Science

Anti-vaxxers are pushing this cocktail as a 'treatment’'for COVID-19 vaccines: report

One of the kookiest claims of anti-vaxxers is that they can “reverse” a COVID-19 vaccination if someone has been vaccinated but now regrets it. According to the Daily Beast’s Mark Hay, the Niatonin Protocol is a mixture that anti-vaxxers have been promoting on a Telegram channel — although the person who developed it denies being an anti-vaxxer.

“A few months ago,” Hay explains, “a channel popped up in the anti-vaccine recesses of the fringe-friendly social media platform Telegram and began extolling the virtues of the ‘Niatonin Protocol,’ a daily regimen of high doses of niacin, butyric acid, and a few other supplements. The exact cocktail is situational and ever-shifting. Through a barrage of anonymous anecdotes and jumbled, supposedly scientific explanations, the group argued this program was a surefire ‘antidote’ for the dangers — some real but rare, others seemingly invented — that they associate with safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”

But Dmitry Kats, who developed the Niatonin Protocol, stressed to the Beast that he doesn’t consider himself an anti-vaxxer.

Kats told the Beast, “I don’t want people to think this is particularly for vaccine injury-related issues. I’m not anti-vax at all…. I feel like it’s working brilliantly for many people.”

Nonetheless, Hay notes, Kats participates in the Telegram channel “actively and frequently.”

“On other platforms across the web — podcasts, videos, social media — he’s shared memes that position his protocol as a vaccine-injury treatment, appeared to equate elements of the effects of the vaccines and those of COVID-19 itself,” Hay observes.

False claims about COVID-19 and its vaccines, Hay warns, are plentiful on social media.

Ciaran O’Connor of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, described by Hay as a “pandemic-misinformation watchdog group,” told the Beast, “There’s a large ecosystem of people promoting products and recipes for this. It’s notable to see detox figures emerge as respected voices so quickly, almost out of nowhere.”

Kats, according to Hay, doesn’t want to be compared to anti-vaxxers who are promoting “cures” for COVID-19 vaccines.

Hay explains, “Many other individuals are far more direct, selling products and services marketed both clearly and primarily for the reversal of supposed vaccine injuries. Their offerings run the gamut, from vitamin infusions and controversial ozone therapy to bullshit nanotech detection and disabling devices and meditations that suggest the power of the mind can hamstring the vaccines. Kats objects to being lumped in with ‘quacks’ selling products like these.”

Dr. Fauci shoots down a reporter's 'really dangerous' idea to let the omicron variant run rampant

It remains to be seen how dangerous COVID-19’s new omicron variant is compared to the Delta variant; scientists and medical experts still have a lot to learn about it. But when Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about Omicron during a press conference this week, he stressed that the less it is allowed to spread, the better.

A reporter at the press conference asked Fauci: If omicron proves “more transmissible but less virulent than Delta, would there be any public health benefit to furthering its spread by lifting travel restrictions?”

Fauci’s response was direct, blunt and forceful. The 80-year-old expert immunologist, who has worked in the federal government since the late 1960s and is President Joe Biden’s top White House medical adviser, told the reporter, “You’re talking about something really dangerous. You’re talking about: Let a lot of people get infected to see if, in fact, you could protect them. That’s something that I think almost all infectious disease people with any knowledge about infectious disease would not say (is) a good idea.”

In 2020, Dr. Scott Atlas — one of then-President Donald Trump’s pandemic advisers — made a “herd immunity” type of argument about COVID-19. Atlas’ advice was essentially to let COVID-19 spread, but protect those most at risk. And Fauci aggressively argued against that approach, butting heads with Atlas during Trump’s final months in office.

READ: The Pentagon's new warning means World War III may arrive sooner than you think

Biden, in contrast to Trump, has relied heavily on Fauci’s advice and made a very different type of “herd immunity” argument from Atlas. The Democratic president has maintained that the best way to achieve a “herd immunity” type of result is to limit COVID-19’s spread by getting as many Americans vaccinated for it as possible. And Biden and Fauci are now encouraging Americans to receive widely available COVID-19 booster shots.

Journalist details new Senate candidate Dr. Oz's history of ‘out-there quack science’

This week, Dr. Mehmet Oz officially announced that he has entered the GOP primary in Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race. The former cardiologist, who hosts “The Dr. Oz Show” and has often been the butt of jokes because of the unscientific “miracle cures” he has promoted, will be competing for the Senate seat presently held by Republican Pat Toomey. Journalist Liz Skalka discusses Oz’s widely criticized love of “quack science” in an article for HuffPost, but she also points out how important this Senate race will be.

Pennsylvania, a key swing state, has a Democratic U.S. senator — the centrist Bob Casey, Jr., who unseated Rick Santorum in 2006 and won a third term in 2018 — and hard-right Toomey, who infuriated MAGA Republicans by voting “guilty” in former President Donald Trump’s second impeach trial. Rather than face an aggressive primary challenge from MAGA Republicans who now consider him a RINO, Toomey decided not to seek reelection in 2022.

“Now that Oz, a Republican, has joined the fray in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race,” Skalka observes, “the celebrity doctor’s most out-there advice and treatments are certain to receive greater scrutiny, if not prominent placement in attack ads. Oz has promoted everything from raspberry ketones, berry-red pills promising to melt excess fat, to hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug falsely touted by former President Donald Trump and the right-wing as a COVID-19 miracle cure.”

Skalka adds, “Before becoming a nationally syndicated health influencer, Oz was known as a top heart surgeon with a prestigious faculty appointment and 11 patents relating to heart surgery. But his propensity for new age treatments and exaggerated marketing eventually became his calling card.”

READ: Former federal prosecutor insists we'll see 'a tidal wave of criminal charges against Donald Trump'

Despite the fact that Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” in 2020, he isn’t known for having far-right politics. Oz described himself as a “moderate Republican” during a 2007 interview, citing President Theodore Roosevelt and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as two of his favorite Republicans — which could help him in the Philadelphia suburbs if he wins the GOP nomination.

While Philly Proper is deep blue — a Republican hasn’t won a mayoral race in Philly since the late 1940s — its suburbs in Bucks County, Delaware County and Montgomery County were known for favoring moderate conservatives in the past. Former two-term Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice conservative and Never Trumper who wasn’t afraid to say that he supported Roe v. Wade, was exactly the type of Republican who the Philly suburbs favored during the 1990s. But Trump and the far-right MAGA movement have been making Bucks County and Montgomery County much more Democrat-leaning than they were in the past.

If Oz wins his party’s nomination, Democrats will no doubt remind Pennsylvania voters of the fact that he was a medical adviser to Trump who promoted hydroxychloroquine in 2020. And certainly, the seat now held by Toomey is one that Democratic strategists would love to flip.

Presently, Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Mitch McConnell is hoping to become Senate majority leader again, but flipping the Pennsylvania seat from GOP to Democrat would slightly increase that Democratic majority — assuming Republicans don’t flip any Democrat-held Senate seats in 2022.

READ: The Pentagon's new warning means World War III may arrive sooner than you think

Skalka notes some of the many “miracle cures” that Oz has promoted, from lavender soap for leg cramps to raspberry ketones for burning fat to green coffee bean extract for weight loss to a strawberry/baking soda mixture for teeth whitening. Coffee beans, before they are roasted at high temperatures and turn brown, are green; Oz sold extract from the unroasted beans.

Aaron Rodgers dropped the ball on critical thinking – here's how to do better

by Joe Árvai, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

It was hard to miss the news about Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 3. Like the vast majority of people currently catching – and dying from – the coronavirus, he was unvaccinated.

A few days after his diagnosis, Rodgers took to the airwaves to offer a smorgasbord of pandemic misinformation and conspiracy theories in defense of his decision to skip the COVID-19 vaccine.

Having listened to many an interview with Rodgers, I found it totally predictable that he began his comments by asserting, “I’m not, you know, some sort of anti-vax, flat-earther.”

But as someone who does research on how people think and decide, it’s what Rodgers said next that caused me to lean in: “I am somebody who’s a critical thinker.”

Critical thinker? The fact is, research on the link between critical thinking ability and behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that Rodgers is the opposite.

For scientists like me whose job it is to unravel how people instinctively make choices, and then to help them make better ones, critical thinking isn’t just a slogan used to score points. It’s not some after-the-fact justification someone makes to convince others – or themselves – that their opinions or behaviors are sound.

Instead, critical thinking is a pattern of behaviors that happen before someone makes a judgment, like coming to the conclusion that something is risky. Likewise, critical thinking comes before making a decision, like choosing to avoid something judged to be too risky for comfort.

Here’s what it really takes to be a critical thinker.

Three ingredients for critical thinking

Critical thinking as a precursor to sound judgments and decisions involves three related elements that are accessible to almost anyone.

First, critical thinking means being able to recognize that there are situations where you must balance your instinctive reactions to what’s going on around you, based on emotions like fear and desire, with the need for a heavier psychological lift. In these cases, it’s crucial to take note of conflicting objectives and make difficult trade-offs.

Take the pandemic, which, thanks to the arrival of new variants like omicron, has gone into overtime. You may have a strong desire to live your “normal” life as you knew it before COVID-19 started to spread; at the same time, you probably want to keep those around you safe and secure. Knowing where to draw the line between personal comfort and the well-being of those around you means putting your emotions to the side and diving into data so you can better understand the broader consequences of your intended actions.

Second, critical thinking means following some basic principles when you search for and use information. You must be open to and consider more than one solution to a problem, without ignoring or dismissing evidence that goes against your initial beliefs. And you must be willing to change your mind and your behavior in response to new information or insights.

Last, critical thinking means recognizing when you are out of your depth and then looking to legitimate experts for help. In other words, critical thinkers understand when it’s time to outsource critical thinking to others.

But this raises an important question: How do you figure out who is an actual expert? Critical thinkers answer this question by not just looking at someone’s stature or credentials. They also assess potential experts’ behaviors with respect to the first two elements of critical thinking. How good is the expert at balancing instinct with the need for more in-depth analysis? And does the expert follow the basic principles that should govern the search for and use of information?

Everyone loses when critical thinking is sidelined

Consider the results of a recent study conducted during what scientists around the world agree is a serious public health crisis. In it, my colleagues and I found that people in the U.S. who score high on a scale used to measure critical thinking ability judge COVID-19 to pose a real and significant risk to public health. They also placed greater trust in legitimate public health experts, and – importantly – behaved in a manner that is more consistent with pandemic risk management strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Judging by his behavior and statements, Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have belonged in this group. Indeed, Rodgers’ own comments suggest he fumbled his way through the three elements of critical thinking.

In spite of his claim that his decision to remain unvaccinated involved “a lot of time, energy and research,” it seems he neither understood nor weighed the trade-off between the exceedingly slim chance of becoming sick from one of the available vaccines versus the much higher probability of becoming sick – or making others sick – from COVID-19.

And historically, Rodgers hasn’t been shy about dismissing viewpoints that run counter to his own. Boasting about his COVID-19 infection, Rodgers confessed as much when he said, “I march to the beat of my own drum.”

Finally his success rate when it comes to handing off critical thinking to others is lousy. On COVID-19, he follows the advice of pseudo-experts like Joe Rogan over that of actual medical experts and has chosen to subject himself to a demonstrably dangerous drug, ivermectin, instead of a safe and effective vaccine.

Unfortunately, Aaron Rodgers is far from alone when it comes to poor critical thinking. And, making matters worse, the implications of uncritical thinking extend well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, the poster child for an absence of critical thinking is the political divide in the U.S. From Main Street America to the U.S. Capitol, I’d argue that nothing says my-way-or-the-highway like the inflexible tribalism that has infected important policy issues ranging from inequality and climate change to guns and health care. Balancing fast-acting emotion with the slow burn of analysis, a willingness to change your mind and compromise, and the courage to admit you are not an expert – and to trust those who are – seem as far away in politics today as they have been in decades.

Training camp for critical thinking

On the bright side, and with a little practice, people can learn to think critically. Unlike other tasks that require highly specialized skills – like playing the position of quarterback in the NFL – critical thinking is well within the reach of nearly anyone willing to put in the reps.

Studies show, for example, that critical thinking can be activated in the moment just before certain judgments or choices need to be made. Researchers also know that the basic principles of critical thinking can be taught, even to young children and adolescents. And, for complicated judgments and choices, people can take advantage of decision-support tools that help them clarify their objectives, consider relevant information, evaluate a wide range of options and understand the compromises that come with choosing one possibility over another.

Deploying the skills of critical thinking ultimately requires one more important ingredient, though, and this one can’t easily be taught: courage. It takes courage to break from your closely held opinions and, especially, from the relative sanctuary offered by your social or political circle. And it takes courage to publicly change your mind and your behavior.

But here too there’s a bright side. Changing your mind and behavior because you thought critically about something doesn’t mean that your earlier opinions and behaviors were a mistake. On the contrary, it’s a public display that you learned something important and new. And that, at least as much as success on the frozen tundra of Rodgers’ home field in Green Bay, is worthy of respect and admiration.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

Joe Árvai, Dana and David Dornsife Professor of Psychology and Director of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a groundbreaking 1964 study 'introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will': physiologist

For decades, neuroscientists have been debating the question: How much free will do people actually have? Why are some people inclined to make better, wiser decisions than others? And why do some people, even those considered highly intelligent, act on their worst impulses while others don't?

Those are the sort of questions that neuroscientists have been grappling with over the years.

New York City-based science writer Bahar Gholipour discussed the "death of free will" in a much-read article published by The Atlantic on September 10, 2019. And he explained why a 1964 study continued to have an impact on how some neuroscientists view that subject.

"The death of free will began with thousands of finger taps," Gholipour wrote. "In 1964, two German scientists monitored the electrical activity of a dozen people's brains. Each day for several months, volunteers came into the scientists' lab at the University of Freiburg to get wires fixed to their scalp from a showerhead-like contraption overhead. The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit."

READ: Anthony Fauci breaks down why a new COVID-19 variant is 'raising some concern'

Gholipour continued, "The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants' brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world — when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph —but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone's brain actually initiating an action."

That German experiment from 57 years ago, according to Gholipour, was groundbreaking because it showed "the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement."

Gholipour explained, "This momentous discovery was the beginning of a lot of trouble in neuroscience. Twenty years later, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet used the Bereitschaftspotential (readiness potential) to make the case not only that the brain shows signs of a decision before a person acts, but that, incredibly, the brain's wheels start turning before the person even consciously intends to do something. Suddenly, people's choices — even a basic finger tap — appeared to be determined by something outside of their own perceived volition."

Libet, according to Gholipour, "introduced a genuine neurological argument against free will."

READ: Far-right Michigan Republican known for anti-vaxxer views hospitalized with COVID-19

"Over time, the implications have been spun into cultural lore," Gholipour wrote in 2019. "Today, the notion that our brains make choices before we are even aware of them will now pop up in cocktail-party conversation or in a review of Black Mirror. It's covered by mainstream journalism outlets, including This American Life, Radiolab, and this magazine. Libet's work is frequently brought up by popular intellectuals such as Sam Harris and Yuval Noah Harari to argue that science has proved humans are not the authors of their actions."

The hunt for coronavirus variants: how the new one was found and what we know so far


Prof. Wolfgang Preiser, Stellenbosch University; Cathrine Scheepers, University of the Witwatersrand; Jinal Bhiman, National Institute for Communicable Diseases; Marietjie Venter, University of Pretoria, and Tulio de Oliveira, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Since early in the COVID pandemic, the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2. This was a valuable tool to understand better how the virus spread. In late 2020, the network detected a new virus lineage, 501Y.V2, which later became known as the beta variant. Now a new SARS-CoV-2 variant has been identified – B.1.1.529. The World Health Organisation has declared it a variant of concern, and assigned it the name Omicron. To help us understand more, The Conversation Africa’s Ozayr Patel asked scientists to share what they know.

What’s the science behind the search?

Hunting for variants requires a concerted effort. South Africa and the UK were the first big countries to implement nationwide genomic surveillance efforts for SARS-CoV-2 as early as April 2020.

Variant hunting, as exciting as that sounds, is performed through whole genome sequencing of samples that have tested positive for the virus. This process involves checking every sequence obtained for differences compared to what we know is circulating in South Africa and the world. When we see multiple differences, this immediately raises a red flag and we investigate further to confirm what we’ve noticed.

Fortunately South Africa is well set up for this. This is thanks to a central repository of public sector laboratory results at the National Health Laboratory Service, (NGS-SA), good linkages to private laboratories, the Provincial Health Data Centre of the Western Cape Province, and state-of-the-art modelling expertise.

In addition, South Africa has several laboratories that can grow and study the actual virus and discover how far antibodies, formed in response to vaccination or previous infection, are able to neutralise the new virus. This data will allow us to characterise the new virus.

Viruses on a white background

3d Variants of Covid-19 Virus (Sars-COV-2). Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta in white background.

Shutterstock

The beta variant spread much more efficiently between people compared to the “wild type” or “ancestral” SARS-CoV-2 and caused South Africa’s second pandemic wave. It was therefore classified as a variant of concern. During 2021, yet another variant of concern called delta spread over much of the world, including South Africa, where it caused a third pandemic wave.

Very recently, routine sequencing by Network for Genomics Surveillance member laboratories detected a new virus lineage, called B.1.1.529, in South Africa. Seventy-seven samples collected in mid-November 2021 in Gauteng province had this virus. It has also been reported in small numbers from neighbouring Botswana and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong case is reportedly a traveller from South Africa.

The World Health Organisation has given B.1.1.529 the name Omicron and classified it as a variant of concern, like beta and delta.

Why is South Africa presenting variants of concern?

We do not know for sure. It certainly seems to be more than just the result of concerted efforts to monitor the circulating virus. One theory is that people with highly compromised immune systems, and who experience prolonged active infection because they cannot clear the virus, may be the source of new viral variants.

The assumption is that some degree of “immune pressure” (which means an immune response which is not strong enough to eliminate the virus yet exerts some degree of selective pressure which “forces” the virus to evolve) creates the conditions for new variants to emerge.

Despite an advanced antiretroviral treatment programme for people living with HIV, numerous individuals in South Africa have advanced HIV disease and are not on effective treatment. Several clinical cases have been investigated that support this hypothesis, but much remains to be learnt.

Why is this variant worrying?

The short answer is, we don’t know. The long answer is, B.1.1.529 carries certain mutations that are concerning. They have not been observed in this combination before, and the spike protein alone has over 30 mutations. This is important, because the spike protein is what makes up most of the vaccines.

We can also say that B.1.1.529 has a genetic profile very different from other circulating variants of interest and concern. It does not seem to be a “daughter of delta” or “grandson of beta” but rather represents a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2.

Some of its genetic changes are known from other variants and we know they can affect transmissibility or allow immune evasion, but many are new and have not been studied as yet. While we can make some predictions, we are still studying how far the mutations will influence its behaviour.

We want to know about transmissibility, disease severity, and ability of the virus to “escape” the immune response in vaccinated or recovered people. We are studying this in two ways.

Firstly, careful epidemiological studies seek to find out whether the new lineage shows changes in transmissibility, ability to infect vaccinated or previously infected individuals, and so on.

At the same time, laboratory studies examine the properties of the virus. Its viral growth characteristics are compared with those of other virus variants and it is determined how well the virus can be neutralised by antibodies found in the blood of vaccinated or recovered individuals.

In the end, the full significance of the genetic changes observed in B.1.1.529 will become apparent when the results from all these different types of studies are considered. It is a complex, demanding and expensive undertaking, which will carry on for months, but indispensable to understand the virus better and devise the best strategies to combat it.

Do early indications point to this variant causing different symptoms or more severe disease?

There is no evidence for any clinical differences yet. What is known is that cases of B.1.1.529 infection have increased rapidly in Gauteng, where the country’s fourth pandemic wave seems to be commencing. This suggests easy transmissibility, albeit on a background of much relaxed non-pharmaceutical interventions and low number of cases. So we cannot really tell yet whether B.1.1.529 is transmitted more efficiently than the previously prevailing variant of concern, delta.

COVID-19 is more likely to manifest as severe, often life-threatening disease in the elderly and chronically ill individuals. But the population groups often most exposed first to a new virus are younger, mobile and usually healthy people. If B.1.1.529 spreads further, it will take a while before its effects, in terms of disease severity, can be assessed.

Fortunately, it seems that all diagnostic tests that have been checked so far are able to identify the new virus.

Even better, it appears that some widely used commercial assays show a specific pattern: two of the three target genome sequences are positive but the third one is not. It’s like the new variant consistently ticks two out of three boxes in the existing test. This may serve as a marker for B.1.1.529, meaning we can quickly estimate the proportion of positive cases due to B.1.1.529 infection per day and per area. This is very useful for monitoring the virus’s spread almost in real time.

Are current vaccines likely to protect against the new variant?

Again, we do not know. The known cases include individuals who had been vaccinated. However we have learnt that the immune protection provided by vaccination wanes over time and does not protect as much against infection but rather against severe disease and death. One of the epidemiological analyses that have commenced is looking at how many vaccinated people become infected with B.1.1.529.

The possibility that B.1.1.529 may evade the immune response is disconcerting. The hopeful expectation is that the high seroprevalence rates, people who’ve been infected already, found by several studies would provide a degree of “natural immunity” for at least a period of time.

Ultimately, everything known about B.1.1.529 so far highlights that universal vaccination is still our best bet against severe COVID-19 and, together with non-pharmaceutical interventions, will go a long way towards helping the healthcare system cope during the coming wave.

This article was updated following the World Health Organisation’s announcement on the new variant.The Conversation

Prof. Wolfgang Preiser, Head: Division of Medical Virology, Stellenbosch University; Cathrine Scheepers, Senior Medical Scientist, University of the Witwatersrand; Jinal Bhiman, Principal Medical Scientist at National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), National Institute for Communicable Diseases; Marietjie Venter, Head: Zoonotic, Arbo and Respiratory Virus Programme, Professor, Department Medical Virology, University of Pretoria, and Tulio de Oliveira, Director: KRISP - KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Anti-vaxxers are pushing unscientific and 'potentially dangerous' ways to de-vaccinate' Americans: report

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for U.S.-based adults of all ages, anti-vaxxers continue to spread lies and misinformation about the effectiveness of vaccines. And some of those anti-vaxxers, according to Business Insider’s Tom Porter, are promoting fake and dangerous ways for people who have received COVID-19 vaccines and now regret it to “de-vaccinate themselves.”

Americans who have already been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and received the Moderna or Pfizer booster shots are getting them because they want more protection from COVID-19, not less. Anti-vaxxers, however, are making the false claim that vaccines are harmful and that their “cures” can counter those harmful effects. But as Porter points out, it is physically impossible to “de-vaccinate” someone who has already received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Porter explains, “It is impossible to undo vaccination, a process which works by teaching the body to fight infection itself, and which doesn't rely on substances that can be isolated or removed. But with millions of people now vaccinated against COVID-19, some anti-vaccination advocates are pivoting to a new narrative aimed at those who took vaccines and regret it. They claim it is indeed possible to ‘de-vaccinate’ people, recommending a host of methods which range from quaint to potentially dangerous.”

Porter notes how wacky some of the fake “cures” for COVID-19 vaccines are.

READ: Far-right Michigan Republican known for anti-vaxxer views hospitalized with COVID-19

The reporter observes, “In a video hosted on Bitchute, a platform known for its extremist content, a man applies electrodes, a strong magnet and ‘55% Montana whiskey’ in the hope of removing a COVID-19 vaccine from a US military veteran. In another, a gory variant of the ‘cupping’ technique to draw blood from an injection site, a man makes extra incisions with a razor to extract a significant amount…. Neither method had any hope of working.”

But as nutty and totally unscientific as these COVID-19 vaccine “cures” are, Porter reports, the “de-vaccination movement” has been “spreading in Telegram groups with thousands of members, as well as other fringe platforms used by extremists.”

According to Porter, “Advocates have also established a presence on mainstream platforms that purport to restrict such activity, such as Facebook and TikTok, experts told Insider. In response to Insider flagging their presence, Facebook removed a de-vaccination group and several pages from its site for violating its COVID misinformation policies.”

READ: Aaron Rodgers denies having COVID toe after claiming to have had it

Anthony Fauci breaks down why a new COVID-19 variant is 'raising some concern'

Medical experts have been fearing that a new COVID-19 variant would emerge that is even more infectious than the Delta variant, and a new mutation that has emerged in South Africa has some doctors expressing concerns. One of them is 80-year-old expert immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top White House medical adviser. Fauci discussed this new South African variant, which is called B.1.1.529, during a Friday, November 26 appearance on CNN’s “New Day.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told “New Day” host Brianna Keilar that the variant “has some mutations that are raising some concern, particularly with regard to possible transmissibility increase and possible evasion of immune response.”

Fauci added, “We don’t know that for sure right now. This is really something that’s in motion…. It is something that has emerged in South Africa and seems to be spreading in a reasonably rapid rate.”

Keilar asked Fauci if it is “possible” that the South African variant is “already in the U.S.,” and he responded, “You know, of course, anything is possible. We don’t know that. There’s no indication that is right now.”

READ: Far-right Michigan Republican known for anti-vaxxer views hospitalized with COVID-19

Fauci added that there have been cases of people who were infected with the South African variant in South Africa and traveled to Botswana or Hong Kong.

The immunologist also noted that medical experts in the U.S. are presently discussing B.1.1.529 with medical experts in South Africa.

“We are in very active communication with our South African colleague scientists,” Fauci told Keilar.

Keilar asked Fauci to address concerns that the B.1.1.529 mutation of COVID-19 could “evade immunity” with “the vaccines that we have.”

READ: Aaron Rodgers denies having COVID toe after claiming to have had it

Fauci responded, “That’s what we’re going to be looking out. When you look at a mutation, it can give you a hint or a prediction that it might evade the immune response…. Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues.”

How 'Machiavellianism, psychopathy and collective narcissism' help explain COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs: study

A new study explains how a number of dark personality traits are connected to the ideology of conspiracy theories. According to PsyPost, a study recently published by Personality and Individual Differences was conducted by Sara Hughes and Laura Machan. It indicates that "Machiavellianism, primary psychopathy, and collective narcissism" are traits that appear to coincide with the beliefs of those who buy into conspiracy theories.

Science Direct reports that the study, which focused on 406 participants from the United Kingdom, was based on an assessment of a number of personality measures. It also delved into individuals' "susceptibility to conspiracy beliefs and the mediating role of Covid related conspiracy beliefs on links between personality and intentional dissemination of Covid-19 conspiracies and willingness to obtain a Covid-19 vaccine."

The study focused on the characteristics of those who possess the dark triad traits and how they have a tendency to hold more hostility toward other groups. Participants completed a questionnaire to assess conspiracist ideation where they had the opportunity to provide their opinions with answers like: "There is no hard evidence that COVID really exists."

"To assess intention to be vaccinated against Covid-19, participants were asked what they would do if a vaccine were tested and approved and they had the opportunity to be vaccinated next week," the study indicates.

READ: 'You were gullible': Federal judge torches Trump's election lies — and a rioter who believed them

Per PsyPost, their findings indicate the following:

"Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and collective narcissism have been previously linked to conspiracy mentality. Machiavellianism is concerned with the strategic manipulation of others. Primary psychopathy is characterized by callousness and lack of emotion, while secondary psychopathy is characterized by impulsivity and antisociality. Collective narcissism refers to an inflated sense of superiority extending to one's in-group."

Their research also highlights three potential limitations.

"First, rather than obtaining behavioral measures, participants were prompted to provide self-report ratings of their intentions to disseminate COVID-19 conspiracies. Second, given participants' knowledge relating to COVID-19 was not assessed, it could be the case that those with greater beliefs in Covid-19 conspiracies were lacking in factual knowledge. Lastly, given the cross-sectional nature of this work, the researchers do not make causal inferences about their findings."

READ: Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist slams Ron DeSantis for 'lying' about COVID-19 vaccines

How to protect yourself from salmonella this Thanksgiving

This story was first published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and I regret to inform you that there's a multidrug-resistant salmonella outbreak running rampant in the nation's poultry industry.

I know that's daunting, but something to be thankful for this year is the ProPublica reporters who spent the past several months uncovering that the outbreak never abated and looking into how fragmented food safety rules left the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration ill-equipped to stop it. I know I am.

I don't bring up salmonella to scare you (most of the ProPublica reporters who ate poultry before working on this story still eat poultry) but to prepare you. While the food regulatory system has failed to stop the rise of infantis, a salmonella strain that doctors find difficult to treat, there are a lot of steps you can take to protect yourself.

For what it's worth, salmonella tends to be found way more frequently in chicken than whole turkey, and the tips below apply to both birds (as well as just about any other) you wish to eat.

Check Your Turkey Using ProPublica's Chicken Checker.

Your turkey's packaging should come with a P-number. Usually, it's found on the USDA's mark of inspection or printed near a use-by date, inspection stamp or price tag. ProPublica created a searchable database that shows the salmonella records of the nation's poultry plants. Enter in the P-number on your package, and you can see the salmonella rate where the poultry came from.

If you find your bird came from a place with instances of high-risk salmonella, that doesn't mean you ought to throw it away. It just means you should be extra careful when you prepare it.

As a side note, we are not finished reporting on salmonella in poultry. If you'd like to help, please fill out the form below the Chicken Checker to share your bird's P-number and where you bought it. That'll help our reporting on the poultry supply chain.

Do Not Rinse Your Turkey.

We see this all the time. You unwrap your turkey and put the whole thing under water. I get it. Poultry is slimy, and your elders taught you to do this. But if there's salmonella on your turkey, rinsing is a great way to splash the bacteria onto other surfaces in your kitchen, where you'll least expect it, the USDA says. That's called cross-contamination. Eliminating it, you'll find, is a theme here.

Britanny Saunier, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, told me that rinsing poultry is a habit that has been passed down from a time when the birds came from your own yard or a local farm and cleaning literal dirt off them was in order. There's no need to rinse a processed bird, though.

Wash Your Hands Again and Again and Again (With Soap)!

Remember how in March 2020 everyone was relearning how to wash their hands for the full CDC-recommended 20 seconds and nervously joking about how touching your face will kill you? Now carry that spirit into the holiday. Before you start cooking, wash your hands. Then wash them again, maybe after every step. Most importantly, you should always wash your hands in between touching raw meat and anything else in your kitchen.

Some people prefer to get gloves. I find that to be annoying because you have to keep taking them on and off to prevent cross-contamination. But whatever keeps you most vigilant and your kitchen cleanest is the way to go.

Actually, Just Wash Everything (With Soap)!!

Salmonella bacteria are resilient little germs. They can survive hours to days on surfaces and cannot be killed by drying or freezing, according to the FDA. If you touch raw turkey, wash your hands immediately after. But let's say you forget and go get something out of your fridge. It's probably worth disinfecting the fridge handle now. And the faucet you used to wash your hands. Did you prep your turkey on the counter? Clean that. Use a cutting board? Clean that, too. Check a recipe on your phone? You get the idea.

Keep Your Raw Turkey Separate From Everything Else.

Don't use the same cutting boards for preparing raw turkey and vegetables without a thorough cleaning in between. As much as possible, minimize the surfaces and other food that raw poultry comes into contact with. Don't, for example, put cooked meats on the same plate they sat on raw.

Get a Meat Thermometer (or Several).

Salmonella — even the most dangerous strains — perishes at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and a meat thermometer is the only surefire way to tell if your poultry has reached that temperature. The USDA recommends putting the device in the deepest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing. White meat cooks faster than dark, so those three parts will all hit 165 degrees at different times during the cooking process, but they all do need to reach 165 before you should eat your bird.

Some people like their turkeys cooked hotter than 165 (especially the breasts, which are tougher). That's a personal call. ProPublica doesn't care how hot your bird is, as long as every millimeter of it is hotter than 165.

(ProPublica data reporter Irena Hwang also really wants me to remind you about the amazing power of letting your meat rest after you've finished cooking it. Just not for too long.)

There's really no good way to eyeball whether your turkey is cooked well enough to have killed the salmonella. Just get the thermometer; you can even bring one as a gift for whoever's hosting you.

Be Very Careful With Stuffing and Marinades.

Stuffing can have its own salmonella from ingredients like raw eggs, and it can get contaminated from the bird itself if you stuff it. It also can cause your turkey to cook unevenly. It's safer and easier to cook your stuffing separately. If you insist on having your stuffing cook inside your bird, make sure to use your meat thermometer to check its temperature, too — again, 165 is the salmonella-killing temperature — and follow the USDA's advice on preparing it.

Marinating, brining and basting your bird are all great strategies for getting the most flavor out of your poultry. The USDA says that a turkey can marinate for up to two days in the fridge before becoming unsafe to eat. Please do not reuse your marinade for anything unless you boil it first. It's been hanging out with raw turkey for hours.

Making sure there's no cross-contamination in your kitchen and cooking your turkey through to at least 165 degrees is a good way to avoid any Thanksgiving salmonella mishaps, so you can focus on the important things like whether the turkey tastes good, fighting with your family (if that's your thing), parades and football.

What scientists learned when they peered into an octopus' brain

Among the smartest animals on Earth, octopuses are unique for being utterly weird in their evolutionary path to developing those smarts. Philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith has called the octopus the closest thing to an alien that we might encounter on Earth, and their bizarre anatomy speaks to this: An octopus' mind isn't concentrated in its head but spread throughout its body. Their tentacles are packed with neurons that endow each one with a hyperaware sense of touch, as well as the ability to smell and taste. Marine biologists have remarked that each tentacle sometimes seems like it has a mind of its own. Every octopus is a tactile thinker, constantly manipulating its surroundings with a body so soft it almost seems liquid.

All of these things are surprising, at least in theory, because scientists have learned to associate intelligence with vertebrates and a tendency to socialize. Octopuses are either asocial or partially social — and all of them are invertebrates. This raises an obvious question: How did octopuses become so smart?

Scientists know surprisingly little about this subject, as a great deal of the research on octopus neuroanatomy up to this point has focused on one species, the European common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) — which has about as many neurons in its body as a dog. Thanks to the scientists behind a new study in the scientific journal Current Biology, we now know more about the neural wiring of four very different types of octopuses (or, in one case, octopus-like animals): the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which dwells in the deep sea and is technically neither an octopus nor a squid; the blue-lined octopus (Hapalochlaena fasciata), a venomous creature that keeps to itself while roaming the ocean at night; and "two diurnal reef dwellers," Abdopus capricornicus and Octopus cyanea (also known as the day octopus).

The scientists also examined data about four other species of coastal octopuses based on material in previously published literature. Using that information and their new research, they concluded that octopus intelligence evolved in ways similar to vertebrate animals — specifically, based on the need to accommodate their surroundings. That implies that they had a convergent evolutionary path towards developing intelligence despite having diverged from vertebrates long ago.

"Our study uncovered new insights to confirm that octopus brain structure indeed evolved as those of many other animals," Dr. Wen-Sung Chung, the lead contact on the paper and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia, told Salon by email.

Chung analogized octopus evolution to shark evolution, noting that sharks evolved differently based on the ocean depths at which they preferred to swim. "It is probably [unsurprising] as they have a short life span and live in a broad range of ocean (from reef to deep sea, from tropical to temperate waters)," all of which have different conditions in terms of predators to evade and other pressures on survival.

"Octopuses and other cephalopods are very likely more complicated than we expected before," Chung added. "Expanding studies toward various species from different habitats, rather than narrowing down to one/a few iconic species, can be a way to study this amazing and apparently smart creature. I believe we can learn more by embracing the diversity of these creatures."

Among other things, scientists did not expect to find as much folding as they did in the octopus brains. The process in which the brain develops what appear to be wrinkles is known as gyrification, and is associated with vertebrates whose highly evolved brains are capable of processing large quantities of complex information. Yet wrinkles have been observed in brain sections for roughly 20 octopus species already, and the new studies revealed unmistakable new evidence of brain structural folding in the octopod's central nervous system.

"The brain folding is certainly a big surprise to us," Chung wrote to Salon. "In order to confirm this, we had to catch different-sized individuals (no way to get them from the animal house or pet shop) to eliminate the possibility of structural deformation caused by the handling during capture, fixation and imaging."

The study also provided new information about the vampire squid, a species that is neither octopus nor squid but rather the last surviving member of its own order. By looking at its brain, scientists were able to learn that it has a strange hybrid of both squid-like and octopus-like features. They also found that, for octopus species that live in reef systems, their entire visual system undergoes major changes to accommodate their daytime-dwelling lifestyle.

Does this mean octopuses are as intellectually complex as humans? Not so fast, Chung warned, noting that scientists can only say for sure that octopuses are smart enough to remember landmarks and break out of their housing tanks. ("This is the nightmare for most octopus researchers," he noted.)

"Honestly, this study is just the very first step to investigate the differences/similarities between octopuses/cephalopods, and we know too little about octopuses in many ways," Chung added. "We should be cautious for this and avoid over-interpretation at this stage until more solid evidence available in the future."

Happy Holidays!