The Cheat Sheet

Coronavirus to climate change: Cassandras’ day out

Venky Vembu | Updated on February 20, 2020 Published on February 20, 2020

Shouldn’t they be in quarantine?

You jest, of course, but in recent days, a number of Cassandra-esque predictions and prophecies that were made years ago have surfaced: they are feeding conspiracy theories in idle minds.

About the coronavirus?

About that, and many others. The name of a certain Bill Gates has also been invoked.

Ooh, tell me more.

First, consider two such ‘prophecies’ that are doing the rounds of social media. In a 1981 thriller called The Eyes of Darkness, best-selling novelist Dean Koontz wrote of a Chinese military lab — in Wuhan! — which creates a biological-weapon virus. “They call the stuff ‘Wuhan-400’ because it was developed in their… labs outside Wuhan,” Koontz wrote.

Why are conspiracy theorists excited by this?

Because the epicentre of the recent outbreak of coronavirus is barely 30 km from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, home to China’s only Level 4 biosafety lab, which studies such viruses.

So is this a bioweapon experiment gone awry?

So some people believe.

You said there was another Cassandra...

There was. In her 2008 book End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World, controversial psychic Sylvia Browne came up with a prediction worthy of Nostradamus. She wrote that in or around the year 2020, “a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments.”

Looks like she was spot on.

You may think so, but Browne’s critics — of whom there are many — see this as a variant of the ‘infinite monkey theorem’ — which holds that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, even the complete works of Shakespeare. The rest of Browne’s prophecies in the book are delusional. It’s worth bearing in mind that in real life, she was a failed psychic, and was convicted for criminal offences.

What’s your point?

This theme about ‘fiction predicting the future’ is one that recurs often. George Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, with its idea of mass surveillance in a propagandist state, was seen as prophesying the Soviet Union. And the 1898 novella Futility, by Morgan Robertson, about an ocean liner named Titan, which strikes an iceberg and sinks, has eerie parallels with the 1912 real-world tragedy of the Titanic. In fact, 19th-century scientists had even theorised about ‘global warming’ in detail.

So what’s the Bill Gates conspiracy theory?

The far-right in the US is looking to establish through innuendo that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and even the UN, are connected to the coronavirus.

What’s this cuckoo theory?

On October 18, 2019, so these theorists claim, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted a pandemic simulation exercise. Strikingly, this coronavirus simulation was held six weeks before the first illness was reported in Wuhan. What’s more, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also funds The Pirbright Institute, which applied for the patent for the coronavirus in 2015 (and secured it in 2018) — for use as a vaccine to treat and/or prevent “a diseases such as infectious bronchitis”.

Bottomline?

There may yet be a cure for the coronavirus, but there isn’t one for boneheaded conspiracy theories spun by modern-day Cassandaras and cuckoos.

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Published on February 20, 2020
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