It’s Not Safe To Fool Mother Nature..

Those of us of a “certain age” may recall an old commercial for a margarine brand in which  “Mother Nature” was deceived into thinking the margarine was butter; when she realized she’d been tricked, she responded with a thunderbolt while declaring that it “Isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature!”

Evidently, the ad sold a lot of margarine.

It appears, however, that more recent efforts to deny reality have met with a different–and far more lethal–consequence. In a recent commentary, Michael Hicks has reported on a study conducted by three Yale researchers into the effects of politically-motivated disinformation on COVID death rates

Last week three Yale professors published a study of COVID-related deaths in the United States. The data they used matched COVID deaths, voter registration by party and age in two states—Florida and Ohio. One goal of the study was to test whether anti-vaccine or anti-mask campaigns contributed to differences in death rates by political affiliation. Here’s what they found.

Before the pandemic, as one might have expected, death rates between Republicans and Democrats  of the same age and condition but different political affiliation were statistically identical. In other words, political affiliation had no effect on death rates.

But then, denial–first, of COVID’s reality and then of the efficacy of vaccination–became a political marker, a way for MAGA Republicans to claim membership in the tribe and to  “own the libs.”

Slowly, the Republican death rate began to edge higher than the Democrat death rate, again controlling for age differences. In the weeks before the COVID vaccine was made available, a gap emerged, with Republicans of the same age dying at a 22 percent higher rate than Democrats in these two states. That is large, accounting for hundreds of extra dead Republicans. This might have been due to Republicans having been exposed to more anti-mask messaging, leading them to forego more public health recommendations.

However, once the COVID vaccine was introduced, the death rate difference between Republicans and Democrats of the same age ballooned to 153 percent.

Hicks notes that there are several other underlying risks associated with political affiliation, such as gun ownership or lifestyle choices. But as he points out,

those risks didn’t cause death rate differences until COVID came along. It was partisan differences in the consumption of anti-vaccine messaging that killed many, many more Republicans than Democrats….

Nationwide, at least 250,000 Americans died of COVID because they chose not to be vaccinated. More will continue to succumb to the disease. Every last one of these deaths resulted from the rejection of modernity and reason. These were voluntary and senseless deaths attributable to petulant ignorance. The people second-guessing a study about which they have no technical understanding, exhibit the same flawed reasoning as those who rejected the COVID vaccines.

The GOP’s constant attacks on “elites” and higher education have led to a widespread, very partisan rejection of science, expertise and reality. It isn’t limited to suspicion of vaccines–it’s everything from unwillingness to accept the medical complexities implicated in the abortion debates to denial of the reality of climate change. It’s fear of modernity, of a world without bright lines–a world where individuals have to trust that scientists and medical professionals know what they’re doing and are offering sound advice.

As Hicks puts it,

This acceptance of expertise, trust and accumulated knowledge is necessary to sustain our modern world. Yet, we live in a time when social media allows more-skilled charlatans to deceive us. I think those of us who came of age before the dissolution of national media are especially vulnerable to purposeful distortions. That vulnerability killed a quarter million Americans, and it endangers us all in the years ahead.

It isn’t just a pandemic. Today’s GOP stands for nothing more than the intentional embrace of conspiracies, the willingness–even eagerness– to label and blame “the Other” for any and all uncongenial realities, and the substitution of vengefulness for policy. Insane as it seems, the cited study confirms that MAGA Republicans are willing to die in order to “own the libs.”

“Petulant ignorance” might just as well be the MAGA motto.


  1. YES – I remember the ministers telling the flock that their god would not let the virus hurt them – the minister is dead (more than one) . I wonder if the families of all those dead church folks could sue the churches that lied to them.

  2. This is a timely issue. Thank you, Sheila.

    MaLes and I joined Canadian friends last week to see a play in Gananoque at a well known theater located on the St Lawrence Seaway. We were required to wear masks while inside the theater. Everyone complied without protest. When the theater manager introduced the show (Jersey Boys), he thanked the audience for compliance. He said while there have been other theaters who had to cancel due to performers and audience being infected with COVID, this theater has not faced that outcome due to audience caring enough about each other to take recommended precautions. There was applause.

    In my childhood hometown: Abilene, Texas; the story is different. Broadway performances have come to Abilene for many seasons because of box office support and a grand new theater with all the whistles and bells most appreciated by theater companies. But when the local theater and stakeholders refused to require masks among audience patrons, the theater companies canceled Abilene from the entire season.

    It is shameful when culture and political elites defer on the side of challenging public health recommendations with resounding evidence to the detriment of the community at large.

    Lightning hit the stage on the road to Abilene, often referred to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt”.

  3. Dying to be right. Perfect. Charles Darwin must be roaring with laughter in his grave. One of the basic tenets of evolutionary fact is that a species MUST adapt to a changing environment or die. End of story.

    The fact that the GOP political body is a collection of crazy people who care not a single whit for anything but winning elections and staying in power, spells eventual doom. And yet… And yet the talking heads keep telling us that the Republicans are going to take back the House and maybe the Senate. WHAT? Don’t people learn? Wasn’t Jan. 6 and all the rest a wake-up call that our very democracy is in grave peril because of mindless fools who want to “own the libs?”

    So there we have it. Willful ignorance, COVID denial, religious-based directives, guns, fear-mongering and all the rest all represent a downward pressure on adaptation to change. Eventually, the GOP will die by its own hand, but the question remains: How many innocent people will they take with them? Will they destroy the nation out of spite? Steve Bannon says yes we will. And yet… And yet millions of voters will turn out and vote for these empty vessels even though the Democrats do things like extend survival benefits to failing farms. Those farmers will take their checks happily and then vote against the hand that saved them. BRILLIANT.

  4. My thoughts and prayers go out to those family members who died prematurely due to petulant ignorance.

    As for the medical community, which is controlled by Big Pharma, I’m not so quick to give my trust to them either. If they genuinely had the people’s interest at heart, why aren’t there more taking a stand?

    For the same reason that Michael Hicks’ employer, Ball State University, accepts donations from the Koch’s dark network. Mike made an ass out of himself defending the Koch’s sycophantic-racist John Schnatter’s (Papa John) donation. Ball State’s GOP-controlled Board of Trustees even fired a former president for not kowtowing to the Kochs during his short-lived stay.

    Hicks and the medical community would get higher approval ratings if they took a moral stand against monied interests instead of rolling over and playing by the oligarchs’ systemic rules. Hard to take them seriously when they spend most of their time on their knees begging for money.

  5. Petulant ignorance” might just as well be the MAGA motto. Excellent suggestion Sheila.
    Vernon – agree with your comment, as always.

  6. Republicans reject facts, choosing to accept fiction as their personal reality just as they accept creationism and reject science, leaving their salvation to Scripture rather than masks and vaccines. These decisions take an active thought process on the part of the individual; it is much easier for them to allow others to do their thinking and decision making for them. Just plain mental laziness.

    Theresa Bowers’ quote “Dying to be right.” fits their choice on their political level as well as their determination to be personally “correct” on all issues before them today.

    Learning is not a cleared path through life. “Mother Nature” is always dropping surprises in our path; MAGA is based on “go along to get along” rather than accepting facts and change, willing to put their lives and the lives of family and friends on the line to prove their baseless point.

    “Petulant ignorance” might just as well be the MAGA motto.”

  7. Isn’t it sad that this happened/is happening. It is far sadder that it likely continue and get sadder. As reported a few days ago, fewer kids are getting “traditional” vaccines measles, etc.. as trust in science/medicine rubs off. As a result, some jurisdictions are relaxing these requirements for schools, presumably bowing to “parental choice”.

    Are we truly becoming the country where the “pursuit of happiness” , common good be damned, reigns supreme? Combine that with crony capitalism/fascism leading and, per my favorite quote from this blog – “I’m glad I’m old”.

  8. I read an opinion piece in Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ) where the author would have given Trump an “A” for his presidency except for his handing of COVID, and he knocked his grade down to a “B”. I have heard estimates that out of the million deaths in the US from COVID, about 600,000 of those could have been prevented with a national coordinated effort, like most other 1st world countries were able to present. So even after Trump help kill more than half a million people, Trump Republicans are still in a complete state of denial and are still lying or so stupid they are unaware they are still lying. I am wondering what kind of letter grade Jefferson Davis would have gotten from this guy. This is interesting reading and it adds a little texture to other studies, but it’s still not going to move the needle for the idiot that wrote the opinion piece in IBJ last week, or few other Trump Republicans.

  9. “I think those of us who came of age before the dissolution of national media are especially vulnerable to purposeful distortions.”

    I would like more explanation about this statement. If there is some basis in fact for this, it gives me hope that younger people have been trained to be more discerning with better critical thinking skills than I give many people credit for. It also means that given the current trend in mis-information, the older more gullible generation is going to be killed off faster, but it still might take another generation to get through this.

  10. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a “study” in the “Lancet”, England’s go to journal of medicine. In that “study” he determined that the rubella vaccine caused autism. This started a panic among the parents of small children and began what we now call the anti-vax movement. It turns out there were only 12 children in the study and their data were intentionally manipulated to get the result that would give Wakefield the $600K+ that he had been offered to come up with data to prove a case that was about to go to court in the UK. The “Lancet” subsequently published a retraction and Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine, but most of the movement leaders opted to ignore the follow-up. So the anti-vax groundwork was laid well before Covid-19 appeared on the scene.

    Now we bring in people who are just dying to be told that their side and their God are right. Better dead than Dem. At least many of them got their wish.

  11. Anti-vaxxers have gone back to the days of bloodletting and consumption of mercury. Willful ignorance goes hand in hand with being willfull delusion.

    Alternate realities are basically a by-product of delusion. Because when someone wishes really really hard for a reality that’s not actually a reality, you have some unyielding and death dealing bizarro world Dogma going on!

    Evolution? Look at a particular tribe of hunters in Africa who use a jar and a large piece of fruit to catch there prey. The monkey reaches into the jar to grab the fruit, and will not release it once the hunters come. So basically the monkey has trapped itself and is captured by the hunters so they can eat its brain while it is screaming.

    You would think an increased intellectual level of a related species, would be able to let go of conspiracy theories before those conspiratorial hunters eat their brains. But, they can’t let go, and, by what was posted in this thread, conspiratorial deluded brain eating causes death just as sure as it does with those monkeys.

    This particular group looking back at the good old days, is kind of like saying let’s go back to the future! Back to the days when snake oil salesman sold their miracle cures, and they made ketchup with red paint sugar and molasses. No regulation, no concern about one’s neighbors, only how much money and power can be accumulated. Maybe some of that willful ignorance is catching up?

  12. As history looks back on these troubled times it will note that they were marked by division between those who honored human knowledge no matter what it predicted versus those who tried to compromise it with disinformation. Science versus politics fueled by pervasive, persuasive entertainment media successfully redistributing wealth up.

    Why? Scientific and historic alarm bells are sounding trying to motivate responsibility to each other including future each others.

    This has happened before now but never before has there been the degree of separation between what humans know collectively versus what individuals know. We simply aren’t keeping up.

    So alarms are sounding and politicians are pretending that they can protect us from the consequence of us not responding by relying on incomplete individual knowledge ignoring collective knowledge.

    Of course, that’s a recipe for failure.

  13. What Vern wrote. Sheila’s account is a horror story, and worse, continuing. Poor souls! Apparently they have been brainwashed to believe that owning the libs is somehow more important than their own survival. I blame Trump and the Republican leadership in cheering such mass suicide of their own supporters for perceived political advantage – a new low in their mad quest for power.

    The platform of politics and that of science rest on two different bases. No politician should deliberately confuse appropriate responses to an admixture of the two, which should instead be treated like we treat church and state, i.e., both have their place but are to be given the oil and water treatment – never to mix, however pious or otherwise desirable the objective(s).

    What to do, since libs’ direct advice will go unheeded? Publicize such studies as the one Sheila refers to today and as obliquely as possible, advise the anti-science target audience of the numbers in such studies in the hope they and theirs will “get their jabs” and otherwise follow the rules of scientists and not those of preachers or politicians of any political stripe.

  14. Dan,

    “it gives me hope that younger people have been trained to be more discerning with better critical thinking skills than I give many people credit for” – really. The exact opposite is the trend. Even in the remaining unpoliticized well-funded public schools (mostly in Blue states/well-off areas) little critical thinking is taught, much less the additionally needed skills of visual literacy, media literacy and techno literacy – thinking is neither cool nor need for the STEM world. That world is increasingly libertarian in culture, despite its abundance of middle class and above participants.

  15. Trump was very willing to sacrifice lives of his own supporters rather than acknowledge negative headlines about a virus which he took as a personal afront. The virus wasn’t about him, but he just couldn’t see it that way and people died. Even when the vaccine became available with ‘warp speed’, he seldom promoted it, getting his own vaccine out of camera view and shrinking from the anti-science booing he received when he encouraged vaccination to a MAGA crowd.

    As long as he was still receiving MAGA adulation, the consequences to MAGA supporters’ own health – including life itself – didn’t seem to matter. Warning – tribalism can be deadly.

  16. There is an element of evolution in all of this. Survival of the fittest during a pandemic being pounded home.

  17. Wow–I knew it appeared to be pretty significant but those stats are alarming. I would be curious to see the breakdown in the death rates by religious affiliation. I moved from the midwest where there is a Catholic, UCC, and Lutheran church on every other corner to a state where it is mostly Southern Baptist and nondenominational. Crazy Greg Locke’s church is only a few miles away.

    I was dismayed by the number of patients that came in pissed because we made them where masks in our clinics but also touting the fallacy of the vaccine and how this was perpetuated by their church’s. Probably the same churches whose road signs touted to “make America great again”

    I am also alarmed by what is within human nature that so many just follow aimlessly. Are we truly lazy in mind or are so many more so lazy in mind that we just accept what is told to us without looking? Its like a massive brain washing–cults to me seemed to be small groups hidden in the woods are western mountains but what is it within society where this brain washing is on a massive scale and wide spread? Knowing what is innate in human psyche and how this mindless, blindful following needs to be better understood to fight this.

  18. “Survival of the fittest” will mean…”I MAGA, got no vaccines, and survived” – See!

  19. What absolutely floored me was the number of people I work with in the medical field that were COVID deniers & anti-vax! They doubted & complained about masks & other PPE, as they watched people come into the hospital and die. They bitched about vaccine mandates to protect patients, coworkers, and themselves, as they gathered up ‘documentation’ from their ‘preachers’ to apply for “religious” exemptions. And they collected their pay subsidy from the hospital as they got infected over & over & over, missing work and placing even more of a burden on everyone else – and then crowed about how their ‘natural immunity’ protects them.
    I thought these were educated people – lab techs, RNs, respiratory therapists, DOCTORS! – but I guess when it comes to political ideology, education doesn’t mean much.

  20. Jane – “when it comes to political ideology, education doesn’t mean much” – yes, educated folks are significantly more DEM/liberal, but that doesn’t mean everyone.

    Same goes for young people. A recent study suggested that GenZ, unlike Millenials/GenX, have a greater proportion of libertarian opinions and, potential, voting choices, in my view, the logical extension of extreme MEism.

  21. It really is mind-boggling! And even though some of them take other vaccines, they wouldn’t take the covid vaccine! So their religious belief that there was something evil about the covid vaccine or vaccines in general really was not substantiated in their Church Dogmas.

    The anti-vax movement concerning religious beliefs is fairly new! And it would be interesting to find out, how many anti-vaxxers have died from pneumonia, polio, tuberculosis, pox, whooping cough, flu, typhoid and myriads of others!

    I do recall the right wing rallying cry about dumbing down America! America is being dumbed down? And yet, they themselves are the ones dumbing down their own constituency so they are more easily manipulated!

    Sheep without a shepherd, they cannot survive on their own! They refuse to recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing! They just become cannon fodder or useful idiots allowing their leadership to acquire power.

    It’s Manchurian Candidate on a grand scale.

  22. John–I worked in an autism clinic between 2000-2010 and I started hearing about the anti-vaxxers and then it really gained steam when a ‘researcher’, Wakefield, out of the UK published some fraudulent findings linking the MMR vaccine to the increase in Autism.

    Andrew Wakefield has been discredited but I think of the millions of dollars that went into research to demonstrate to parents that the MMR did not contribute to autism. That is a lot of money that could have gone to other Autism Research.

  23. The current crowd bought the hype via social media and various TV/radio programs they inhaled 24/7 and are still taking in like air. Likely a scattered few can recall people of all ages in the dreaded iron lungs. Those were polio victims in those machines. People still did their own thinking back then, and so their kids got their polio shots or swallowed the vaccine-laced sugar cubes. I was one of those kids. No mothers marched with anti-vax signs, nor did they write letters or attend school board meetings to protest the polio vaccine. They just did what needed to be done, and polio was ‘nearly’ erased. Enough resisted that polio has slowly, silently crept back into our midst to be added to the other dread diseases we thought were over. Nothing is ‘over.’ These viruses/bacteria are constantly seeking ways to hang on. Thanks, anti-vaxxers! The last known company that repaired iron lungs actually shut down fairly recently. Wait, folks, not so fast! Keep the doors open to that company. Polio is rearing its ugly head again, joining Covid, whooping cough (it’s not just for kids), and a range of familiar-sounding names. Some have learned nothing. Nothing.

  24. Identity politics: you can choose your gender?
    A trans man is a man?
    Anti-vax nature movements?
    Organic food?
    Anti-nuclear power plants?
    All embraced by “liberals.”
    Everybody’s subject to the madness of crods/desire to belong syndrome.

  25. The anti-science stance owes a lot to denial of biological evolution.

    To Ormond:

    Identity politics: you can choose your gender?
    – These are different topics: identity politics and transgender rights. But anyway, you don’t really “choose” your gender, you accept the gender you feel yourself to be. Then you make the choice whether to be public about it, and then with consultation of medical health experts, you may take additional steps. This is no different than the dumb idea that one “chooses” the gender or people one is attracted to. Could YOU choose to change the gender to which you are attracted? (Note: To be honest about this topic, it might really help you to meet and converse with actual trans people. I mean this truly; it’s a real learning possibility for you.)

    A trans man is a man?
    Yep. It’s a cultural definition. We can define it this way. (Note that there are cases where even the biology of a person is not definitive. Thus, it absolutely makes sense that this is a cultural definition.) Once a person understands that sexual attraction and gender (and other human characteristics) occur on a spectrum, rather than being defined as a couple of choices, then these issues are much simpler to comprehend.

    Anti-vax nature movements?
    This is a science denial issue, not one of ideology. The anti-vax movement, specifically, owes a lot to the fraudulent, get-rich-quick schemes of (disgraced former doctor) Andrew Wakefield. The “natural” movement is often equally anti-science. Adherents may believe in some or all of healing crystals, homeopathic remedies, etc. It’s about ignorance, and a willingness to believe conspiracy theories, as much as anything. Then, the placebo effect can have a very real impact on results.

    Organic food?
    Eating food that has not been sprayed with pesticides is not unreasonable. It may be absolutely unnecessary, of course. Scientific research into this topic continues. So far, most of the science says that GMOs are safe. But, so what if some people do agree to pay more for organic products? The issue is who gets hurt. No one; this is a benign issue. (As a counter, consider the anti-vax stance above: people die.)

    Anti-nuclear power plants?
    This is not a simple issue, nor is it one of ideology. There is a debate to be had. There are issues of safety, waste disposal, efficacy, etc. that need to be considered.

    So, the fundamental issue I have with your post is that you make statements without backup, some that amount to straw-man arguments, some that just show ignorance. I think that you truly believe what you write, but that’s the best I can say for it. Overall, it’s a post that doesn’t place you in a favourable light.

  26. According to Hannah Arendt, the Pan-Slavic and Pan-Germanic movements of the late 1800’s, and early 1900’s
    were based, in part, upon the belief that each of their movements were fueled by their god-thing’s special interest,
    their choseness, and that whatever might actually have happened by accident, in their favor, was really an act of
    So, today, the MAGA fools believe that Trump was sent by their god-thing, (while in Brazil, people think that Bolsinaro
    was sent by their god-thing.)
    And so, Trump, “sent by God” said that Covid was no big deal, it would be gone by that summer, 2019, and masking, along
    with vaccinations was just a Lib ploy to control people. “And it was good.” Except that it was not. And, the MAGAs,
    “knowing” that Trump is always right, do not have the capacity to question. But, that, it seems to me, has been a
    problem within the ranks of those on the right for my entire 80 year lifespan…don’t question conventional “wisdom.”
    It may not be safe to fool Mother Nature, but it can be very lucrative to fool the fools!
    The needless deaths are tragic and sad, but that human abomination going by the name of DT, cares not a whit, and plays
    purposely ignorant.

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