Ebola Conspiracies: A Tale of Two Daily Mail Articles

A newspaper chortles about dubious Ebola stories while spreading one of its own.


The Simpsons

The Daily Mail's story about Ebola conspiracy theories begins by describing a yarn in which the epidemic's victims are now literally rising from the dead. In the Mail's usual write-first, ask-questions-later style, the paper declares that this story "went viral" without bothering to look into how many people who shared it knew damn well that it was a joke. (The tale came from a humor site, and while I've learned the hard way that satire can zoom over people's heads, it's not exactly unthinkable that people might forward a story about zombies and even play at being frightened about it as a form of fun.) The article then covers several other bits of online hearsay, such as a YouTube video that claims The Simpsons "predicted" the crisis with a throwaway Ebola gag in 1997. (In other words, the show mentioned Ebola two years after the press heavily covered an Ebola outbreak in Zaire.) This theory does not seem to be a joke, though I suspect that somewhere between 90 and 99 percent of the people sharing it just think it's funny.

The other items in the Mail piece are more serious, though one of them—a rumor that drinking salt water can prevent or cure the disease—doesn't really qualify as a conspiracy theory, given that no one is conspiring in it.

But there's one Ebola conspiracy theory that's missing from the report. It goes like this:

Terrorist group Isis may be considering using Ebola as a suicide bio-weapon against the West, according to a military expert.

The virus is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person who is showing the symptoms—and it wouldn't be difficult for fanatics to contract it then travel to countries they want to wreak havoc in, according to a military expert.

Capt. Al Shimkus, Ret., a Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, said that the strategy is entirely plausible.

That's The Daily Mail again, in a story published a day before the piece on conspiracy theories. To the reporter's credit, he goes on to quote several people explaining why this would be a rather stupid and difficult terror strategy that isn't likely to work, but of course the headline highlights the alleged threat, not the debunkers.

The ISIS scenario is a conspiracy theory by any reasonable standard—terror cells are conspiracies, right?—and it isn't a very plausible one. But it's one that the Mail takes seriously, so it doesn't get listed with the others. An old saying comes to mind, something about motes and beams.

Bonus link: I wrote a book about conspiracy theories, and it just came out in paperback.

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  1. No hat tip for sarcasmic??

    In case anyone missed it…
    NYC Reasonoid Meet-Up!

    Important Update – New Date

    When: Wednesday, 10/22/14, 6:00PM
    Where: Rattle N Hum
    14 E 33rd St

    1. Nothing to tip me for. Just because something came from the Daily Fail doesn’t mean I spammed it on the Mourning Lynx.

      1. But you could have, and might even have would have. Intentions is all that counts.

  2. ” ?a rumor that drinking salt water can prevent or cure the disease?doesn’t really qualify as a conspiracy theory, given that no one is conspiring in it.”

    That’s exactly what THEY want you to think.*adjusts tin foil hat*

  3. A couple of weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg of NRO in his weekly e-newsletter was musing about terrorists doing this. He wasn’t claiming this was probable or possible, Perhaps the Mail confused his thoughts for actual facts

  4. God fucking damn, the media and fear mongering pundits are having a fucking field day with this bullshit.

    You should hear Hannity. The end is nigh!

    1. Nobody should hear Hannity, ever.

      1. His voice gives me an headache.

      2. You’re a great American, antisocial-ist.

    2. While it’s most likely true that the odds of a pandemic happening here are extremely low, at the same time it should be pretty obvious by now to anyone with a brain in their head that situation is a lot more serious than what our “Top Men” are trying to lead us to believe.

      The U.S. bureaucrats are obviously more concerned with their careers, political concerns, and the possibility of the peasants going for their pitchforks than they are with containing the spread of this virus. As a result, we’re being told a lot of lies.

      1. Fear mongering and governmental incompetence aren’t mutually exclusive. We’re getting both.

      2. And the next step from the bureaucrats will be an extreme overreaction to counter their extreme underreaction.

        So every airplane that ever carried a passenger with ebola will have to be incinerated. Every hospital will have to be burnt to the ground.

        But the good news is this is stimulative for the economy.

        1. Rocks for Sale !

          Get your red hot rocks right here, folks. Hurry, before they’re all gone. Don’t miss out on all the fun of busting those windows.

      3. Its not just that, but the breathtaking incompetence that those managing treatment have shown so far. Also, the head of the CDC has been spouting outright Lysenkoism on national television.

        If the possibility of a pandemic here is very low these stupid, evil fuckers will make sure, either through incompetence, malice, or both that it happens.

        1. You are surprised by the breathtaking incompetence of a government agency that operates without profit motive?

          Has Reason done an article on the Firestone plant?

        2. Of course they will. The small breakout described in the Hot Zone was because the Top Men couldn’t handle the stuff safely.

  5. I would like to point out that so far, more Americans are killed by falling down stairs in one year than have ever been killed by Ebola. More Americans have died in spacecraft accidents than have ever died from Ebola. More Americans are killed by cows than have ever been killed by Ebola. Maybe ISIS should concentrate on releasing killer cows instead.

    1. Beef: You’re What’s For Dinner

      1. “Release the Heifer! Muahahahahaha!”

    2. How many Americans live after falling down stairs? How many Americans live after encountering cows? 70% of those who get ebola will die.

      1. Yeah, that old “more people die from X so don’t worry” trope is often b.s.

      2. 70% of a puny number is still puny.

        I guarantee that 100% of people hit by a cruise ship lofted into the air by a hurricane will die. Shall we all panic?

        1. Please, drop the “panic” straw man. Nobody here is saying to panic. Some of us are just expressing concern about this. For one thing, if it costs $500,000 and twenty people and a biohazard level 4 room to treat an Ebola victim, just a “puny number” of American victims will become a big deal.

          1. Why won’t you react to events with cool, hip detachment like you’re supposed to?

      3. It’s closer to 50%, and only 25% in first world nations.

        1. The figures released (IIRC) yesterday were 70%.

    3. Roughly as many Americans are killed falling down stairs every year as were killed in 9/11 as well; does that mean 9/11 is something we should have ignored? Neither Bush nor Obama seem to think so.

      More people have died in spacecraft accidents than have been killed by butt bombers, shoe bombers, or underwear bombers. Does that mean these weren’t real attempts at killing people?

  6. and it wouldn’t be difficult for fanatics to contract it then travel to countries they want to wreak havoc in

    Kind of defeats the purpose of terrorism, when your actions are hardly visibile to anyone.

  7. Terrorist group Isis may be considering using Ebola as a suicide bio-weapon against the West, according to a military expert.

    And the West may be considering using ebola as a bio-weapon against ISIS. It seems a lot easier and conceivably reasonable to lure West African Islamists into Iraq for example.

    1. Hm. Were these the same West Africans who were chopping the hands and arms off children who belonged to a different tribe about twelve years or so ago in Sierra Leone?

    2. Maybe they did, infect the gitmo detainees, then release them and send them home. Oh, wait, that would assume at least some measure of intelligence to make that possible. Sorry, my bad.

  8. Ugh, Today at work I had to listed to a bunch of people complain about how Obama is blamed for everything, and how they’ve never seen such a thing.

    Forget for a moment that Bush was blamed for a Hurricane and for a flu vaccine shortage, but can you imagine if Bush was President now w/r/t Ebola? In addition to being blamed for the disease, there would be an added racial angle about he hates black people so he isn’t doing anything. Or maybe how Bush is to blame because he didn’t sign off on Kyoto and as a result Global Warming is causing Ebola.

    Man, Libs drive me insane.

    rant over

    1. No kidding.

  9. Why is it unreasonable to suppose that terrorists would attempt to do this? I mean, we have had butt bombers, underwear bombers, and shoe bombers; these people are both homicidal and stupid.

    They wouldn’t be able to cause a pandemic, but they might kill a few dozen or a few hundred people. On the other hand, there is also little that can be done to prevent it.

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