated v unvaccinated in countries with 70%+ of the population with at least one vaccine dose).
  • Claims covid vaccines aren’t vaccines: this maybe specifically pointed at vaccines such the mRNA style vaccine such as the Pfizer vaccine on the ground that they don’t work in the traditional way. This is often a lead into nuttier anti-vaccine conspiracies.
  • Nuttier anti-vaccine conspiracies: too many to list but these are the more obviously out-there claims about tracking chips and 5G networks etc.
  • Anti-booster shot: many vaccines need multiple shots. Chicken pox, for example, is the gift that keeps on giving and past infection doesn’t give you lifelong immunity but instead the chance of getting shingles in later life. Influenza adapts to human immunity with such agility that yearly vaccinations are needed. However, the fact that covid vaccines might need additional shots is being used as a rhetorical point to bolster other claims from the nuttier ones to stoking fears of side-effects.
  • Anti-vaccine mandate: can and should governments make you take a vaccine? What about employers? There are legitimate ethical questions there but add in any of the more conspiratorial aspects listed above and the idea that people will be pressured or legal obligied to take covid vaccines takes on a more sinister aspect.

I’m not sure if I should group these or rank them (e.g. from reasonable to utter nonsense) or group them thematically and then rank them. I want to stress again that I’m including reasonable points (or points that start reasonably or which were reasonable at some point prior to further data) not to demonise people who have sensible concerns but to try and get a sense of the spectrum of the issues and to see the entry points to more radical beliefs.