The discovery of a new type of supernova explains a stellar explosion from 1054

Astronomy is only possible as a field of study because the universe is so predictable. Just as plants and animals can be categorized into easily-identifiable species and families, stellar objects, too, appear with stark regularity — evoking the same visual patterns as a fern or a tree branch might.

Yet unlike some fields, astronomers also typify death — namely, the death of stars, which produce very specific types of massive explosions depending on the stars' properties. The aftermath of these explosions, known as supernovae, are so readily classifiable that they are called "standard candles," meaning observations of their brightness can be used to calculate distance.

Supernovae are rare events, and so energetic as to be detectable on Earth even when they occur in distant galaxies. Until recently, astronomers believed there were only two main types of supernova. Now, a new study published in Nature Astronomy surfaces exciting evidence that a third type of supernova exists. Known an electron-capture supernova, the newly-dubbed type was predicted nearly 40 years ago by astronomer Ken'ichi Nomoto, but only recently observed.

Intriguingly, the third type of supernovae was apparently hiding right under humanity's nose, as it was observed by millions of humans almost a thousand years ago. The Crab Nebula explosion in A.D. 1054 — which was widely recorded by astronomers and historians around the world — may indeed have been a rare electron-capture supernova, researchers claim. The timing of the new research paper is fortuitous given that next week marks the 967-year anniversary of the supernova explosion that created the Crab Nebula, first observed on July 4, 1054.

What's in a supernova?

Previously, astronomers considered two basic types of supernovae. The first, known as iron-core collapse, occurs when a heavy star's core has become saturated with iron created through the nuclear fusion of lighter elements. Once iron fusion starts, the star's core quickly grows dense beyond the point at which atoms can stably exist. At that point, the pressure pushes atoms' electron shells too close to their nuclei, causing them to spontaneously merge. This causes an uncontrolled reaction that compresses the core of the star into either a neutron star or a black hole, while the outer shell blows off at incredible speed.

The second type of supernova happens in binary star systems, in which a "dead" white dwarf star — which has ceased fusion, and is slowly cooling — steals gas from its active companion star as they orbit close. After accreting its neighbors' matter for years, the dead white dwarf star may spontaneously start fusion up again, which often triggers a supernova.

The oft-predicted third type, the so-called electron collapse supernova, was widely theorized but never observed. These involve massive stars that are fusing heavy metals in their core and which are just at the pressure limit at which some of their electrons start to be pushed into atoms' nuclei.

"There's this intermediate mass range [8 to 10 times the mass of the sun], where we think maybe we've seen stars that explode in this hypothesized way of electron capture, but we haven't really definitively observed it," said Azalee Bostroem, a graduate student and co-author of the paper, in a phone interview. "This is the first time we don't have one or two pieces of evidence pointing to this being this predicted type of supernova, but we have all of these different pieces pointing to that."

As Bostroem explained, astronomers have long hypothesized that stars between 8 and 10 solar masses explode in a different way. That's because internal pressure theoretically could force the star's electrons to meld with atomic nuclei, turning negatively-charged electrons and positively-charged protons into neutrons. Since electrons exert a negative pressure on each other, this causes a decline in electron pressure; that makes the star's center collapse as the surrounding layers explode. A 2018 supernova, called SN 2018zd, matched the characteristics of this hypothesized type. That intrigued astronomers.

A missing link in the sky

"The term Rosetta Stone is used too often as an analogy when we find a new astrophysical object, but in this case, I think it is fitting. This supernova is literally helping us decode thousand-year-old records from cultures all over the world," said Andrew Howell, a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO), adjunct professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara and leader of the Global Supernova Project, in a news release. "In the process, it is teaching us about fundamental physics — how some neutron stars get made, how extreme stars live and die, and about how the elements we're made of get created and scattered around the universe."

SN 2018zd was first observed in 2018 by amateur astronomer Koichi Itagaki in Japan. Alex Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, proceeded to obtain a Hubble Space Telescope image of the supernova and an official analysis followed. Filippenko compared the area of the sky where the supernova was observed to Hubble Space Telescope images of that same area and discovered the progenitor star in the galaxy NGC 2146, about 31 million light years from Earth.

"That was one of the key components that had never been done for other candidate electron-capture supernovae — they had never had a viable identified progenitor star, the star that explodes," Filippenko said in a news release.

As Filippenko alluded to, the new discovery also resurfaces the mystery of a supernova explosion that occurred in A.D. 1054. That supernova, which was famously mentioned in Chinese and Japanese records, was so bright that some astronomers recorded it as being visible during the daytime. The remnants of that supernova form the Crab Nebula today. Researchers now suspect that this supernova was an electron-capture supernova, similar to SN 2018zd.

If astronomers have long theorized this third type of supernova, why are we just confirming an observation now? In the phone interview, Bostroem emphasized that the timing has never been quite right.

"One of the things that makes studying supernovae challenging is that they're only allowed around for a certain amount of time," Bostroem said. "We haven't gotten the timing right and it hasn't been as nearby; We're at this point right now in transient astronomy, where we are searching more of the sky every night than we ever have in the past looking for supernovae. and so that means that we are finding more of them and we are finding more of them right after they explode."

Astronomers believe that SN 2018zd was first observed three hours after it exploded.

"Just the increased number of supernovae we're discovering really gives us a much better opportunity to find rare events like this," Bostroem said. "And so we definitely will continue to look for them and continue to collect data sets like this so that we can identify whether they are electron-capture or not."

Astronomers like Avi Loeb, the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University, are thrilled about this new paper. In an email, Loeb called it "novel and exciting."

"The supernovae SN 2018zd fulfills the expected characteristics and provides strong evidence for the existence of electron-capture supernovae and their progenitor star," Loeb said. "With SN 2018zd, the authors estimate an event rate of 0.6–8.5% of all core collapse supernovae; theoretically, the evolutionary path to their progenitor stars is uncertain."

Loeb added these results could have "interesting implications for gravitational wave sources observed by the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration," an international gravitational wave telescope project.

This bizarre conspiracy is yet another strategy for anti-vax influencers to monetize misinformation

Tik Toker Brookiebaby888 usually posts humorous lifestyle videos to her 73,000 followers, but earlier this month she filmed herself doing a "magnet vaccine test." Standing in front of her camera, she explained to users that she just received her COVID-19 vaccine and wanted to see if a magnet would stick to her arm. Pressing the round magnet to her deltoid, she gasps in surprise when it barely sticks.

Brookiebaby888 is one of thousands who have done the "vaccine magnet test" on Tiktok, perpetuating the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 vaccine includes an unidentified magnetic object — maybe a microchip — causing a side effect of becoming magnetic (which is not true). It's unclear if people like Brookiebaby888 are true anti-vaxxers, or just participating in yet another viral social media challenge with deleterious public health effects.

Recently, the conspiracy theory was popularized and brought to the mainstream when Sherri Tenpenny, a confidant and adviser to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and self described anti-vaxxer, spoke about it at a hearing held by a health committee in the Ohio state legislature.

"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the Internet of people who have had these shots and now they're magnetized," Tenpenny said. "They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there's a metal piece to that."

Misinformation experts say testimonies like Tenpenny's promoting vaccine misinformation, along with the viral videos on social media doing the "magnet test," harm public confidence in the vaccines. The very real public health risk posed by the spread of such misinformation speaks to why people like Tenpenny need to be deplatformed from social media, Imran Ahmed, CEO of The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told Salon.

"It's profoundly irresponsible to give them uncritical oxygen given that these are publicity hounds who are seeking to sell their product," Ahmed said. "Every time they're given the oxygen of publicity, they become more powerful."

Ahmed suspects that the hearing in Ohio that went viral was likely a publicity stunt for Tenpenny to gain new followers and make more money. Tenpenny is listed as one of the top 12 leading anti-vaxxers according to the CCDH; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Andrew Wakefield, and Joseph Mercola are also on the list. The CCDH estimates that Tenpenny — who is a practicing osteopathic physician and alternative health entrepreneur who offers "boot camps" in becoming an anti-vaccine activist — makes $2.1 million from these programs collectively, according to the CCDH's report titled "Pandemic Profiteers."

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"This is all an enormous scam," Ahmed said. "For them, it's a war of attrition, and the war of attrition is that, let's just say 10 people believe that they can magnetize them — they happen to stick a key to themselves because they're in the middle of a heatwave and it's a hot and sticky and it sticks to them — and they think, 'Oh my god, the vaccine is magnetic.'"

"That's why social media has been so powerful for them," Ahmed continued, "because they've been able to push out misinformation and then slowly start accruing followers without ever necessarily paying the cost for it."

As Ahmed alluded to, it is likely that some people who participate in the vaccine magnet challenge will believe that, for some reason, the COVID-19 vaccine has a mysterious magnetic metal in it like iron, nickel, or cobalt. According to a fact sheet on the FDA's website for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine contains only mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose — none of which are ferromagnetic.

For the record: Though it's been debunked time and time again — including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the COVID-19 vaccine does not make a person magnetic. The reason the magnets or keys are briefly sticking to some, Deputy Lab Director Eric Palm of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory told BBC News, could be trickery or simply the cause of excess oils on the skin.

"You can easily get a coin to stick to your skin, we've all done that as children — sticking coins to our foreheads," Palm said. "Because of the surface oils, surface tension associated with that... or someone could be using trickery, [such as] band-aid residue or sticky substance."

There are certainly instances of such simple trickery; for example, TikTok user Emilaay442's video of doing the magnet challenge went viral when the magnet stuck. But, as she later explained to BBC News, it was meant to be a "joke" and she actually licked the magnet before applying it to her skin.

So where did this bizarre, dangerous myth come from exactly? It's unclear. In her testimony, Tenpenny suggests that there's something magnetic in the protein being injected, or something related to "5G towers," meaning cell phone radio towers. (Notably, 5G or "fifth generation" cellular technology requires much smaller and less intrusive radio towers than previous generations.)

In some videos, the magnet sticking has been used to advance the microchip conspiracy theory that falsely claims Bill Gates is behind an operation to implant microchips in people via vaccines. As The Verge reported, this conspiracy theory stemmed from a Reddit thread. Indeed, as Ahmed said, the magnet meets microchip conspiracy theory fits into the three types of misinformation that anti-vaxxers spread frequently. This one just happened to stick.

"One is that COVID isn't dangerous, the second is that vaccines are dangerous, and the third is that you can't trust doctors," Ahmed said. Anti-vaxxers "throw out everything" and see what sticks, Ahmad continued. "We've been told that vaccines will do everything from magnetize you to kill you, to all sorts of idiocy — this just happens to have caught fire because of this profoundly hilarious video of Sherri Tenpenny."

Why anti-vaxxers are infatuated with 'magnetic vaccine' conspiracy theory

Tik Toker Brookiebaby888 usually posts humorous lifestyle videos to her 73,000 followers, but earlier this month she fimed herself doing a "magnet vaccine test." Standing in front of her camera, she explained to users that she just received her COVID-19 vaccine and wanted to see if a magnet would stick to her arm. Pressing the round magnet to her deltoid, she gasps in surprise when it barely sticks.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Brookiebaby888 is one of thousands who have done the "vaccine magnet test" on Tiktok, perpetuating the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 vaccine includes an unidentified magnetic object — maybe a microchip — causing a side effect of becoming magnetic (which is not true). It's unclear if people like Brookiebaby888 are true anti-vaxxers, or just participating in yet another viral social media challenge with deleterious public health effects.

Recently, the conspiracy theory was popularized and brought to the mainstream when Sherri Tenpenny, a confidant and adviser to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and self described anti-vaxxer, spoke about it at a hearing held by a health committee in the Ohio state legislature.

"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the Internet of people who have had these shots and now they're magnetized," Tenpenny said. "They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there's a metal piece to that."

Misinformation experts say testimonies like Tenpenny's promoting vaccine misinformation, along with the viral videos on social media doing the "magnet test," harm public confidence in the vaccines. The very real public health risk posed by the spread of such misinformation speaks to why people like Tenpenny need to be deplatformed from social media, Imran Ahmed, CEO of The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told Salon.

"It's profoundly irresponsible to give them uncritical oxygen given that these are publicity hounds who are seeking to sell their product," Ahmed said. "Every time they're given the oxygen of publicity, they become more powerful."

Ahmed suspects that the hearing in Ohio that went viral was likely a publicity stunt for Tenpenny to gain new followers and make more money. Tenpenny is listed as one of the top 12 leading anti-vaxxers according to the CCDH; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Andrew Wakefield, and Joseph Mercola are also on the list. The CCDH estimates that Tenpenny — who is a practicing osteopathic physician and alternative health entrepreneur who offers "boot camps" in becoming an anti-vaccine activist — makes $2.1 million from these programs collectively, according to the CCDH's report titled "Pandemic Profiteers."

"This is all an enormous scam," Ahmed said. "For them, it's a war of attrition, and the war of attrition is that, let's just say 10 people believe that they can magnetize them — they happen to stick a key to themselves because they're in the middle of a heatwave and it's a hot and sticky and it sticks to them — and they think, 'Oh my god, the vaccine is magnetic.'"

"That's why social media has been so powerful for them," Ahmed continued, "because they've been able to push out misinformation and then slowly start accruing followers without ever necessarily paying the cost for it."

As Ahmed alluded to, it is likely that some people who participate in the vaccine magnet challenge will believe that, for some reason, the COVID-19 vaccine has a mysterious magnetic metal in it like iron, nickel, or cobalt. According to a fact sheet on the FDA's website for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine contains only mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose — none of which are ferromagnetic.

For the record: Though it's been debunked time and time again — including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the COVID-19 vaccine does not make a person magnetic. The reason the magnets or keys are briefly sticking to some, Deputy Lab Director Eric Palm of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory told BBC News, could be trickery or simply the cause of excess oils on the skin.

"You can easily get a coin to stick to your skin, we've all done that as children — sticking coins to our foreheads," Palm said. "Because of the surface oils, surface tension associated with that... or someone could be using trickery, [such as] band-aid residue or sticky substance."

There are certainly instances of such simple trickery; for example, TikTok user Emilaay442's video of doing the magnet challenge went viral when the magnet stuck. But, as she later explained to BBC News, it was meant to be a "joke" and she actually licked the magnet before applying it to her skin.

So where did this bizarre, dangerous myth come from exactly? It's unclear. In her testimony, Tenpenny suggests that there's something magnetic in the protein being injected, or something related to "5G towers," meaning cell phone radio towers. (Notably, 5G or "fifth generation" cellular technology requires much smaller and less intrusive radio towers than previous generations.)

In some videos, the magnet sticking has been used to advance the microchip conspiracy theory that falsely claims Bill Gates is behind an operation to implant microchips in people via vaccines. As The Verge reported, this conspiracy theory stemmed from a Reddit thread. Indeed, as Ahmed said, the magnet meets microchip conspiracy theory fits into the three types of misinformation that anti-vaxxers spread frequently. This one just happened to stick.

"One is that COVID isn't dangerous, the second is that vaccines are dangerous, and the third is that you can't trust doctors," Ahmed said. Anti-vaxxers "throw out everything" and see what sticks, Ahmad continued. "We've been told that vaccines will do everything from magnetize you to kill you, to all sorts of idiocy — this just happens to have caught fire because of this profoundly hilarious video of Sherri Tenpenny."

Expert explains how the language of cults is all around us

The word "cult" gets thrown around a lot today, which suggests it is losing its specificity. Everyone agrees that Heaven's Gate or the Peoples Temple were cults; not everyone believes QAnon and its followers constitute a cult, even though psychologists specialize in "deprogramming" QAnon followers. Then, there are things that few may recognize as cults, but which have some cultish traits — like, say, Crossfit.

Cults are usually defined by devotion toward a particular figure or object, which makes it difficult to decipher whether something like the popular exercise regimen is a cult. Though Crossfit fancies itself a branded fitness regimen, anyone who has been around anyone who does Crossfit will notice, simply by the way Crossfitters speak, that it is a very tight-knit community. The gym is called a "box," trainers are "coaches," and your WoD (workout of the day) can consist of both BPs (bench presses) and BSs (back squats).

Though Crossfit might not be a cult cult the way that Heaven's Gate was, writer Amanda Montell argues that people who do Crossfit do suffer what she describes as a "cultish" influence. In other words, who and what you worship may not be the defining line between what is and isn't a cult; rather, it's all about the way a group speaks.

That's the thesis of Montell's new book "Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism." The book explores how many of us fall under a cultish influence, whether we are aware or if or not, and how it connects to language. Her objects of study range from SoulCycle to Silicon Valley startups, while she simultaneously explores the power of language used in these communities.

As Montell writes, charismatic leaders do not draw followers using some "freaky mind-bending wizardry." Rather, it is a matter of language, plain and simple.

"From the crafty redefinition of existing words (and the invention of new ones) to powerful euphemisms, secret codes, renamings, buzzwords, chants and mantras, 'speaking in tongues,' forced silence, even hashtags, language is the key means by which all degrees of cult like influence occur," Montell explains in her book.

As a linguist and the author of "Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language," Montell opens readers' eyes to the power words hold in all the cultish groups we may brush up against in our lives. I spoke with Montell over the phone about how we define cults, what "cultish" means, and how Instagram's health influencer culture can be cultish; as always, our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

First, I was wondering if you could explain what the book's title, "Cultish," means?

Well, it's sort of a double entendre; there are a few ideas I wanted to communicate with the title. First off, cults are really a spectrum. This word has become incredibly sensationalized, romanticized, judgment-loaded and subjective over the years, such that it's hard to know what it really means. So many groups that have been or could be called "cults" aren't necessarily any more dangerous or outlandish than a better-accepted religion.

That's not to say that some cults aren't dangerous. Some absolutely are, but the word "cult" is not really specific enough to let us know what we're really talking about, and it can often be used as just a judgment to morally divide us. Like, "you're in a cult." "No, you're in a cult." "You're the brainwashed one, you're in a cult."

So I tend to think of cults on this spectrum, on this continuum of groups that can range from fanatical, but ultimately pretty harmless, all the way to really exploitative and abusive and in some cases life-threatening. So I tend to call this the "cultish spectrum" — groups that are all cultish, groups I discuss in the book ranging from Scientology to SoulCycle. We might not agree that they are full-blown cults, but they're at the very least cultish.

And then the other meaning of cultish is this language that I describe in the book. It's this system of linguistic techniques that leaders and gurus from Jim Jones to Jeff Bezos to spin instructors use to influence their following.

The language aspect of it was fascinating. And I didn't even know where the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid'' came from ( which originates from the Peoples Temple movement), even though that was so obvious when I read it in your book. I'm curious if you could explain more why you chose to focus on the role that language plays in cults and cultishness.

Yeah. Well, my background is in linguistics. Language is just the lens through which I see the world. When someone is talking to me, I am listening to their delivery and their word choice and the different features of their speech as much as I'm listening to the content of it. I don't know why. Some combination of nature and nurture has made me this very nerdy language-focused person.

I also grew up on stories of an infamous cult called Synanon, because my dad was forced to join it when he was a teenager by his father who was sort of negligent as a dad. He was a communist. He was very counter-cultural. He fancied himself an intellectual. And in the late 60s, he found himself quite bored with nuclear family life and decided to move my dad and my grandfather's new wife and his two little replacement kids to this compound in the Bay Area called Synanon, which was like a "socialist utopia." It started as a quack drug rehabilitation center and then grew to accommodate so-called lifestylers, people who just wanted in on this alternative way of living.

And my dad would tell me these riveting stories growing up. Just because I'm the way that I am, the most fascinating part of his stories of Synanon to me was always the special language that they used, terms like "lifestylers" and phrases like "act as if," which was this imperative to get people to not to question a certain policy or rule or procedure in Synanon. You were just supposed to act as if you believed until you did.

There was a Synanon school that all the children were supposed to attend, but the randomly-selected adults who ran the school weren't called teachers. They were called "demonstrators."

So I was always really sensitive to cult-y sounding rhetoric, whether it was in the start-up office where I was working or in the high school theater program I was in. was always really tuned into language that kind of reminded me of Synanon language. And so when it came time to think of a second book idea, and I'd always obviously been interested in cults, the only angle I could really feel like I was qualified to write about within this topic was language.

In the book, you talk a bit about what you call "thought-terminating cliches." I see them often in wellness circles and on Instagram — influencers encouraging people to say a specific "mantra." They always seemed harmless. Can you explain why they can be dangerous sometimes?

So a "thought-terminating cliche" is a concept, a term that was coined in the early 1950s by this psychologist named Robert Jay Lifton. And it describes these stock phrases that are catchy, easily memorized, easily repeated that are aimed at shutting down or questioning analytical thoughts. So an example of a thought-terminating cliche that you might hear in one of those New Age-y Instagram circles would be dismissing a very valid fear or anxiety or question as a limiting belief. Or saying something like "Don't let yourself be ruled by fear," which could be harmless in certain contexts, but when talking about, say, the global pandemic, it's definitely not productive. It is, in fact, quite destructive. So yeah, I was fascinated to discover this phenomenon of the thought-terminating cliche and these phrases aren't just used in cultish groups. We really hear them in our everyday lives in phrases like, "it is what it is," or "boys will be boys," or "it's all in God's plan," or "everything happens for a reason."

So the idea is that cultish language is not exclusive to these fanatical fringe groups. They really imbue our everyday lives, and so do thought-terminating cliches. And it's important to be aware of them so that you can kind of clock them and be like, that sounds like a technique that's trying to get me not to further question or think about this topic. And the motivation behind that might be someone is trying to take advantage of you. And I think thought-terminating cliches are really effective because it's work to think about something super complex. It's a relief not to have to, and thought-terminating cliches sort of assuage cognitive dissonance or that uncomfortable discord you feel when you have two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time.

And so they're really everywhere. And it's true, not all of them in every context are going to be harmful. But whenever you have a sort of ill-intentioned leader with a repertoire of these stock phrases —"Act as if from Synanon" is one of them — if someone was feeling doubtful of a certain policy in the group, you could just say, "Oh, well act as if," and that would be a cue to remember, oh yeah, I have my full confidence in this charismatic leader. And I'm just going to act as if I believe in this policy that he created until I do. And that sounds bananas, but when you're conditioned by these thought-terminating cliches over the course of years or a lifetime, they become these really effective cues to not think about something any further.

I think it's fascinating. And just how much we use, actually, these thought-terminating cliches, not even in, like you said, cultish groups, but it seems to be pretty mainstream. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on what to replace these thought-terminating cliches with or how to challenge them. I don't know if you have any ideas on that.

Yeah. I mean, it's always empowering to be able to label the technique of manipulation that somebody is trying to use at you. So if, I mean, this won't be entirely appropriate in every context. Say if your boss just throws one of these thought-terminating cliches at you, you can't just be like, "Hey, that sounds like a thought-terminating cliche, and I can tell that you're trying to manipulate me." But just having the ability to, in your own mind, clock that type of phrase is I think the most powerful thing you can do. And then you can in the safest ways that makes sense for you, you can sort of continue to gently push back instead of allowing that thought-terminating cliche to do what it was designed to do, which is to get you to be silent.

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Cultish rhetoric is used in so many industries: fitness, wellness, beauty, health, and even in our workforce, like at startups and at corporations. It's often used as a way to subvert power within an organization and manipulate people. However, I couldn't help but think while reading your book that humans seem to be really drawn to this cultish structure and language.

Well, I think we are quite cultish by nature. Study after study proves that we are communal inherently. We are attracted to groups of like-minded people. And there's neuroscience behind why cultish language resonates with us. Studies of Buddhists chanting have found that it reduces stress hormones in the body and elevates feelings of bliss. We like to engage in a group chant. We like to have an exclusive code language.

I mean, everyone can relate to being a kid on the playground and first learning Pig Latin, and feeling so special that you have this code language that other people don't know. It makes you feel really like you're doing something right. You are intellectually superior, that you're morally superior, that you're in on the secret. And we're tribalists. We are attracted to small groups of insiders versus outsiders. And I think language is such a powerful and underestimated marker of how you can tell who is in your group and who is on the outside.

I notice scientific language is co-opted by health and wellness influencers, particularly on Instagram. Many of them promote dangerous beliefs, especially in the alt-health world — like Joe Dispenza, who you mention in your book.

Well, co-opting technical terms from scientific fields and giving them new, metaphysical meanings is something that all of history's most notorious New Age leaders from Marshall Applewhite to L. Ron Hubbard has done. This is what New Age groups have always done. They combine scientific language or language from the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], like psychological language with spiritual, mystical, metaphysical language in order to create this impression that they are tapped into a power higher than science.

And what someone like Joe Dispenza does, which is particularly grating and harmful, is he will co-opt terms from astrophysics. He'll talk about quantum fields. And again, his credential is he has a degree in chiropractic from the university called Life University. He is a joke. But he will basically use really complex terms that are above the average follower's head. And because he uses them with such confidence and he's the picture of the type of person that we would expect to know about astrophysics, aka a middle-aged, balding white man. Either the average follower is not going to fact check that, you're just scrolling through Instagram or you're just surfing the internet.

With this overload of information that you're getting on Instagram or on the internet, you're not going to fact check every little thing. It would take you all day. It would be like a full-time job. And, study after study shows that misinformation spreads more quickly on the internet than true stories, especially on Twitter. And it's really difficult to differentiate between false information that feels more novel ... and we're more likely to spread or retweet or re-share information that feels new because it makes us feel, again, like we are accessing something special that we are in the know. And sometimes true information feels boring.

So yeah, the combination of metaphysical language and science language is really dangerous because it devalues actual science. And in an era like we are now, when there is a civil war over disinformation — when people think that science is a conspiracy, when people have such mistrust in the healthcare system, in academia — that becomes incredibly dangerous. Especially because people like Joe Dispenza — and he's a dime a dozen, by the way — aren't spreading this ideology because they really think it's going to help people. They're spreading it to make a buck. The roster of products and services that Joe Dispenza has for sale would blow your mind. It's really like the metaphysical Disney store. And so he's reaching for attention. That's what he wants. He doesn't want to help people. He wants attention and followers and money. How do you get attention? You spread the news that's going to feel most novel to people. That news that is going to feel most novel to people is probably going to be false. And that's just destructive for so many reasons.

I'm fascinated by why people are so drawn to these people. I have always wondered if it is because traditional religion is on the decline, and maybe people gravitate towards those who seem to have this "connection" to something that they don't.

It's partially that. And I have found time and time again that the people who are most attracted to these New Age gurus in particular are ex-Christians, particularly ex-evangelicals. New Age ideology really just put a boho spin on a lot of old evangelical rhetoric. These good and evil binaries. The idea of a "great awakening'' is very similar to the idea of a second coming or a rapture. And there's a lot of black and white ideology going on that really hearkens back to evangelical rhetoric.

If you are rejecting the church that you grew up in, you're going to connect to something that's different, but also feels familiar. We're just utterly lacking moral and spiritual leadership right now as Americans. We feel like when we get sick or when we get hurt or when we are poor or anything, nobody is going to be there for us.

So we end up putting our stake in these alternative gurus rather than the mainstream institution. But also, as I was saying before, on Instagram, or on social media in general, you don't actually have to be a super-charismatic mass manipulator like dangerous, new religious leaders of years past. You just have to be able to tap into an algorithm. And being able to do that is the key to gaining a following now. You just have to tap into whatever's trending, whatever is garnering a big emotional response from people and just feed them that. Yeah. So there's a lot going on there, but that's some of it.

So we know how dangerous cultish rhetoric can be, but what's the solution?

I think there are a couple of solutions. I think something in our culture that is really damaging is that there are all these little ideological cults that really separate us, and really cause us not to empathize with one another or see one another as human. We see one another as this nefarious "other" if we don't align perfectly with the ideology of a certain group. It's really important to notice the cultish language that is causing you to feel so confident that you're right and everyone else is not only wrong, but morally inferior and a bad person. It's important to recognize, "what do I really think about this?" Or, "am I just being conditioned by these slogans and buzzwords to think that this is the right way?"

And if we can recognize the cultish language that's having an effect on us, not only will we feel more empowered to go and cross-check and fact check and make sure that we really believe what we think we do, but it will also help us be more compassionate and empathetic toward people who disagree because they're under a similar type of influence. They're under these very specific techniques of cultish manipulation. And if we can understand what that looks like, then we can hopefully open up communication pathways and be able to empathize with these people and talk to them — because that's the only way that we're going to be able to bridge these massive schisms in our culture.

We asked doctors when we'll know if we need COVID-19 booster shots

It's been nearly six months since the first person in the U.S., nurse Sandra Lindsay, received the COVID-19 vaccine. Since patient one, over one hundred million Americans have been vaccinated. Indeed, as of Tuesday, at least 63.8 percent of U.S. adults have received one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As vaccination rates increase, COVID-19 cases decline nationally, and the CDC continues to ease restrictions, more states and cities are fully re-opening. That means life in the United States is inching closer to "normal," whatever that might mean post-pandemic.

Yet experts say that it is unclear if we are merely entering a brief respite, or if the pandemic is coming to its more permanent end. The reason? Researchers still don't know how long immunity lasts for the vaccinated, and whether or not there will be a need for booster shots.

The idea that the coronavirus may require a booster shot is not new. Even at the pandemic's dawn, it was a possibility, as it is relatively common for a vaccine to require a later booster; tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough are among the pathogens whose vaccines require later boosters.

A recent study of Pfizer's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine found that it conferred an immunity that lasted at least 6 months. If immunity drops after a certain period, there may be a necessity for boosters.

Yet there are other factors that affect the need for booster shots besides the duration of immunity: mutations, too, will change the equation.

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center, told Salon infectious disease experts are monitoring to see if fully vaccinated people get re-infected; and if so, how severe their cases are.

"To me, that's the threshold you would use," Adalja said. "So you would follow people that have been vaccinated, looking for breakthrough infections and see are more severe breakthrough infections occurring at a certain duration? That's when you can kind of make that determination whether or not they're needed."

Dr. Charles Chiu, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California–San Francisco, agreed with this threshold concept. Yet Chiu said that it's too early to tell if we will need boosters at all, in part because not everyone in the U.S. is vaccinated.

"We will know that we need a booster when we start seeing an uptick in the number of infections in the vaccinated population, but right now it's difficult to assess because we have significant portions of the population who are unvaccinated," Chiu said. "If we get to, say, essentially herd immunity, we would know if need a booster by continuing to do surveillance of infection and monitoring for infections and [COVID-19] screenings."

As Chiu alluded to, there is a debate over whether or not we will need booster shots at all. While Chiu said it's perhaps "too early to tell," he advised to be prepared for the possibility.

Besides boosters, seasonal vaccinations are a common practice among vaccines. Flu shots are offered once a year, and regularly updated to try to reflect the seasonal flu virus. Children who receive the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella, receive a first dose between 12 and 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Not long ago, Salon interviewed infectious disease experts, Chiu included, who speculated that COVID-19 vaccines could be a seasonal shot.

Fortunately, the efficacy of the multiple COVID-19 vaccines have surprised many in the field and exceeded expectations. Yet immunity to COVID-19 doesn't seem to last forever.

"We know that immunity elicited by the vaccines will wane over time, and the question is how fast is it going to wane. But eventually it probably will wane in such a way that we will need a booster," Chiu added. He noted there was another looming reason that a booster might be necessary: mutations.

"The emergence of variants that can variably affect the effectiveness of the vaccine" may necessitate boosters, Chiu noted.

Adalja also said he believes it's too early to say for sure.

"It's especially premature . . . it takes time to study people who've been fully vaccinated to see if they get breakthrough infections," Adalja said. "I don't think it will be in the near-term based on what we're seeing on this data for the general population, and that might be different for immunocompromised patients or people that are at high risk."

But not all infectious disease experts agree. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, told Salon she doesn't think we will need boosters for four main reasons. First, Gandhi pointed to one study that found that people with mild COVID-19 infections produce a "good T cell response," meaning that the immune system's memory is strong.

The immune system produces both B and T cells in response to an infection; B cells produce antibodies and T cells specifically attack and kill pathogens. Following vaccinations for other infections, like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and diphtheria, T cell immunity is long lasting, as Gandhi explained.

Many scientists suspect that T cell immunity to SARS-CoV-2 will be just as durable (meaning long-lasting) as that of SARS 17 years ago. Gandhi pointed to a separate study on 12 people who were vaccinated with two Pfizer/BioNTech shots showing that the place where their memory B cells were stored in their lymph nodes increased in concentration over time — suggesting that even if antibodies fade, Memory B cells will linger for a while and be able to prevent against the original SARS-CoV-2.

But what about the variants?

"The antibody levels may be down against a specific variant, but your T cells that you produce from the vaccines produce multiple 'epitopes'. . . and there's about 100 T cells that line up across the spike protein to help you fight the infection after vaccination," Gandhi said.

"And so even if you have a variant that has 13 mutations, like the Delta variant which a lot of mutations, you're still going to get that lineup of lots of T cells that combat some of those variants. So I do think T cell responses from vaccines will work against them."

Hopefully, new variants will be a moot issue. Chiu said it could be possible to stop new variants from emerging, but that possibility hinges on the entire world being vaccinated.

"One thing that has to be kept in mind is that still the rest of the world is largely not immune, and the rest of the world has not really been vaccinated," Chiu said. "The reason why these variants emerge is because you have ongoing transmission, so until we're able to curtail the pandemic globally, we're going to continue to see the emergence of variants."

Chiu emphasized this is a major concern, as it could influence the need for booster shots.

Notably, in some countries, booster shots are already being administered. According to AP News, the United Arab Emirates is offering boosters to people who received the Sinopharm vaccine. Adalja said that doesn't necessarily foreshadow what will happen in the United States.

"The Sinopharm has not published phase three clinical data, so we don't have a good strong understanding of how efficacious it is," Adalja said. "But what we do know is that both the Sinovac and Sinopharm seem to not work as well as Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson — so there may be some specific issues with that vaccine."

Anti-vax conspiracy theorists are blaming vaccinated people for 'shedding' virus in their presence

Myths around infertility, pregnancy and miscarriages have run rampant in anti-vaccine circles for years — and in the universe of their conspiracy theories, vaccines are often to blame. While variations of such false claims have been part of misinformation campaigns around the COVID-19 vaccines, there has recently been a shift from demonizing the vaccine itself to villainizing those who are vaccinated.

It's a peculiar repositioning for the anti-vaccination conspiracy movement — and as the false claim evolves into more extreme iterations, it has caught the attention of people who study and advocate against vaccine misinformation

"I think it is particularly interesting that people are saying that those who are those who are vaccinated are a risk to those who aren't," said David Broniatowski, who's the associate director for the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at George Washington University. "It's like taking the common vaccine conventional wisdom and flipping it on its head where people will say, 'if you have not been vaccinated, you're a risk to those who are more vulnerable and vaccinated.'"

Broniatowski said he's never seen this before in the history of anti-vaccine rhetoric.

"This is the first time," Broniatowski said.

The conspiracy centers on one particular myth that people who are vaccinated can emit contagious particles of the coronavirus's Spike protein and can infect others, a process referred to as "vaccine shedding." Vaccine shedding is a very rare possibility with live-attenuated vaccines that use a diluted version of a disease to stimulate an immune response. In the rare case there's enough germ to spread, the shedding usually happens via feces— for example, with the polio vaccine or the measles vaccine.

"For the measles vaccine, later in life — and again this is super rare — it's possible that the live virus could revert to a condition called Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE)," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco. "But in no way can you shed it and give it to someone."

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But this issue is moot in the case of messenger RNA, or mRNA vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which the majority of the vaccinated American population has been administered with. These kinds of vaccines work by instructing the body to make a bespoke Spike protein to trigger an immune response. After an immune response is triggered, the protein disappears. In other words, viral shedding is an impossibility for these mRNA vaccines.

"Just because you yourself make the Spike protein yourself, and that's the design of the vaccine, that spike protein is just a fragment of the live virus," Gandhi said. "It is in no way alive or capable of infecting anyone else."

But even though the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are adenovirus vaccines, it is impossible for shedding to occur in the case of these vaccines. That's because they don't actually contain weakened versions of the coronavirus; rather, they contain weak adenoviruses that have been modified to contain a piece of coronavirus DNA.

In other words, vaccinated people cannot shed the coronavirus, and thus they aren't contagious.

Despite the "vaccine shedding" myth being continuously debunked by credible sources, iterations of the claim are becoming increasingly popular. Peculiarly, these myths have a tinge of sexism, as many of them revolve around false claims about women's bodies, mirroring other falsehoods about women that have existed for centuries.

Specifically, there have been forms of the false claim that a vaccinated woman's menstrual cycle can throw off an unvaccinated woman's cycle, stoking fear and sowing divides between vaccinated and unvaccinated women. Naomi Wolf, a bestselling author who has been pushing conspiracy theories around the COVID-19 vaccines repeatedly, has tweeted about the claim a couple times.

"Well hundreds of women on this page say they are having bleeding/ clotting after vaccination or that they bleed oddly being AROUND vaccinated women," Wolf tweeted, referring to a discussion in a Facebook group.

The consequences of variations of this myth extend beyond misinformation online and into the real world. As reported by NBC News, the owner of a butcher shop in Ontario, Canada, banned all people who were vaccinated from COVID-19 to protect unvaccinated female customers.

"We have decided that since the majority of our customers are women and since women are most at risk for these side effects, we ask that if you've been vaccinated to please order for curbside pickup or delivery for 28 days after being vaccinated," the post read on Instagram.

A separate store in Canada banned vaccinated customers for a fear of vaccinated people "shedding" the coronavirus to its unvaccinated customers. In the U.S., a private school in Miami barred vaccinated teachers from coming into contact with students. The same school threatened the employment of its vaccinated teachers.

Imran Ahmed, the CEO of The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told Salon those incidences are "isolated" but the peculiar shift in blame from vaccines to the vaccinated is a strategic response to unvaccinated people being seen as a threat, as they can be potential carriers of the coronavirus.

"The problem that anti-vaxxers are having is they're asking people to become disgusting to other people [by not getting vaccinated], and they know that that's a major barrier to people accepting their recommendations, which is that people don't want to be seen as disgusting," Ahmed said. "So what they're doing is trying to muddy the waters in this crucial battleground — what is it that people find to be disgusting, a potential disease vector? And they're saying, 'Hey, you're not the disease vector by being unvaccinated, they're the disease vector.'"

Ahmed added it's likely that they've latched on to the idea of vaccine shedding because it's "vaguely scientific."

However, claims like those pushed by Wolf — stories about unvaccinated women's menstrual cycles being affected by those of vaccinated women — are curious in that they both target and demonize women.

"There have been a number of disinformation campaigns that have explicitly targeted women of childbearing age," Broniatowski explained.

Ahmed said that anti-vaccination rhetoric can be "tailored" to the specific audience that it's being marketed to. Indeed, some prominent anti-vaccination social media accounts begin life as health and wellness influencers, posting pseudoscientific and "holistic" remedies before devolving into anti-vaccination propaganda. In other cases, social media algorithms observe their users following pseudoscientific pages and then recommend more "extreme" anti-vaccination propaganda pages.

For instance, a group called Children's Health Defense, whose Instagram page has over 217,000 followers, bills its mission as "End[ing] childhood health epidemics by exposing causes, eliminating harmful exposures; seeking justice for injured and establishing safeguards." Social media posts from Children's Health Defense often involve claims of varying veracity about pesticides or nutrition; a parent interested in such topics might reasonably follow their page, not knowing that media watchdogs widely regard Children's Health Defense as a font of pseudoscience and quackery. Yet those who visit the organization's website are apt to discover blog posts that parrot misinformation about fertility and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ahmed explained that this kind of content often targets women, getting them in the door before propagandizing anti-vaccination pseudoscience. This is precisely, Ahmed said, what anti-vaxxers want. Indeed, Ahmed noted that anti-vaxxers can "profit" from spreading misinformation, though that "profit" can be political, economic or psychological.

"And then you've got the vaccine hesitant, who are like, 'I just don't know what to do, I'm hearing all this stuff and I'm worried' — and then you have the people in the middle layer, which is the mid-level marketers of the anti-vaccine movement, who are taking action based on the information given to them."

Notably, many of these false claims that make their rounds circling the internet only come from a small group of people.

"We know that 65 percent of the misinformation shared on social media originates from just 12 individuals and the companies . . . that they use to promote their information," Ahmed said. "There are specific individuals within that who target women and women who are interested in health and wellness."

Here is what to tell people who say the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t FDA approved

Dear Pandemic Problems,

There's a growing rift between me and my son-in-law, who says the COVID-19 vaccines are not safe because they have not been "FDA approved." What makes our rift even more difficult? His wife and grown kids with families themselves will also not get the vaccine because of this FDA approval issue. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Ruffled by Rifts

Ruffled by Rifts, it does appear that rifts are all around you — or at the very least, you are in the minority of being willing to get vaccinated in your family. I know it's frustrating, and rest assured that you are not alone. I've answered many questions now from people who find themselves in similar predicaments. Plus, it doesn't help that families being divided on whether or not to get vaccinated is adding fuel to perhaps decades of family drama, and at the very least four years of the Trump era tearing families apart.

I have no idea if your family members are staunch anti-vaxxers, or to what extent political allegiances play a role here. But I do know that undermining their concerns won't help if there is any hope of them getting vaccinated. The best approach is to listen to their concerns, and have empathy, which it sounds like you've done a little bit of already.

So, you say that your son-in-law is saying the COVID-19 vaccines are not "safe" because they have not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While partly true, this is a classic example of how misinformation spreads. Technically, the COVID-19 vaccines haven't been "approved" by the FDA. However, all three vaccines available in the U.S. have been granted an emergency use authorization, also known as an EUA.

EUAs, by the way, aren't limited to vaccines — they sometimes are issued for medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, and some therapeutics. When it comes to passing an EUA, there are specific conditions that must be considered; they are likely to be granted in situations when "there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives."

That is certainly that case with COVID-19. The FDA usually takes years to formally approve a vaccine, but in the coronavirus pandemic, the priority was to get a safe vaccine in as many peoples' arms as quickly as possible — hence the emergency use authorization.

But just because there's a bureaucratic difference between an EUA and approval doesn't mean that there isn't a rigor to attaining an EUA. Specific criteria must be met. For example, clinical trials must be done on tens of thousands of study participants to generate at least two months of sufficient scientific data needed for the FDA to determine a vaccine's safety and efficacy. You can read more about this process here.

In order to apply for full FDA approval, a company needs to show at least six months of data. Since Pfizer now has that, recently submitted an application for full approval. The FDA is expected to take at least a few weeks to review it, according to NBC News.

Now, what do you do? Well, I suggest expressing your concerns about their health and safety, and what the consequences are of not getting vaccinated. You could also note that attaining an emergency use authorization is a very rigorous process. And ask: Once the FDA formally approves the Pfizer vaccine, will you get it? While it's not ideal for your family members to wait, it's better than a straight-out refusal of getting vaccinated. Hopefully if they have more understanding into the EUA process, and perhaps speak with their doctors, they can be persuaded to be vaccinated.

Sincerely,

Pandemic Problems

Dear Pandemic Problems,

My husband is refusing to get the Covid vaccine. I will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week. Am I wrong to not want to be intimate with him for fear he could infect me?

Sincerely,

Hesitant about Intimacy

Dear Hesitant about Intimacy,

Congratulations on being fully vaccinated so soon. As someone who recently joined the fully-vaccinated club, I feel so grateful not having to worry (as much) about getting the coronavirus, potentially dying from it or spreading it to people. It seriously feels so good, and I'm excited for you to feel so good, too.

And yet, you are at a crossroads with your husband not getting vaccinated. I'm curious, why is he refusing the vaccine? The first step to understanding someone's hesitancy is to better understand why they don't want to be vaccinated. It could be due to misinformation they've consumed, a previous trauma or experience.

You ask: "Am I wrong to not want to be intimate with him for fear he could infect me?"

Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question for you. The CDC has not issued guidance on sex between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, and what the risk is. (Hopefully they will soon.) The CDC states that vaccinated people can still possibly get infected and spread the virus to others, but there is still much to be learned from this situation. I'm definitely not a marriage therapist, but here's what I would tell my best friend: do not anything you're uncomfortable with, as that won't be good for your marriage.

I hope you and your spouse can talk about the implications of him not getting vaccinated, and how that might impact the future of your marriage. My hope is that he will listen, and carefully consider your concerns. If not, there's always couple's therapy. If you can't afford to pay out of pocket, check with your insurance or look for free or low-cost counseling options.

Sincerely,

Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is an advice column that answers readers' pandemic questions — often with help from public health data, philosophy professors and therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing." Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at nkarlis@salon.com. Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

The Voyager 1 probe is now so far away that it can hear the background 'hum' of interstellar space

The Voyager 1 spacecraft holds the record for the most distant human-made object to ever exist. Though it was launched 44 years ago and is over 14 billion miles away from Earth, this space probe continues to send critical information and data back to Earth even as it floats through the void between our solar system and the next.

This article was originally published at Salon

What is this vast, empty void between stars like? It turns out that the galaxy has a hum, not unlike the static you might hear when you're moving the dial between two radio stations.

On Monday, scientists published research in the journal Nature Astronomy analyzing the data that Voyager 1's Plasma Wave System (PWS) sent back to Earth after it passed through our solar system's theoretical border — a region of space known as the heliopause, where the effect of our sun's solar wind on space and celestial objects is believed to end.

Notably, the PWS detected a low, unexpected emission pattering against its detector.

"It's very faint and monotone, because it is in a narrow frequency bandwidth," said Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy and Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, who is also the lead author of the study. "We're detecting the faint, persistent hum of interstellar gas."

In other words, the constant hum of "interstellar gas," also known as plasma waves, lingers at our solar systems' borders. Interstellar gas refers to the mix of radiative, gaseous matter that exists in between star systems and galaxies; it mostly consists of hydrogen and helium in various forms, including ionic, atomic, and molecular. The pitter-patter that Voyager 1 detected gives insight into how interstellar gas interacts with solar wind, along with the overall density of the heliopause region.

"The interstellar medium is like a quiet or gentle rain," said senior author James Cordes, an astronomy professor at Cornell University. "In the case of a solar outburst, it's like detecting a lightning burst in a thunderstorm and then it's back to a gentle rain."

Voyager 1 launched in September 1977, and famously flew by Jupiter in 1979, and then Saturn in 1980. The spacecraft travelled at 38,000 miles per hour when it passed through the heliopause in August 2012. Its nuclear battery grants the craft a very long life, hence its ability to continue sending data for decades. Indeed, researchers continue to be amazed at how Voyager 1 has gleaned new details about the solar system with multiple generations of scientists and astronomers.

"Scientifically, this research is quite a feat. It's a testament to the amazing Voyager spacecraft," Ocker said. "It's the engineering gift to science that keeps on giving."

Cornell research scientist Shami Chatterjee said in a press statement that evolving knowledge of the density in interstellar space is important information to track.

"We've never had a chance to evaluate it. Now we know we don't need a fortuitous event related to the sun to measure interstellar plasma," Chatterjee said. "Regardless of what the sun is doing, Voyager is sending back detail. The craft is saying, 'Here's the density I'm swimming through right now. And here it is now. And here it is now. And here it is now.' Voyager is quite distant and will be doing this continuously.

Vaccine-hesitant, vaccine refusers and anti-vaxxers: There's a spectrum, and the differences matter

Each day millions of people are getting their COVID-19 vaccines. More than 40 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 25 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Despite this progress, public officials are concerned that the country is on the precipice of a new challenge — one in which supply of the vaccine will outweigh demand for it.

This article first appeared on Salon.

Mass vaccination sites, according to The New York Times, are already closing due to a decline in demand for the vaccine. An estimated 1 in 5 American adults remain unwilling to get vaccinated, according to the Monmouth University Poll, prompting fears that vaccine hesitancy could keep the country from reaching herd immunity and truly getting the pandemic under control.

But does that mean that all the people who say that they won't get the vaccine are "anti-vaxxers"? Not necessarily. And experts who study vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine organizations are sounding the alarm that there's an important distinction between someone who's "vaccine hesitant," a "vaccine refuser" or an "anti-vaxxer," especially during this critical phase of the pandemic. Lumping everyone together in the "anti-vaccine" category might deter those who are skeptics and hesitant, as opposed to those who might actually have an anti-vaccine agenda, hampering campaign efforts to get skeptics vaccinated altogether.

"Some figures have a tendency to call people that they disagree with anti-vaxxers, which is kind of unfortunate," David Broniatowski, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at George Washington University, told Salon. "And it creates an environment in which you can't really have the conversations with vaccine hesitant people that you need to have in order to actually change their minds."

Broniatowski, whose research focuses on behavioral epidemiology and group-decision making, emphasized there's a "spectrum" of vaccine hesitancy that needs to be better understood.

"Hesitancy can mean anything from 'Yeah, I'm going to do it, but I'm a little nervous,' to hardcore refusers who say 'Well, I don't think I'm ever going to do it,' and those people, by the way, can change their minds," Broniatowski said. "I think we have to be very careful not to demonize people with whom we disagree, even if we're disagreeing on something as important as vaccination."

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Broniatowski said that's not to say that individuals with an explicit anti-vaccine agenda don't exist. But he often looks to see if a person is directly affiliated with an anti-vaxx organization before assuming they hold a deeply-entrenched belief.

"I think the most important thing is to distinguish between people and organizations," Broniatowski said. "A person can change their mind, and an organization has a charter or a mission statement and they don't change their minds. So you could have an anti-vaccine organization, and no matter what you do as long as the person you're talking to is representing that organization, you're wasting your time."

According to The Anti-Vaxx Playbook, published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), there are three key messages used by anti-vaccine groups and anti-vaccine "celebrities": 1. COVID-19 is not dangerous; 2. The vaccine is dangerous; and 3. Doctors and scientists cannot be trusted. When people on social media are explicitly pushing conspiracy theories, Broniatowski said these people likely fall into the "anti-vaxxer" category.

"A vaccine hesitant person might have heard something like that, either online or somewhere else, and they may believe it," Broniatowski said. "But when somebody is making that stuff up, and they're actively producing that material as opposed to consuming it, that's a pretty clear sign that they're probably an anti-vaxxer, right? And they're probably associated with an anti-vaccine organization."

As a separate report from the CCDH found, 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on social media is linked to just 12 individual accounts, including those of Joseph Mercola, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Sherri Tenpenny, the author of four books opposing vaccination and supporter of the disproved belief, based on a debunked medical journal paper that has since been formally retracted, that vaccines are linked to autism.

In response to messages being spread by anti-vaxxers on social media, the CCDH recommends focusing on the following messaging: COVID is deadly; vaccines are among the safest and most effective human inventions of the past two centuries; and doctors, scientists and public health professionals are in their chosen professions because they want to help people.

Dr. Kasisomayajula Viswanath, a professor of health communication at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), told Salon it's important to understand the "drivers" behind vaccine hesitancy, which will help public health officials address these concerns and hopefully get people vaccinated. For example, he said a Black American might be hesitant due to previous experiences with racism and discrimination in healthcare, and prefer to take a wait-and-see approach with the COVID-19 vaccine.

"That's very different from a group of people who are outright refusers who say 'No, this is my freedom,'" Viswanath said. "Personal liberty is one of the biggest drivers. Other drivers in other refusers are of a naturalistic healing."

Viswanath agreed that taking the spectrum of vaccine hesitancy seriously is "very critical" when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines.

"What COVID-19 has done, unlike in the childhood vaccines issue, COVID-19 has pretty much upended everything we are doing in our lives," Viswanath said. "And so there is some consideration and really this urgency in looking at the spectrum much more carefully and developing the campaigns, more than ever, because it has brought everything to a halt, so to speak."

Are we finally done with lockdowns? Here's what public health experts say

Every day, million more Americans are inoculated with one of the three COVID-19 vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of April 7 more than 64 million people are fully vaccinated. More than 109 million people have received at least one dose.

This article was originally published at Salon

In other words, we're getting closer to going back to "normal" — whatever that might look like. Already some states like California are already announcing a date when they expect all pandemic-related social restrictions to be lifted, with some exceptions (including mask wearing). President Joe Biden believes some sense of normalcy will return by July 4, 2021.

Still, while the future looks better, the present does not. Some states have already lifted restrictions, which policymakers and public health experts believe was done preemptively; as a result, cases are surging in some states. The CDC announced earlier today that B.1.1.7, the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom and which has a higher mortality rate, is now the most common variant in the United States. The state of Michigan is currently undergoing a fourth wave in infections, one in which younger COVID-19 patients are being admitted to the hospital. Parts of Europe, like France, are undergoing 4-week lockdowns again.

So is the end merely a mirage? Does all this bad news combined mean that the United States could see more lockdowns and surges in its future?

While infectious disease experts can't say with absolute certainty, many believe the worst of the pandemic is over in the United States. Strict shelter-in-place orders like we saw last spring and winter, they say, are likely behind us.

"I don't think you're going to see anything like what's happening in Europe happening in the United States," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center. "Our vaccine rollout was sufficiently strong when it came to the high-risk individuals that were most likely to require hospitalization; meaning nursing home patients or high-risk community dwelling people, all of those individuals have been highly vaccinated."

Adalja said the country is facing a different kind of problem now.

"Where we see cases going up, but they're not necessarily going to translate into hospitals going into a crisis, and you have to remember that all of the public health mitigation measures in this country were largely driven by hospital capacity concerns — that's what flattening the curve was all about," Adalja said. "We've taken the ability of this virus away to put a hospital into crisis in the manner that it did just just a couple of months ago, in December and in January, because of where the vaccine went first."

Currently, pandemic-related restrictions vary by state, county and city. But when the pandemic first took hold in spring 2020, more than 310 million Americans were under restrictions such as "shelter in place" and "stay at home." Patchwork variations that continued beyond shelter-in-place orders included capacity limits, mask mandates, and closing some businesses — like gyms and bars — entirely.

But, as Adalja said, the goal of flattening the curve was to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and subsequently having to turn away patients or make life-and-death decisions about their cases based on a hospital's capacity to treat someone.

Fortunately, as more people get vaccinated, the likelihood of hospitals reaching that frantic state again decreases.

Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, agreed.

"I think we have moved past that phase because of immunity; there is nothing, nothing that can get us through a pandemic, except for developing immunity in the population that has not previously been exposed to a new pathogen," Gandhi said. "Masks, social distancing, ventilation, those are all wonderful sorts of mitigation measures, but vaccinations are the fundamental solution."

Gandhi said even if there is a surge in the winter and fall, it is unlikely that it will have the same impact on our society as it did this previous year.

"What will change is that the population will have immunity," Gandhi said. "I do not think we will need lockdowns or restrictions in the fall and winter."

But what about the other variants emerging? Gandhi said she is confident that the vaccines will be effective in protecting people against the new variants, like B.1.1.7. Research agrees.

"The T-cell response, or cell-mediated immunity that we develop to vaccines is preserved across all these crazy variants," Gandhi said. "I fundamentally think we will get through this pandemic with this round of mass vaccination."

But this all depends on how fast people are vaccinated.

"As long as we continue to vaccinate at the pace we're doing, I think that we will likely see the end of COVID as a public health emergency," Adalja said. "Not an end of COVID as a disease, but one that's never able to put us in a position that it has, hopefully within the next couple of months."

Brian Spisak, a research associate of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, told Salon via email it is critical to "intrinsically" motivate people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"Triggering the intrinsic motivation of society, as opposed to requiring certifications and 'passports,' using social psychological factors such as trust, reciprocity, compassion, and empathy is arguably the best path to ending the current lockdown and avoiding further lockdowns," Spisak said. "At the very least, these softer tactics will likely encourage prosocial behaviors (such as getting vaccinated) rather than hard and fast certification tactics which can polarize society and limit the overall percentage of people getting vaccinated."

Experts explain everyone is so exhausted right now

Besides being the year of the pandemic, 2020 was the year of keeping busy at home. Pandemic hobbies, as they're commonly called, substituted much of the human socializing that occupied pre-pandemic weeknights and weekends. Some people became prolific at growing the natural yeast for sourdough. Others turned to learning a musical instrument, reading more, or just binging television.

But as the era of the great indoors stretches into 2021, many people are reckoning with a more dominant emotion: exhaustion.

The experience of 62-year-old Lisa Johnson Mandell of Las Vegas epitomized this peculiar exhaustion that many have anecdotally reported on social media.

"I don't get just tired or sleepy, I find myself getting exhausted — bone tired, where I find it hard to place one foot in front of the other," Mandell said. "My limbs ache from exhaustion."

"Anyone else finding it hard to catch a break these days? So many folks are just exhausted (including me)," Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, a social work professor at Columbia University, opined on Twitter. His remark prompted a long thread of agreement from the Twitterverse. "Global fatigue," one person replied.

This collective exhaustion arrives at an unusual moment, as the slow-but-steady vaccine roll-out inches us closer to some sense of normalcy. One might think that would lead to a feeling of collective excitement, now that there's an end in sight. Yet it appears to be doing just the opposite.

So, what is going on?

Nathalie Theodore, JD, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Chicago, told Salon it could have to do with the fact that as a society, we've been living under the grip of chronic stress for one year now. From ongoing lockdowns to social distancing, many of the outlets that would usually alleviate a person's stress have been taken away from us for an extended period of time.

"Living with this chronic underlying stress means we have less bandwidth to deal with the ups and downs of daily life, or other emotional triggers," Theodore said, adding that "decision fatigue" could be causing excessive tiredness. "Due to the pandemic, any activity we choose to engage in requires a risk analysis, which is exhausting."

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Indeed, as more people get vaccinated, decisively analyzing the risk of leaving the house — and mingling with other vaccinated or unvaccinated people — continues to be tiring. Only until recently did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide the public with guidelines on how vaccinated people can interact with other vaccinated people and unvaccinated people. Still, with this guidance, what's safe and what isn't remains a bit confusing during this transitional period. Trying to hash out the details isn't the "normal" we're used to.

Mental health experts say there are other variables at play causing unmanageable fatigue. Ansley Campbell, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and Clinical Director of The Summit Wellness Group, told Salon the exhaustion could actually be a result of having an end in sight. Since our nervous systems have been in survival mode for an entire year, we are finally at a point where it feels a little more safe to relax. That's led us to formally take in the challenges of the past year.

"Now that the infection rates have been decreasing, people are getting vaccinated, and some returning to more normal lives or feelings of safety, that space of feeling the need to constantly survive is also decreasing," Campbell said. "This is causing many clients to now have the time and space to pause and realize the impacts of the past year, which is leading to greater exhaustion."

Fatigue is common in delayed trauma responses, which could certainly be part of the extreme exhaustion many are experiencing. As researchers have noted, persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, and anxiety are common delayed trauma responses among survivors.

Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the "How Can I Help?" podcast on iHeartRadio, told Salon it might not even be a delayed trauma response, but something called Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience (PTSE). The term, which was coined by the American Psychoanalytic Association, is described as a type of "ongoing trauma response."

"Part of that is the ongoing physiological and psychological effects of being in a pandemic — which is going to vary from person to person depending on the proximity of trauma for them — so trauma could be that you got COVID and were very sick or somebody close to you got COVID and was very sick or died," Saltz said. "You had to abruptly, and in fear, entirely change your life in an ongoing, super-stressful way.

Another part of the exhaustion may relate to our routines being thrown off indefinitely. Dr. Aude Henin, co-Founder and co-Director of the Child Cognitive Behavior Program told Salon that lockdown is like being "perpetually jet-lagged."

"Our daily routines — from the time we get up, to how we get ready for work or school, to when we eat lunch, when we exercise, or spend time with family and friends, to when and how we go to bed — are key to setting our body clocks and regulating our energy levels during the day," Henin said. "The amount and timing of daylight also plays a key role; the sudden and dramatic changes in daily routines, and the lack of time outdoors because of quarantining and social distancing have interfered with our biorhythms and have greatly decreased our energy levels."

For these reasons, mental health professionals emphasized it's important to take care of ourselves during this time.

"It's imperative we prioritize self-care and connect with others in pandemic-safe ways during this time in order to counteract the effects of isolation and get the support we need," Campbell said.

And if you are experiencing extreme exhaustion in addition to other symptoms of clinical depression, mental health experts emphasize it's best to get professional help from a therapist.

"Both poor sleep, and the experience of feeling incredibly exhausted and fatigued and low energy, are a significant part of clinical depression," Saltz said. "I think people should be aware that this could be clinical depression, and they should be knowledgeable of the other symptoms; and if it turns out that they're actually meeting criteria for a bunch of the other symptoms as well then that requires evaluation and treatment," she added.

Republican men are most likely to be COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, not women

Historically, Americans' stereotype of a vaccine-hesitant or anti-vaccine person was that of a woman — perhaps a New Agey yogi who posts about alternative medicine on Instagram, as memes about the stereotype depict. Indeed, researchers have found that a majority of online anti-vaxxers are women.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Yet it turns out that this stereotype does not mirror the public health demography of the real, offline world. As a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found, the plurality of those who intend to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, even when offered, are Republican men — once again debunking the sexist stereotype that anti-vaxxers are entirely women.

According to the poll, 30 percent of those surveyed in March 2021 stated that, if offered the COVID-19 vaccine, they would not take it. Forty-nine percent of that cohort consisted of Republican men; 6 percent were Democrat-identifying men. Moreover, 14 percent of Democrat women said they wouldn't receive the vaccine if offered, compared to 34 percent of Republican women.

More broadly, 40 percent of white non-college educated men and 38 percent of white evangelicals surveyed said they won't receive the coronavirus vaccine if offered. The poll surveyed 1,227 U.S. adults from March 3 to March 8.

The poll revealed an unfortunate truth: Republican men are central to COVID-19 vaccine resistance. Notably, the percentage of Republican men stating they will reject the vaccine actually increased from December, when Marist asked the same question.

So, what is going on?

According to a separate poll by CBS News, Republicans who cited they outright won't receive the vaccine are likely to cite their reason as distrust of the government. This is in part why Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, has been making the rounds — urging Donald Trump supporters to get vaccinated, while simultaneously expressing his disbelief that anyone would refuse it. During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Fauci commented that it was "disturbing" that Trump voters are choosing to not get vaccinated.

"We've got to dissociate political persuasion from commonsense, no-brainer public health things," Fauci said. He added that vaccines have "rescued us from smallpox, from polio, from measles. . . what is the problem here?"

Fauci said on a separate appearance on Fox News over the weekend that if Trump told his supporters to get vaccinated, that could possibly help.

"If [Trump] came out and said, 'Go and get vaccinated. It's really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country,' it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him," Fauci said.

Indeed, on Tuesday afternoon, former President Trump did something approximating that during an interview on Fox News. Yet in typical Trumpian fashion, Trump intimated that getting the vaccine was a "choice," and that one's choosing or not choosing to was an innate "freedom."

"I would recommend" the vaccine, Trump said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo. "And I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it — and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also."

The overall resistance among conservative men to the vaccine hints at how incredibly polarized American culture has become, to the point that basic public health advice and data sparks partisan rancor. As a result, many right-wing outlets, including Fox News and One America News Network, often spout public health misinformation or disinformation. As Salon columnist Amanda Marcotte opined, this situation bodes ill for American politics and worse for American public health.

"There's also something deeper and more sinister going on with the anti-vaccination propaganda being pushed by [Tucker] Carlson and the right wing punditry in general," Marcotte wrote. "It really is about turning their audiences into something closer to a cult — even, apparently, a death cult."

A 2015 Pew Research poll surveyed 2,300 people across America about their views on vaccines. At the time, they found that 7 percent would describe their position as anti-vaccine; within that minority, 56 percent were men and 44 percent were female. Notably, the polling emphasized that people earning less than $25,000 a year were 50 percent more likely to distrust vaccines.

Public health experts have expressed concerns that anti-vax men could slow down America's road to recovery. In other words, the same bootstraps, hyper-macho mentality that made many Americans forgo masks could keep the country from returning to normalcy and achieving herd immunity through vaccination.

On CNBC, Dr. Vin Gupta said that anti-vax Republican men "will determine the trajectory of this pandemic."

"All forecasts right now say that we're going to be past the worst of this with normalcy by say end of June, early July. That, however, is contingent on people actually getting the vaccine to the tune of 75% to 80% of eligible adults by that time period," Gupta said. "If that's not the case —if there's skepticism or hesitancy that high — we're not going to get there."

Can Trump's QAnon followers be deprogrammed?

No one in 2017 could have imagined that QAnon — an inscrutable right-wing conspiracy theory that alleges that an underground global elite of pedophilic Satan-worshippers plotted to take down President Donald Trump — would have found so many adherents. What started as a strange series of posts on anonymous forums in 2017 culminated in a violent riot in the U.S. Capitol nearly three years later.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Aside from its toxic effect on U.S. politics, the conspiracy theory's other side effects are profoundly personal: marriages and families have been torn apart because of QAnon, as thousands of Americans have watched their loved ones fall into its madcap delusions. Many of those whose family members have fallen victim to QAnon have banded together in support groups. As Salon previously reported, a Reddit group called QAnonCasualties has become a haven for 136,000 people to commiserate over loved ones consumed by QAnon.

Recently, a "sister" Reddit group to QAnonCasulaties, called ReQovery, was created not for family but for former believers themselves — ex-QAnon adherents looking to vent and provide emotional support. With a mere 8,100 followers, this new support group is not nearly as active as QAnonCasulaties. Still, the flurry of forum activity does show that people who have fallen for QAnon can recover — even if the path isn't quite yet clear.

Indeed, what makes "treating" QAnon tricky is that it technically doesn't neatly fit into the idea of a cult. That's a conundrum for therapists. Indeed, while there is a well-defined routine for cult recovery, there isn't quite the same for something like QAnon, which is in a gray area.

Cults are usually defined by devotion toward a particular figure or object; whereas those who go down the QAnon rabbit hole find themselves sucked into a baseless conspiracy theory that Satan-worshipping pedophiles in the "deep state" are seeking to undermine former President Donald Trump. Likewise, nobody knows exactly who is the leader of QAnon, and there isn't direct devotion to "Q."

Still, there are a lot of similarities between QAnon followers and cultists. So while there's a definitional debate around what QAnon is (and certainly some would argue it is a cult), there is a consensus that it's destructive to many people's lives. Once people get so far into it, they're living a life that's no longer grounded in reality and that can be destructive to themselves and the people around them.

In this context, approaching QAnon recovery like it is a cult is useful, experts say. Cult recovery experts — who are being inundated with calls from people desperate to help their loved ones — tell Salon recovery is possible, but not for everyone. That's because for many victims, QAnon beliefs are tied to an undiagnosed mental health disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Rachel Bernstein, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and host of the Indoctrination Podcast, said there are a couple of different "predictors" that will help determine whether or not a QAnon follower will be able to "bounce back." The first is if they are willing to tolerate having a conversation about their loved ones' concerns.

"That's the first challenge," Bernstein said. "There's a pervasive defensiveness that actually gets transposed into offensiveness, and you can have a lot of aggression and a lack of tolerance for being what they think is being questioned or insulted."

Bernstein said the first barrier is trying to defuse what is often a charged environment, and turn it into a safe and open forum. But if that happens, the next step is to better understand what motivates that individual to be part of QAnon — which is crucial to bringing them back from it.

"The key is to understand what about QAnon interests people, and why they believe it, and what their motivation is," Bernstein said. "For some people, they really do believe it's the way to save the children; for other people they think that it's a way to feel like they're doing something, some way to be taken seriously — they feel like they hadn't been taken seriously before."

Bernstein said she has talked to a number of ex-QAnoners who said they didn't have a lot going on in their lives, and that they wanted to feel connected to something "greater than themselves."

For those who followed QAnon because they were motivated by a promise to "save the children," Bernstein said that the best approach is to commend their intentions, and then point them to the facts in a kind and understanding way. One of QAnon's biggest baseless conspiracy theories dates back to Pizzagate.

"You can say 'that's a wonderful idea and there should be more people like you who care,' but let's look at the documents and see the numbers and stats," Bernstein explained, adding that the idea is to show that QAnon isn't helping children while directing them to organizations that actually are.

Bernstein said an indicator that someone is likely not to recover is if that person is prone to conspiratorial and paranoid thinking. This type of person will likely be drawn to the conspiracy du jour, she noted.

Other experts approach QAnon recovery differently. Patrick Ryan, a cult intervention specialist, said he approaches his patients by seeking to understand what else is going in their life, starting with studying their family situation. Like Bernstein, Ryan has been working with families struggling to help loved ones who have become QAnon followers.

"We look at the entire family system, we look at the history of mental illness and families, and we look at, 'what is going on in the people's lives?'" Ryan explained. Incidentally, this is why he starts the process with extensive interviews with all family members involved.

Ryan recalled an incident with a family in which the QAnon adherent had previously been a Scientology follower; likewise, that patient's mom was schizophrenic. These clues help therapists piece together a broader picture.

Hence, recovery is a bespoke process, as Daniel Shaw, a psychoanalyst who specializes in cult recovery, attested.

"Coming out of delusional states is different for each person, how it happens, when it happens," Shaw said. "And it really depends on the ways in which family and friends and loved ones are interacting with that person, expressing concern, listening, wanting to be involved, and understanding and hearing what they have to say— and those efforts may or may not be successful."

'Vaccine guilt' is a real thing

When Emily Brimmer's family dentist sent out an email that they were administering vaccines, she jumped at the opportunity. Brimmer is certainly entitled to get one: though only 36 years old, she has type 1 diabetes, lives with family and helps to take care of her 101-year-old aunt. But once inoculated, Brimmer wasn't prepared for one of the unexpected side effects: guilt.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

"When you say, 'I got a shot,' there's automatically this kind of perceived feeling of judgment that is like 'Why did you get a shot, and how did you get a shot?'" Brimmer told Salon. "There's just this need to justify the entire thing."

Technically, as a type-1 diabetic, Brimmer is in the "high risk" category. Her primary care doctor wrote her a note affirming this, which she used to get her vaccine. The caveat was that she had to travel from New York, where she lives, to Pennsylvania.

"So that kind of made me feel guilty," Brimmer said in reference to having to cross state borders. "But it's not like I cut any lines, or dressed up like grandmothers and tried to sneak in. . . everything I did was by the book, and on paper I shouldn't feel guilty."

But Brimmer does. And far from being an isolated anxiety, vaccine guilt is actually quite common. Psychotherapist Alyza Berman, founder and clinical director of The Berman Center, told Salon via email that such feelings emerge from a variety of factors: situational comparison, survivor's guilt, and fear of criticism or retribution. And certainly the piecemeal vaccine rollout, and arcane tiered system of eligibility, factor into that guilt when patients appear to sidestep the rules — even if they aren't actually doing so.

"Given the severity of this pandemic and continued rising death toll, people feel guilty when they qualify to be vaccinated before others who've already suffered great losses during the pandemic, or could stand to lose even more as COVID goes on," Berman said. "As human beings, we have an intrinsic nature to want to quantify and compare ourselves to others, whether for good or bad reasons."

Berman said that this can create "an enormous mental toll on people and weigh heavily on someone's psyche when they're trying to evaluate if they're doing the right thing."

Hence, feelings of guilt.

Berman said the phenomenon is "more common than you'd think" and that it's "affecting many people in very similar ways." In other words, something is happening sociologically.

Rick Patterson told Salon via email that he and his wife were able to receive their vaccines "substantially early." She was volunteering at one of the vaccination sites, which often is a way for volunteers to get a vaccine early.

"It was complete luck we were able to obtain our vaccinations when we did, and I feel that there are so many people who need this more than we do right now," Patterson said. He added that it was an "overwhelming thought," that there were "still so many who have not and might not be able to get it anywhere in the near future." Indeed, the inequity troubled him.

Patterson said he feels that his wife, as a vaccination site volunteer, deserved the shot more than him.

"But as her husband, what really gave me the obligation to have one too?" he asked.

Many bioethicists and mental health professionals agree that feeling guilty isn't beneficial to anyone. If you're offered a vaccine, you shouldn't feel guilty. But if you are committing fraud to get a shot early — say, dressing up like an elderly person — then that is something to feel guilty about.

"There is a difference between accepting and even taking advantage of unfairness that exists, and creating unfairness," Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, told Denver-based Magazine 5280. "We all have an obligation to try not to create unfairness."

So what are the guilty to do?

"The main advice I can give someone suffering from vaccine guilt is to give yourself a break," Berman said. "We've been put through an impossible situation over the past year, the likes of which no one has ever seen before." That's inarguably true.

Some New Age influencers believe Trump is a 'lightworker' -- here's why

Lorie Ladd gazes into the camera with glossy eyes, a look that mimics the long stare one gets after meditating. She's about to give one one of her sermons, one of "most challenging" ones she's ever had to make, she explains. Ladd says she's received a message that needs to be shared from "higher dimensional consciousnesses," what she refers to as the "Galactic Federation of Light." But before revealing the message, Ladd, a self-described "ascension teacher," advises her viewers to shed the stereotypes that have been "programmed" into them — "polarities," she calls them, like "Democrat" and "Republican" — and listen to her message: Donald Trump is a "massive and powerful lightworker."

"To say that I was shocked was an understatement," Ladd tells her nearly 139,000 YouTube followers of her revelation. "I have been digesting information from my guides about what this lightworker in human form looking like Donald Trump has been doing for the human collective; this man has more charge around him than any other human on the planet right now."

Ladd goes on to explain that her video isn't a "political one," but a "consciousness one," and that she's not talking about "voting," but "ascension." Trump, as she explains in the next half hour, is here to help assist humans in what many in the New Age and spiritual communities refer to as a great "awakening" of consciousness. The idea behind the awakening is that human consciousness is approaching a "fifth dimension," which will eventually bring humans closer to the "Source."

A lightworker, as defined by well-being magazine Happiness, is someone who feels "an enormous pull towards helping others." The term, they say, can be interchangeable with "crystal babies," "indigos," "Earth angels" and "star seeds"; "these spiritual beings volunteer to act as a beacon for the Earth, and commit to serving humanity," the story continues.

This rhetoric might sound cultish, but these phrases don't belong to any one specific religious sect. Indeed, such belief systems are part of a larger, more diffuse New Age culture embraced by the ever-increasing number of Americans leaving organized religion in droves — or who were never religious in the first place — and turning to conspirituality by way of many self-described spiritual and wellness influencers online.

Conspirituality, the term that defines this movement, was coined by researcher Charlotte Ward. She describes conspirituality as "a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews." There is no official indoctrination video, no book to read; the hundreds of thousands of people who embrace these New Age-like beliefs find them on YouTube vlogs like Ladd's, as well as Instagram and Facebook. Recently, conspiritualists have begun to overlap with the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon.

[Related: Meet the spouses whose marriages were destroyed by QAnon.]

This notion that Trump is a lightworker shares obvious parallels with the belief, held by some evangelicals, that Trump is comparable to Jesus; similarly, some QAnon followers believe that Trump is the "world leader" whose mission is to "save the children."

Yet what makes the lightworker theory especially odd is that it has emerged from a demographic that would have previously been described as apolitical, or even far-left.

However, as the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol showed, QAnon and Trump adherents no longer middle-aged, conservative white men like the Republican Party of yore. Many of those who embrace right-wing fringe beliefs are yogis, woo-woo, love-and-light types, too. Take Jake Angeli for example, the so-called "QAnon Shaman" who donned a horned hat and spear-tipped American flag as he stormed the Capitol building on January 6. The 33-year-old, who identifies as having "shamanistic" beliefs, was recently granted the right to be fed an all-organic diet in jail in line with his religious practice.

Ladd's declaration that Trump was a lightworker sent shockwaves through conspiritual and self-help communities. (Salon reached out to Ladd for comment, but did not receive a response.) Some spirituality and consciousness bloggers vehemently disagreed. But many influential figures in the community thought Ladd was onto something, including Christiane Northrup, a physician and best-selling author who has been spreading anti-vaccination rhetoric and has embraced QAnon.

Matthew Remski, a co-host of the Conspirituality podcast and a cult dynamics researcher, described Northrup as a "conspirituality aggregator" who feeds what she finds most interesting to her followers, of which she has many.

"What I think is really brilliant about this particular iteration of QAnon — or 'soft' or 'pastel Q,' you could call it — is that it's really effective at evading content moderation," Remski said. "To only really say something positive about the person who's at the head of QAnon mythology and sort of soft-pedal all of the aggression and triumph that is going to be involved in his mission is a really good way of brand-washing QAnon for the wellness set."

Indeed, while social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have suspended many accounts sharing QAnon-related disinformation, the wellness influencers remain. Dr. Ronald Purser, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and the author of "McMindfulness," said that in uncertain times, societies see a rise of "occultures," meaning "groups of people who are attracted to strange occult and esoteric ideas, mixing them in unforeseen ways with political movements."

"A common theme in such movements is the need for purification, purifying and purging unwanted elements – toxins, impurities, or anything foreign or other," Purser said. "This is why we see so many New Age yoga practitioners seduced by QAnon."

Purser said there are parallels between the rise of "occultures" now and the role spirituality and mysticism played in Nazi Germany. Notably, the Third Reich appropriated the swastika, a symbol used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; the word means "well-being" in Sanskrit.

"Consider Hitler, who was obsessed with the occult, was a vegetarian, used astrologers [and] oracles," Purser said. "The Nazi Heinrich Himmler, head of SS, was enamored with Eastern mysticism, and he sent an expedition to Tibet in search of lost remnants of a secret and pure Aryan race; Hitler was seen as a 'light worker' [as in someone who's saving humanity] that would purge Germany of Jews."

Purser added that Trump and his enablers have "mastered the ability of weaponized mass delusion through social media."

"Many of the New Agers drawn to QAnon are probably suffering from unresolved trauma – like many in Trump's base as well," Purser said. "It's easier to look to a savior and to find scapegoats than to face one's own fears and pain."

When asked about the term lightworker, and where it derives from, Remski said he first heard it when he was in a "Course in Miracles" cult from 1999 to 2003. The name is a reference to a book, titled "A Course in Miracles," that was published by Helen Schucman in 1976; Schucman claimed the book had been spoken to her via "inner dictation" from Christ. Remski said the word "light" appears in the text frequently.

"Light is not only the sort of keynote of this Manichaean universe in which things are either light or shadow, they're either good or bad, it's also like schizotypal as a universe, it is given this materiality as well," Remski said of Schucman's book. "Light is said to be something that can fill a person up, it can blow a person apart, it can enter a person, and I think it probably overlaps with some pre-modern ideas like prana or ch'ithose kind of folk medicine ideas of vital force — but it's also associated with an absolute truth, an ontological transformation . . . like once once light enters into you, you are forever changed."

While the book "A Course in Miracles" doesn't include the term "light worker," the theme of light itself runs throughout. "The key is only the light that shines away the shapes and forms and fears of nothing," a typical passage reads.

One prominent figure who was deeply influenced by "A Course in Miracles" is former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. In 1996, Williamson wrote a book, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,'" that was structured as a reflection on the original text. Williamson, too, has used the term "light worker" before; in a 2013 Facebook post, Williamson wrote, "A light-worker is not someone who ignores the darkness; it's someone who transforms the darkness."

Obviously, Williamson and Trump are political opposites; Williamson, a Democrat, came down hard and repeatedly on Trump's policies during her 2020 campaign. Salon asked Williamson what she thought about the term "lightworker" being used to describe Trump. She replied via email: "I think it's insane. . . . Like many others, I don't understand it but I find it deeply disturbing."

When asked why he believes people have been so eager to embrace this belief that Trump is a "lightworker," Remski said that it is because it can "offer all of the benefits of the conspiratorial mindset, without a lot of the drawbacks."

"Because you're saying something kind about him," Remski said, "as the social psychologists basically repeat over and over again."

Remski believes conspiracy theories are attractive because they "satisfy epistemic needs." "Like, 'I'm now I'm going to know something that nobody else knows,' or 'I'm going to meet my survival needs, meaning this information is going to help me tolerate what's happening, but also maybe even preserve me from danger,'" he said.

But as the social media spread of the "lightworker" theory illustrates, conspiracy theories also open up their adherents to communities of people that they can hang out with, Remski mused.

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