Meet the spouses whose marriages were destroyed by QAnon

Adam and his wife were always pretty conservative. While she was an "ardent" supporter of Donald Trump, as he described, it wasn't until the November 2020 election — and nearly eight months into the coronavirus pandemic — that he started to get increasingly concerned about how deep her support for Trump ran. She was spending hours on her phone watching videos by pro-Trump conservatives like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro.

"I didn't have a problem with that," Adam, whose name has been changed, said in a phone interview. "But then she started to watch a lot of the QAnon conspiracy videos, and started to share those with me."

She would watch these videos until 2 or 3 in the morning, Adam said. He feared she was having a "psychotic break." Previously, she had been on antidepressants. He wondered if a mix of the pandemic and political chaos was driving her to the edge.

Then, one day, she came home and announced: "I'm going to join the militia."

Adam said he's still "emotional" about it, his voice cracking. He said he couldn't believe what he was hearing as his wife repeated QAnon talking points.

"She started to tell me that we needed to start amassing guns, that we needed to start converting our currency into gold and silver because when the Civil War happens, we need to have something to trade other people," he explained. "The adrenochrome, the pedophile rings — she was a believer that Tom Hanks was a pedophile, and it got to a point where I couldn't watch the national nightly news without her believing I was giving in to the liberals and helping mainstream media ratings by continuing to watch."

When he did watch the news, she would get so angry that she would leave the room, go to the basement, and watch more QAnon conspiracy theory videos, he said.

Adam tried to rationalize with her, and so did her two children. He begged her to see a therapist, but she refused. One morning, she woke him up early and asked him to watch a 40-minute video purporting to explain how Trump is the "world leader." He watched it, and in return asked her to watch a Vice documentary on QAnon. Again, she refused.

Finally, he gave her an ultimatum: see a professional, or their marriage was over. He filed for divorce earlier this month.

"I just have to move forward, I really wish that she could have gotten some help," he said. "I love her, I love her still."

Adam is one of tens of thousands of people who have shared their stories on r/QAnonCasualties, a Reddit group for people whose spouses, family members and loved ones have been consumed by the baseless conspiracy theory known as QAnon. The Reddit forum has become a digital support group for nearly 137,000 people who swap stories, advice and guidance. Posters on the forum reach out for support, guidance, and advice. Some posters describe the experience of completely "losing" their loved one. Others are more alarming, like the woman whose "Qhusband" got a gun license because of the conspiracy, which made her feel "sick to my stomach."

One Reddit user described their girlfriend of 10 years becoming a QAnon follower. "She refuses to believe Trump lost which is bad enough, but she won't even consider getting the COVID vaccine as she believes it will cause deadly side effects and tells me I am a sheep for getting one," the poster said. "She just [in my opinion] has become brainwashed and refuses to ever admit she is wrong with anything concerning Trump, QAnon or the vaccine. I am at the point where it is going to become a deal breaker soon. Is there any hope of saving her?"

But QAnon's effect on families extends far beyond the capabilities of one Reddit support group. QAnon-related strife is overwhelming professional therapists. Daniel Shaw, a psychoanalyst who specializes in cult recovery, said he gets between two and three calls a day from people looking for help for their loved ones. Sometimes, the person is seeking help for a spouse who has become a QAnon follower. Other times, it's for a parent.

"I've never seen anything like this before, and I've never had as many calls like this," Shaw said.

One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, is struggling with her husband since he became a QAnon adherent. In a phone interview, she said he was always into pseudoscience, but his obsession with QAnon is beyond anything she's ever observed.

"He has fallen real hard for it, more so than anything he has been into before," she said. "That's what he does every single evening — he reads stuff about it, and if he wants to talk to me that's all he wants to talk about," she said. "So we're just not spending a lot of time together — we meet together to take care of our children, then he goes to work and I'm home with the baby."

One night, she found him crying in the kitchen because of the "children," as he explained. One of QAnon's biggest baseless conspiracy theories, known as #SaveTheChildren, dates back to Pizzagate— a completely false theory that emerged in 2016, claiming that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, her former campaign manager, operated a child sexual abuse ring. Conspiracy theorists peddled the false claim that Podesta's use of the word "pizza" in the emails meant pedophilia; the email exchange surfaced when WikiLeaks published Podesta's hacked emails. Four years later, there is still no evidence that there is any child sex–trafficking ring, or evidence of the other misinformation the conspiracy theory has generated.

Since her husband has also embraced anti-vaccine rhetoric, the anonymous woman now has to vaccinate their child without his knowledge. (Pandemic conspiracy theories and QAnon conspiracy theories often run together.)

"I'm actually going behind his back now — I wish I didn't have to, but it's a matter of my children's health," she said. "You have to keep things from your spouse, like that you're going to a doctor's appointment, and that doesn't seem right."

Shaw said having a marriage, or any type of relationship, with a QAnon follower can be very challenging because most of them are no longer grounded in reality.

"Partners are used to having a rational, logical, partner, and suddenly they do not," Shaw said. "This speaks to the extent to which some QAnon believers lose touch with reality altogether, and refuse to be willing to make contact with any other reality . . . the creation of this completely alternate reality has completely taken over their imagination and it becomes an obsessions, and fuels an enormous amount of paranoia, and this loss of touch with reality is not what most spouses are used to seeing in their partner."

Shaw said it takes an "enormous amount of empathy, love, patience and persistence" to get through to a loved one who has fallen for QAnon.

"You cannot directly confront them, try to attack them, prove in a legalistic way that their ideas are false," he said. "None of those things work, they just backfire — and it's not normal for a partner to have that kind of gentle and caring approach when something so crazy is going on."

Melissa Rein Lively is a former QAnon adherent who has been outspoken about how she was drawn in. Lively said she fell into the conspiracy theory by way of "spiritual influencers" that she followed online. It all culminated with her having a breakdown at Target that went viral, and nearly ruined her marriage.

"It absolutely ripped our marriage apart and drove us to the brink of divorce," she said. "I've been in a lot of therapy with my husband and we've worked through our relationship, and we've come through stronger because of it, but I will regret for the rest of my life the day I sat there and looked at my husband and face and said 'I choose QAnon over you.'"

Vaccine 'scavengers' are waiting outside clinics for leftover doses — and their strategy often works

Last week, Amanda Kloots, a co-host on CBS' "The Talk," posted an Instagram photo of herself getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The post sparked a minor social media furor, as many wondered how a 38-year-old woman in California, who by state standards isn't yet eligible for the vaccine, qualified for inoculation. Kloots revealed that she waited at a vaccine site until the end of the day when all other appointments were over — her hope being that she could get a vaccine from an open batch that would otherwise have to be thrown out.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

"I went to a site and waited in my car until all appointments were over in hopes that they had any extra vaccine," Kloots explained in an Instagram post. "I was fully prepared to be turned away, but they said they had enough tonight for everyone waiting."

If Kloots' tale of waiting outside a clinic for an extra vaccine to fall off the truck gives you ideas, you're not alone. Many have wondered if waiting outside clinics at the end of the day can yield a free vaccine, one that might otherwise be chucked, or if Kloots' experience was exceptional.

As NPR reported previously, many COVID-19 vaccines at vaccination sites are getting thrown away. That's partly due to the logistics of properly storing the vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept in a freezer at -70° Celsius. Once it is transferred to a refrigerator, it has a short shelf life of just five days because of the fragile mRNA (synthetic messenger RNA) within. The Moderna vaccine is more hardy; it can be kept at a still-frosty -20°C, and can remain stable for up to one month at consumer refrigerator temperatures. But in the case of both vaccines, once the vials have been opened and the content has been thawed, they must be used or thrown out within five to six hours.

Many local news channels in various states are reporting that thousands of vaccines are being discarded for refrigeration reasons, besides people not showing up for their appointments. In North Carolina, an estimated 2,300 were thrown out due to shipping issues, lack of patients, and refrigeration problems. A similar investigation in Massachusetts found that no-shows were primarily responsible for nearly 1,204 doses of the vaccine that had gone to waste. In states where millions are now being vaccinated a day, just a small percentage of vaccines are going to waste — but that's still thousands of people who could have been vaccinated.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Salon "vaccine scavengers," which is the term he uses to describe the people who wait to get extra doses after hours at vaccination sites, are "serving an important role."

"Their role is to put their arm in the way of the trash can, so if someone's jumping in front of a needle so it doesn't end up in the trash can, I think that's a good thing," Adalja said. "It's unfortunate that it has come to this, but we've got so many problems with the roll-out that these vaccine scavengers are playing a vital role in the ecosystem to prevent us from wasting vaccines."

Other people refer to them as "vaccine hunters," and there's even a website,, designed to help everyday people find leftover doses. According to the website, vaccine hunters should look for standby lists, call their local providers, or visit their local vaccination sites around closing time. The website links to several Facebook groups where people can swap information about extra doses in their communities. Another similar website, HiDrB, was created to match vaccine hunters with vaccine providers in the case that they have to throw out a dose or find an arm.

But not everyone agrees that these strategies are the best approach. As reported by Boise State Public Radio, public health officials in Idaho don't want people lining up after the vaccination site closes to get an extra vaccine before it goes to waste. It's the same in Los Angeles: according to the LA Times, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials say that the county "does not advise residents to show up at vaccination sites in the hopes of receiving a leftover vaccine at the end of day." As an alternative, some healthcare providers are trying to utilize internal lists of employees and family members; or, in other cases, asking those with appointments to come in earlier.

Meanwhile, some doctors have actually been punished for trying to efficiently use their limited supply of vaccine. As reported by The New York Times, a doctor in Texas was fired and then charged with stealing 10 vaccine doses; he had six hours to give out the extra doses before they ended up in the trash. A judge ended up dismissing the charge.

Still, many doctors are supportive of the vaccine-hunter movement.

"These are people who are being aggressive about getting vaccinated, and I'd rather have people being aggressive about getting vaccinated than not wanting to get vaccinated at all," said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California–San Francisco. "It doesn't exactly stick with the tier system, but I think it's better than actually throwing it away at the end of the day."

As Rutherford alluded to, there are concerns around ethics and equity when it comes to the vaccine hunter approach. Countless Americans that are qualified to get a vaccine still cannot get a timely appointment. But bioethicists agree that if a dose is truly in danger of going to waste, it's fair to put that shot in someone's arm even if they are technically unqualified.

"I think that this kind of dogmatism over the priority groups — when the choice is to put the vaccine in someone's arm or put it in the trash can, when you've got politicians that would rather have trash cans — it's really, really mind boggling to me," Adalja said.

As for the individual hunt to get vaccinated, the efficacy of vaccine-hunting often depends on where you are located. After spending hours sifting through Reddit threads and Facebook groups, some hunters manage to find a vaccine, while others haven't been as lucky.

The coronavirus pandemic is making many Americans rethink having kids

When lockdowns rippled across the country last March, many experts speculated that couples cohabitating together would be more apt to have sex and therefore procreate. There is precedent for this speculation: a month-long blackout in Zanzibar in 2008 — in which many were forced to stay home more frequently, just as one might during a pandemic — caused a mini-baby boom nine months later.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Yet predictions of a pandemic baby boom did not take into account how the loss of jobs, income, childcare services — and an overburdened healthcare system fighting a highly contagious coronavirus — would take a massive mental and emotional toll on women and families across the country. Monthly birth data shows that being confined to one house with your significant other doesn't make for primed conditions to bring another human being into this world, even if popular Etsy baby-wear emblazoned with "Mommy and daddy didn't practice social distancing" suggests otherwise.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, births decreased by 19 percent in California between December 2019 and December 2020. Data from Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, and Ohio show large declines in birth rates since the pandemic started compared to the previous year's data, too. A survey conducted by Modern Fertility, a company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, found that 30 percent of nearly 4,000 people surveyed stated they changed their fertility plans due to COVID-19. One in four of those respondents said they've become unsure about having children at all; the most commonly cited reason was uncertainty about the world. Notably, a similar number of respondents stated that COVID-19 accelerated their timelines for having children.

Indeed, this tumultuous moment has caused many to rethink having kids.

Sarah Logan, editor of The Bunny Hub, told Salon via email that she and her husband decided not to have another baby right now because of the pandemic.

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

Mike Miller, editor-in-chief of Wilderness Times, said via email in the beginning of 2020 he and his spouse were talking about having a third child, but decided to put that idea on hold.

"During the early days of the pandemic, it was the sheer amount of fear and uncertainty that deterred us from falling pregnant," Miller said. "The thought of going through a pregnancy while the healthcare system is collapsing is absolutely terrifying; we just couldn't deal with any added stress, let alone another human life to take care of and keep safe in amongst all the madness."

Nearly a year later, they are still on pause.

"With both of us working from home while there are two little rugrats running circles around us all day long, it's a miracle we manage to get anything done," Miller said. "We know we're not getting any younger, but unfortunately our biological clocks don't always align perfectly with our plans in life; if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that no good comes of forcing something that doesn't feel right. So, our plan is to sit tight and see how things unravel."

But deciding not to have children during the pandemic is a choice that not everyone has the privilege to make. For some who were pregnant and seeking abortions just as the pandemic hit, lockdown limited their access to providers and clinics as a handful of states made it it nearly impossible to terminate pregnancies. For people who were planning on undergoing fertility procedures like in vitro fertilization, the pandemic completely threw a wrench in those plans too — as, at the beginning of the pandemic, many of these appointments were put on hold, delayed, or deemed "non-essential" or "elective" procedures.

Sarah Urbanski had originally planned to utilize a known donor's sperm who lived abroad. The known donor would also be the same donor for her partner's pregnancy later on. But the couple quickly realized that once the pandemic hit, due to travel restrictions, that they were going to have to change plans.

"We pivoted to egg retrievals to allow ourselves to push our timeline out with our known donor hoping that travel restrictions might lessen," Urbanski said, adding that they're now doing reciprocal IVF which is when one partner supplies the eggs to be used for IVF, while the other partner carries the pregnancy. "We're trying to see it as a wonderful option for us, but no part in our fertility journey has gone according to what we originally had planned."

Urbanski said they will be working with an anonymous donor from a cryobank now, but it's been tough to rework their original plan in the middle of the pandemic.

"Any given day there's definitely some highs and lows and you know there's nothing really easy about that, and we're not in a vacuum," Urbanski said. "We have folks who are becoming pregnant and announcing that, and we're so happy for people in our chosen family and community. But it's definitely tough when we're coming around — you know, a year and a half, two years that we've been talking about this — and we still feel like we're at the starting line of our journey."

Joe Biden shocked by Trump's COVID failures

President Joe Biden appeared in his first network television interview with CBS News since taking office, and provided insight into the COVID-19 pandemic plan his administration inherited from the Trump administration.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

In the interview with Norah O'Donnell, she asked if the Super Bowl would have a full stadium next year.

"It's my hope and expectation if we're able to put together and make up for all the lost time in fighting COVID that's occurred," Biden said, indicating that the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic was "more dire than we thought."

"One of the disappointments was when we came into office is the circumstance relating to how the [former] administration was handling COVID was even more dire than we thought," Biden said. "We thought that it had indicated there was a lot more vaccine available and it didn't turn out to be the case."

Biden added that's why his administration has "ramped up every way we can."

Biden took office promising to aid the nationwide rollout of vaccines, with a focus on getting them to marginalized populations who have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. To do this, the Biden administration set a goal to reach 100 million vaccinations in its first 100 days of office. The administration has increased its weekly vaccine supply to states and is purchasing an additional 100 million doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to quicken the pace of the roll-out throughout the summer. The purchases will provide enough supply to vaccinate nearly 300 million Americans by the end of the summer.

Last week, the Biden administration also announced that it will start shipping vaccine doses to retail pharmacies across the nation; this move is separate from an ongoing federal program to have Walgreens and CVS vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.

"The Centers for Disease Control, which has quite a bit of experience working with pharmacies, is making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses," said Jeff Zients , White House coronavirus response coordinator, adding that the first couple of weeks will be a dry run. "Eventually, as we're able to increase supply, up to 40,000 pharmacies nationwide could provide COVID-19 vaccinations."

Biden calling the vaccine situation "dire" during the CBS interview didn't come exactly as a surprise. Politico previously reported that the Biden administration arrived at the White House ready to hit the ground running, but had to spend much of their first week trying to locate 20 million missing vaccines — a consequence of the Trump administration's infrastructure that failed to track the route vaccines took once they left the federal government's storage spaces.

"Nobody had a complete picture," said Julie Morita, a member of the Biden transition team and executive vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to Politico. "The plans that were being made were being made with the assumption that more information would be available and be revealed once they got into the White House."

The Biden administration is also gearing up to use sports stadiums as mass vaccine sites across the country, which Biden spoke about in the CBS interview. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell offered the league's 30 stadiums as potential vaccination sites.

When asked if the Biden administration would accept the offer, Biden said, "Absolutely, we will."

"Let me put it this way, I'm gonna tell my team they're available and I believe we'll use them," Biden said.

Some scientists believe life may have started on Mars -- here's why

On February 18, NASA's Perseverance rover will parachute through thin Martian air, marking a new era in red planet exploration. Landing on the Jezero Crater, which is located north of the Martian equator, will be no easy feat. Only about 40 percent of the missions ever sent to Mars succeed, according to NASA. If it does, Perseverance could drastically change the way we think about extraterrestrial life. That's because scientists believe Jezero, a 28 mile-wide impact crater that used to be a lake, is an ideal place to look for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

Once it lands, Perseverance will collect and store Martian rock and soil samples, which will eventually be returned to Earth. This is known as a "sample-return mission," an extremely rare type of space exploration mission due to its expense. (Indeed, there has never been a sample return mission from another planet.) And once Martian soil is returned to Earth in a decade, scientists will set about studying the material to figure out if there was ever ancient life on Mars.

Yet some scientists believe that these samples could answer an even bigger question: Did life on Earth originate on Mars?

Though the idea that life started on Mars before migrating on Earth sounds like some far-fetched sci-fi premise, many renowned scientists take the theory seriously. The general idea of life starting elsewhere in space before migrating here has a name, too: Panspermia. It's the hypothesis that life exists elsewhere in the universe, and is distributed by asteroids and other space debris.

To be clear, the notion of life on Earth originating on Mars isn't a dominant theory in the scientific community, but it does appear to be catching on. And scientists like Gary Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, say that it does sound "obvious, in a way."

The evidence starts with how space debris moved around in the young solar system. Indeed, we have evidence of an exchange of rocks from Mars to Earth. Martian meteorites have been found in Antarctica and across the world — an estimated 159, according to the International Meteorite Collectors Association.

"You can assign them to Mars based on the gaseous inclusions that they have, that are sort of the equivalent of the gases that were shown by the Viking spacecraft" to exist in Mars' atmosphere, Ruvkun said. In other words, small bubbles of air in these rocks reveal that they were forged in the Martian air. "So, there is exchange between Mars and Earth — probably more often going from Mars to Earth because it goes 'downhill,' going to Mars is 'uphill,' gravitationally-speaking."

But for Ruvkun, whose area of expertise is genomics, it's the timing of cellular life that he believes makes a strong case that life on Earth came from somewhere else — perhaps Mars, or perhaps Mars vis-a-vis another planet.

Ruvkun noted that our genomes reveal the history of life, and provide clues about the ancestors that preceded us by millions or even billions of years. "In our genomes, you can kind of see the history, right?" he said. "There's the RNA world that predated the DNA world and it's very well supported by all kinds of current biology; so, we know the steps that evolution took in order to get to where we are now."

Thanks to the advancement of genomics, the understanding of LUCA (the Last Universal Common Ancestor) — meaning the organism from which all life on Earth evolved from — has greatly advanced. By studying the genetics of all organisms on Earth, scientists have a very good sense of what the single-celled ancestor of every living thing (on Earth) looked like. They also know the timeline: all modern life forms descend from a single-celled organism that lived about 3.9 billion years ago, only 200 million years after the first appearance of liquid water. In the grand scheme of the universe, that's not that long.

And the last universal common ancestor was fairly complicated as far as organisms go. That leaves two possibilities, Ruvkun says. "Either evolution to full-on modern genomes is really easy, or the reason you see it so fast was that we just 'caught' life, it didn't actually start here." He adds, "I like the idea that we just caught it and that's why it's so fast, but I'm an outlier."

If that's the case, then Erik Asphaug, is a professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona, is also an outlier. Asphaug said that what we know about the oldest rocks on Earth — which have chemical evidence of carbon isotopes, tracing back to nearly 4 billion years ago — tell us that life started "started forming on Earth almost as soon as it was possible for it to happen."

If that's the case, it makes for an interesting precedent. "Let's say you expect life to be flourishing whenever a planet cools down to the point where it can start to have liquid water," Asphaug said. "But just looking at our own solar system, what planet was likely to be habitable first? Almost certainly Mars."

This is because, Asphaug said, Mars formed before Earth did. Early in Martian history when Mars was cooling down, Mars would have had a "hospitable" environment before Earth.

"If life was going to start anywhere it might start first on Mars," Asphaug said. "We don't know what the requirement is — you know, if it required something super special like the existence of a moon or some factors that are unique to the Earth — but just in terms of what place had liquid water first, that would have been Mars."

An intriguing and convincing piece of evidence relates to how material moved between the two neighboring planets. Indeed, the further you go back in time, the bigger the collisions of rocks between Mars and Earth, Asphaug said. These impact events could have been huge "mountain-sized blocks of Mars" that were launched into space. Such massive asteroids could serve as a home for a hardy microorganism.

"When you collide back into a planet, some fraction of that mountain-sized mass is going to survive as debris on the surface," he said. "It's taken a while for modeling to show that you can have a relatively intact survival of what we call 'ballistic panspermia' — firing a bullet into one planet, knocking bits off, and having it end up on another planet. But it's feasible, we think it happens, and the trajectory would tend to go from Mars to the Earth, much more likely than from Earth to Mars."

Asphaug added that surviving the trip, given the mass of the vehicle for the microorganisms, wouldn't be a problem — and neither would surviving on a new, hospitable planet.

"Any early life form would be resistant to what's going on at the tail end of planet formation," he said. "Any organism that's going to be existing has to be used to the horrific bombardment of impacts, even apart from this, swapping from planet to planet."

In other words, early microbial life would have been fine with harsh environments and long periods of dormancy.

Harvard professor Avi Loeb told Salon via email that one of the Martian rocks found on Earth, ALH 84001, "was not heated along its journey to more than 40 degrees Celsius and could have carried life."

All three scientists believe that Perseverance might be able to add credibility to the theory of panspermia.

"If you were to go and find remnants of life on Mars, which we hope to do with Perseverance rover and these other Martian adventures, I would be personally surprised if they were not connected at the hip to terrestrial life," Asphaug said.

Ruvkun said he hopes to be one of the scientists to look for DNA when the sample from Mars hopefully, eventually, returns.

"Launching something from Mars is a seriously difficult thing," he said.

But what would this mean for human beings, and our existential understanding of who we are and where we came from?

"In that case, we might all be Martians," Loeb said. He joked that the self-help book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" may have been more right than we know.

Or perhaps, as Ruvkun believes, we're from a different solar system, and life is just scattering across the universe.

"To me the idea that it all started on Earth, and every single solar system has their own little evolution of life happening, and they're all independent — it just seems kind of dumb," Ruvkun said. "It's so much more explanatory to say 'no, it's spreading, it's spreading all across the universe, and we caught it too, it didn't start here," he added. "And in this moment during the pandemic — what a great moment to pitch the idea. Maybe people will finally believe it."

A new COVID vaccine is 66 percent effective — but how much does vaccine efficacy matter?

Last week, Novavax released results from its COVID-19 vaccine trials that are raising concerns in the United States as new, more transmissible — and perhaps more deadly — variants emerge. In Britain, where a more transmissible strain known as s B.1.1.7 is the dominant strain, the two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of nearly 89.4 percent. But in South Africa, where the strain B.1.351 is predominantly circulating, the efficacy rate decreased to 50 percent.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Clinical trial data from Johnson and Johson yielded similar results. The company's single-shot vaccine had 66 percent efficacy in a large-scale trial which spanned three continents. In the US, the vaccine's efficacy reached 72 percent. In South Africa, it was 57 percent.

While the headlines communicating the news of reduced efficacy might seem alarming, epidemiologists say it's not time to panic yet. In the world of vaccines, 50 percent efficacy is still impressive.

"The flu vaccine has an efficacy of 36 percent," said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco. "The fact that we set the bar at 95 is just phenomenal; and that's the best vaccine we have, which is the measles vaccine."

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are over 90 percent, too.

Rutherford said that news about the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines' protecting against the new variant is "very encouraging."

"That's solid protection," Rutherford said.

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agreed.

"You have to remember that that 50 percent number reflects how effective it is at preventing symptomatic disease, so that's not the same thing as severe disease, death and hospitalization, where it is highly effective," Adalja said. "So the proper story of the Novavax vaccine is that even in the face of the South African variant, the Novavax vaccine prevents severe disease from COVID-19, prevents deaths from COVID-19, prevents hospitalization from COVID-19."

As explained by the World Health Organization, vaccine efficacy is the percentage of "reduction in disease incidence in a vaccinated group compared to an unvaccinated group under optimal conditions." This shouldn't be confused with vaccine effectiveness, which is the "ability of vaccine[s] to prevent outcomes of interest in the 'real world.'"

Experts warned in the The BMJ that comparing the lower efficacy rate to higher ones is a "mistake," especially considering how Johnson & Johnson is expected to be a game-changer in the international vaccine roll-out. Unlike the Moderna, Pfizer and Novavax vaccines, which all require two shots, Johnson & Johnson only requires one. It also has lower storage requirements that make it more flexible to store and administer.

"The real headline result is that a single shot vaccine, capable of easy long term storage and administration, provided complete protection against hospitalisation and death," said Kevin Marsh, professor of tropical medicine at the University of Oxford, in The BMJ. "This is important, because the immediate requirement of vaccination globally is to limit deaths as quickly as possible."

The variant B.1.351 first emerged in Durban, South Africa. Scientists were alarmed that the mutation of the virus is at the SARS-CoV-2 Spike, disguising its appearance to the immune system, which can make it easier to bypass immune protection. This is why scientists are seeing a decrease in efficacy in the vaccine, which is what they predicted would be the case from the start.

There is cause for concern that the coronavirus is mutating where it is. Yet any marginally efficacious vaccine will help stop the spread of the coronavirus. That will have a domino effect, as lower transmission means fewer viruses replicating, and therefore mutating.

"Viruses cannot mutate if they can't replicate," Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday. "If you stop their replication by vaccinating widely ... not only are you going to protect individuals from getting disease, but you are going to prevent the emergence of variants."

Adalja told Salon the goal right now isn't to eradicate the coronavirus, but instead to decrease severe outcomes.

"We're not getting rid of this, this is not going to be eradicated like Smallpox," he said. "What we're trying to do is defang this virus, make it something that's more like the other coronaviruses that cause 25 percent of our common colds by giving people immunity through a vaccine . . . so that's what these vaccines are doing, people are forgetting that the end game here is to prevent death."

But what if new variants emerge, and become smart enough to completely outwit our vaccines? Well, then, scientists will have to modify the vaccines. Adalja said it's "unclear" at this point if that is something we will have to do in the future, but if we do, it's relatively "easy to do."

"Novavax uses a recombinant platform, which is very easy to modify," Adalja said.

Rutherford said that the vaccines might need to be modified "as this virus evolves." Still, he's encouraged by news, specifically what has been making its way into the Israeli press. A man who previously recovered from COVID-19 got reinfected with the B.1.351 strain, but the second time around he had very little in the way of symptoms.

"Naturally acquired immunity seems to have some level of protection against serious disease, which is what we're trying to do," Rutherford said.

What is a coronavirus vaccine card, and do you need to keep it?

You've seen them on social media: healthcare workers posing with a small index-sized card indicating that they have received their COVID-19 vaccine. Their appearance as a kind of status symbol might seem sinister: will society be split into two tiers, one of the vaccinated and card-bearing and another of the card-less?

This article first appeared in Salon

Don't worry about a pandemic dystopia just yet. We spoke to healthcare workers and public health experts about the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine card that is given out as a standard part of the vaccination process. And they say it's a far less important piece of paper than it might seem, and it's not even a big deal if one loses it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains on its website that after the first inoculation, the vaccinated will receive either a card or printout telling them which coronavirus vaccine they received. Currently, two different vaccines have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA): one from Pfizer/BioNTech, and one from Moderna. Both require two doses delivered in two separate shots for the vaccine to achieve full efficacy. For the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, patients receive the two doses three weeks apart; for the Moderna vaccine, the span of time is four weeks.

This distinction is a major reason why the COVID-19 vaccine card is important, in that it tells you — and perhaps your doctor or nurse — when you're due for your second dose.

"The vaccination card is a piece of paper that just says, for example, you got the Pfizer vaccine, this is the lot number, this is a date you got it, and this is the date you get your second dose," said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Adalja said it wasn't anything special. "It's literally a flimsy piece of paper," he added. "It's not like a credit card, it's not laminated, and it's just for you to have a record that you got vaccinated."

Adalja noted that after you receive any vaccination, you always receive a printout or a card.

"But most people just throw it in the trash can before they've left the doctor's office," he said.

But for a virus like the novel coronavirus, having that record can be important for things like travel or, perhaps eventually, enrollment in school. Indeed, being vaccinated may eventually be a requirement in order to enter certain countries. So if you throw away or lose the card, does that mean you're out of luck?

Not quite. Litjen Tan, Chief Strategy Officer of the Immunization Action Coalition, told Salon there's no need to worry if that happens. Technically, the card is a second form of documentation for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The first form is electronic.

"If they show up and say, 'I've lost my car but I got my first dose,' the provider who has been authorized to give COVID-19 vaccines will be able to look it up in the electronic system," Tan said. "That being said, I would say, obviously to any patient who is going back for a second dose to call the provider and say, 'I'm coming back to get my second dose, but I lost my card.'"

For this reason, Tan said fraudulent cards aren't expected to be a problem. That's because for now, the card also won't be needed for anything else than keeping track of your vaccination schedule for now.

Yet in the future, it could be used for travel if you're traveling somewhere that requires a COVID-19 vaccination.

"For international travel it might be something, but it's probably going to be a different type of card," Adalja said. "You could see those to be used as a way to avoid a quarantine or avoid a test when you're going into another country."

Adalja compared it to how some countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccine to travel to them.

Tan agreed, noting that if COVID-19 certificates are required for travel in the future, they wouldn't be these "flimsy" cards, because they are too easy to fake.

Tan added that now is a good time for policymakers to be discussing how potential COVID-19 vaccination certificates could be used to reopen the economy in the U.S., too.

"I think we should be thinking about how we might be able to operationalize something like that for the future," such as for business travel or increasing capacity for small businesses, Tan said.

But this is all "premature" thinking, Tan said. Right now, the goal is to get as many people as possible vaccinated.

"We're in the middle of a huge surge, and we only have about 10 million people vaccinated; we've got to get more people vaccinated," Tan said. "And then once we get to a point where we have maybe 40 percent of a community vaccinated, maybe you can then work with that, as well as the vaccine certifications."

Alien spacecraft is a 'serious possibility' for explaining mysterious interstellar object: physicist

Are we alone in the universe?

It's a question humans have been asking for thousands of years—but when a bizarrely fast, cigar-shaped interstellar object jetted past Earth on its trip through our solar system, Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes scientists weren't ready to seriously consider that it was of artificial origin. But Loeb is beyond consideration — he says it's very possible that 'Oumuamua (pronounced "oh moo ah moo ah") was an interstellar spacecraft.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Back in October 2017, a postdoctoral researcher named Robert Weryk at the University of Hawaii was sifting through the usual data stream from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky when he noticed an unexpected object. It appeared to be highly elongated, like a stick, with a long axis 10 times longer than its short axis — unprecedented for an asteroid. Some hypothesized that 'Oumuamua swung towards our solar system as a result of a gravitational slingshot of a binary star system; others, that it might be an odd comet, though no tail was evident. Thus the search began to collect and analyze as much data as possible before it left our solar system.

Immediately upon discovering its physical properties, researchers realized its shape — which would minimize abrasions from interstellar gas and dust — would be ideal for an interstellar spacecraft. The idea understandably sent shockwaves through the scientific community and stoked controversy. Ultimately, scientists coalesced behind the idea that it was of natural origin, rather than artificial. But Loeb, who is the former chair of astronomy at Harvard University, remains certain that it was something akin to a light sail — a form of interstellar propulsion — spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization. So much so that he wrote a whole book about it.

That book would be "Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth," in which Loeb argues that the scientific community's resistance to discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life has hindered taking seriously his hypothesis that 'Oumuamua was an alien light sail. Loeb reflects on how what happened with 'Oumuamua was a bit of a missed opportunity, and that academia must invest more in the search for life in our universe to better prepare us for another interstellar visitor. But perhaps, most importantly, in a time when Earth faces an urgent global warming crisis, Loeb says that it could be finding extraterrestrial life that saves us from ourselves.

As always, this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What makes you think that 'Omuamua was a light sail spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization?

At first, astronomers assumed it must be a comet, because these are the objects that are most loosely bound to stars. We have mostly comets in the outer parts of the solar system. These are rocks covered with ice, and when they get close to a star they warm up, and the ice evaporates into a cometary tail.

It was natural to assume that about 'Oumuamua, because it came from outside the solar system, so the assumption was it must be a comet. The problem with that was there was no cometary tail. Some people say, "okay it's not a comet, maybe it's just a rock." But the problem is, about half a year later, it was reported that there was an excess push in addition to the force of gravity acting on it by the sun. It exhibited some additional force. Usually that force comes from the rocket effect of the cometary tail, but there was no cometary tail. So the question was, what produces this excess push?

Moreover, during the time that it was observed, the reflected sunlight [off of 'Oumuamua] varied by a factor of 10. So, that implied that it has an extreme geometry. Even if you consider a razor-thin piece of paper tumbling in the wind, the amount of area that is projected in your direction is not varying by more than a factor of 10, because the chance of seeing it edge on is really small. It is tumbling in the wind. So it looked like this object has an extreme geometry. The most likely model that explains the reflective sunlight as a function of time — as it was doubling every eight hours — was that it has a flat, pancake-like geometry, not cigar-shaped the way it was depicted in some cartoons.

On top of that, it was on the shinier end of all the objects we have seen from the solar system. It also came from a special frame of reference that is called the Local Standard of Rest. That is sort of the galactic parking lot where, if you find a car, you don't know what house it came from, because this is the frame of reference where you operate with the motion of all the stars in the vicinity of the sun. Only one in 500 stars is so much addressed relative to that frame as 'Oumuamua was. So it was just like a buoy sitting on the surface of the ocean and then the solar system is like a giant ship bumping into it.

So there were many peculiar facts. I tried to explain the excess push, especially. The only thing I could think of is it comes from the reflection of sunlight. Then it needed to be very thin, sort of like a sail on a boat that is pushed by wind. I couldn't imagine a natural process that would make a lightsail, a sail that's pushed by light. In fact, our civilization is currently pursuing this technology in space exploration.

If this object came from an artificial origin, the question is who sent it? I should say that in September of this year, 2020, there was another object discovered that exhibited an excess push. It was called 2020-SO by the Minor Planets Center that gives names to celestial objects. It turned out that this one ended up being a rocket booster from a failed mission of lunar lander, Surveyor II, that was launched in 1966. So astronomers figured out that it intercepted the Earth if you go back in time to 1966.

But this object actually also showed an excessive push, because it's a hollow rocket booster that is very thin and pushed by sunlight. We know that it's artificially made. It had no cometary tail. We know that we made it. So that provides evidence that we can tell the difference between a rock and an object that is pushed by sunlight. To me, it demonstrated the case that perhaps 'Oumuamua was artificial, definitely not made by us. because it's been only a few months close to us. We couldn't even chase it with our best rockets.

That's fascinating. Can you explain to our readers what is a light sail?

So a light sail is just like a sail on a boat that reflects the wind, the wind is pushing it. In the case of a light sail, it's the light reflected off its surface that gives it the kick, the push. Light is made of particles called photons. Just like billiard balls bouncing off a wall, they exert some push on it. So the particles of light — photons — reflect off the surface and push and give it a kick.

The advantage of this technology is that you don't need to carry the fuel with the spacecraft [as you do with rockets]. Rockets carry the fuel and they expel gas from the exhaust, and that's how they get pushed forward, just like a jet plane. In the case of a light sail, it is light that is being reflected. That's why you don't carry your fuel. You can have a lightweight spacecraft. In principle, you can even reach the speed of light with this technology.

So, as you know, after your paper was published, another one was published in 2019 in Nature Astronomy. That paper proposed a natural origin, that 'Oumuamua could have been a small asteroid that came from a solar system with a gas giant orbiting a star, and that it could have been fragmented and ejected into our solar system. Is there any part of you that thinks that's still a possibility— why or why not?

No. And that is one out of three suggestions that were made by astronomers about the astral origin, and I'll mention all three.


The [theory] that you mentioned has to do with a disruption of an object that passes close to a star. There are problems with that scenario. First of all, the chance of coming close enough to a star to be disrupted like that is small. Most of [these] kinds of objects do not pass close to the star. So you need a huge population of objects to account for those that pass close to the star and fragment. The more important problem is that if you make shrapnel or fragments as the result of the destruction near a star, they would be elongated — like cigar shaped. The best model for 'Oumuamua was that it was pancake-shaped. You can't get that from the destruction of a bigger object. It's not natural to get that.

So that's my caveat about this scenario — that first, it's unlikely that you would get so many — I mean, you need a lot of objects to explain that we detected 'Oumuamua. More than one, you would expect naturally, given all the rocks that exist in planetary systems. Yet, this model even wants 'Oumuamua-like objects to be produced very close to the host star. So that makes it even less likely to happen.

More importantly, the shape is the issue. How do you get pancake shape?

Then there is another suggestion of a natural origin which is that it's a "dust bunny," of the type that you find in a household. But it needs to be like a football size. The dust bunny, the collection of particles, is sort of like a cloud that then is 100 times less dense than air, more rarefied than air, so that sunlight can push it around. To me, that sounds not so plausible. This object was the size of a football field and it was tumbling around every eight hours. So making that out of a dust bunny, a cloud of dust particles, and imagining that this dust bunny would survive for millions of years in interstellar space — I find that hard to believe.

Then the third possibility that was suggested is that it's frozen hydrogen; that it's a hydrogen iceberg. We've never seen anything like it before. We didn't see a dust bunny, we didn't see a hydrogen iceberg. The idea was that if it's made of hydrogen, then when the hydrogen evaporates, it's transparent so you can't see it. So there is a cometary tail you just can't see. But the problem with this scenario is that we showed in the paper that a hydrogen iceberg would evaporate very quickly in interstellar space because of starlight hitting it. Therefore, it would not survive the journey.

So all together, I find these possibilities less appealing. All of them talk about it being something we have never seen before. So I'm saying, if we discuss it as a natural origin, and it involves something that we have never seen before—then why not also consider an artificial origin? That's also something we've never seen before? That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying it's definitely of artificial origin, but that it's one of the serious possibilities that we should contemplate.

How certain are you that 'Oumuamua was an object with artificial origin?

I would say, given everything we know, I would give a high likelihood that it could have been artificially made. The only way to know for sure, for certain, of course, is to take an image of something like that or get more data on something like that. We can't do it with 'Oumuamua because it's already too far away. It's now a million times fainter than it was when it was close to us. So we missed the opportunity. It's like having a guest for dinner, by the time you realize it's weird, it's already out of the front door into the dark street. That was the first guest, and we should look for more.

I definitely get the sense from your book how this was a missed opportunity to collect data. I thought about how, in your book, you described if cave dwellers were to find a modern cell phone, they would dismiss it as, like you said, as a shiny rock.


Is that what we did with 'Oumuamua?

Exactly. We tend to explain anything new that we see in terms of what we already saw. That's very natural but it also suppresses innovation, it doesn't allow us to see new things. As scientists, we should be open-minded.

Your book is about 'Oumuamua, but it's also about encouraging people to think differently about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, to be more open to it. I think it's interesting how you compare the hefty investments made by the scientific community to exploring dark matter to those invested in finding extraterrestrial life. Why do you think the idea of finding dark matter is more publicly acceptable and more interesting to scientists than searching for extraterrestrial life?

I think the reason is because it's less relevant to our lives. When something is close to home and affects you emotionally, that causes some distress. People prefer not to have that. They prefer to live in peace and be happy.

The point about reality is that it doesn't care about how uneasy you are with the notion. Reality is whatever it is. By ignoring it, you maintain your ignorance.

When the philosophers didn't look through Galileo's telescope, they were happy, because they thought the sun surrounded the Earth and they maintained their philosophical and religious beliefs that we are at the center of the universe. But that was temporary. It only maintained their ignorance for a little while. Eventually we realized that the Earth moves around the sun. The fact that they put Galileo in house arrest didn't change anything. The number of likes on Twitter or whatever we give each other, awards, or put someone in house arrest or anything, that only affects our relation with each other. Reality is whatever it is. By ignoring it, we don't gain anything, we just lose because we are more ignorant.

So my point is, the way to make progress is not to stick to your notions and maintain a prejudice. Of course that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say I don't need to search, I know the answer, I don't need to look through Galileo's telescope, of course it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will never find that you're wrong because you bully people that will do this kind of search, and you don't fund the research in that direction. It's like stepping on the grass and saying look it doesn't grow. Science is not about that, science is about finding the truth.

In the book you emphasize how great the reward would be if we were to discover extraterrestrial life. I'm wondering if you could share more about that with our readers. I think people think that there would be a negative impact on our life, but you argue that it could have a positive impact on human life and on Earth.

First of all, it gives us a better perspective about ourselves. I think astronomy as a whole teaches us modesty. We are occupying one planet out of 10 to the power of 20 planets in the observable universe. We are really responsible for a tiny real estate piece out of the big landscape. Also, we live for a short time relative to the age of the universe. So this immediately tells us that we are not very significant.

Previously, people thought that an Earth-like planet around a sun-like star was something rare. Now, with the Kepler data, half of the sun-like stars have a planet the size of the Earth, roughly at the same separation. Therefore, if you arrange for similar circumstances, I think that you would get similar outcomes.

It would be arrogant to assume that we are unique and special. You know, I think we are as common as ants are on a sidewalk. They are out there and we need to look for clues. Of course if we maintain the idea that we are special and we are unique we will never find the evidence.

On the other hand, if we have the instruments to examine this — we have the telescopes — and the public is so interested in us finding the answer, I think it would be a crime for scientists not to address this interest from the public. Moreover, the public is funding science, so we should attend to the interests of the public. There are examples from history that on many occasions when we thought we knew the truth and we ended up being wrong.

What kind of evidence would the scientific community need to have incontrovertible proof that there is extraterrestrial life, or more 'Oumuamua-like light sails, in our universe?

That's an excellent question. One approach is, of course, to find objects like 'Oumuamua that we can take a photograph of. By the way, we don't necessarily need to chase them in space, because every now and then one of them may collide with the Earth. We see those as meteors. One of the meteors that comes from interstellar space may be space junk from another civilization. That offers us the possibility of putting our hands around it. If there is a meteor that lands on the ground, we can tell from its speed that it came from outside the solar system and it looks suspicious in terms of its composition, we can examine it. So there are ways to continue this search, even just on the ground rather than going to space.

Beyond that, we can look for industrial pollution in the atmospheres of other planets around other stars as a technological signature, rather than looking for oxygen from microbes. That would be one way of definitely finding evidence for life, industrial life, because the molecules like [CFCs] that contaminate the atmosphere of Earth cannot be produced naturally. These are complex molecules. If we find evidence for them on other planets, that would indicate that there is definitely life out there.

I think it's interesting that this book has been published in a time when there's a lot of anti-scientist sentiment. With the coronavirus pandemic, science has become politicized. Do you think that harms legitimizing the search for extraterrestrial life?

No, I would think the other way around. Because the way I see science is that it could be unifying, rather than divisive. As long as the scientific community attends to the interests of the public, and is honest about how much evidence it has for every statement. Right now what happens in the academic world is that the scientists say we should never approach the public until we are absolutely sure about something, because otherwise they might not believe us when we say there is global warming. I don't think that's the right approach.

I think the public should see how science is done in the sense that most of the time there is not enough evidence — and we collect more evidence, more data, and eventually we become convinced that one interpretation is correct. If the public sees that process in motion, then it won't suspect that there is a hidden agenda behind it because it's transparent. You look at the evidence and everyone that looks that has enough evidence and believes the evidence would agree on the conclusions.

It should be understandable by anyone, and it should be something that anyone can pursue. And by collecting evidence and therefore it's not an occupation of the elite. It should not be suspicious. It should not have any political agenda. It should also be independent of which nation conducts it. Indeed, we can bring different nations together.

I'm wondering what do you think really needs to happen for there to be a shift in the scientific community to take the search for extraterrestrial life more seriously?

Well, more people speaking like me. And I hope eventually it will shift also the funding agencies, the federal funding agencies, to go in that direction. I think that what astronomers need to realize is it's not speculative given what we know right now, it's one of the most conservative ideas to fall on. It's much more conservative than dark matter, where we are in the dark, so to speak, because there are so many possibilities. People speculate that we invested hundreds of millions of dollars in experiments without much success yet. We don't know what the "darkness" is made of.

Of course, science is a learning experience and nobody regrets trying those experiments, because we rule out possibilities. That is much more speculative because we've never seen any evidence for dark matter yet or direct evidence for the nature of dark matter. It's part of science to search for the unknown. I would regard the search for extraterrestrial civilization — it should be a mainstream activity especially given the interest of the public.

You've already received a lot of media attention regarding this book and it hasn't even been published yet. I'm wondering what you hope people will get from this book and what you hope comes out of it?

I have two messages and you already mentioned them. One is that 'Oumuamua was unusual. It showed a lot of anomalies that could indicate that it was some technological equipment and we should explore and look for other objects that appear anomalous like it and get more data on them. It's sort of like looking for plastic bottles on the beach.

The second message is that the scientific culture should change and be more open minded to change. I'm sorry to say, but the commercial sector — companies have had much more open-mindedness, much more blue sky research than the academic world these days.

There are companies like Google or SpaceX or Blue Origins — originally it was IBM — that had a lot of innovations in them. That is surprising to me. It should be the academic world that carries the torch of innovation because it has, in principle, the tenure system that allows people to explore without any risk for their jobs. Unfortunately, many practitioners in academia worry more about their image and their honors, and so forth, and engage much less in risk-taking and in thinking independently and looking for evidence than intellectual gymnastics that demonstrate how smart they are.

Avi Loeb's book, "Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth," is slated to be released on January 26, 2021 from Houghton Mifflin.

On Parler, the MAGA social media platform, Trump supporters are ready for insurrection

On Thursday morning, the phrase "#Twexit" — a portmanteau of "Twitter" and "exit" — trended on Parler, the so-called "free speech" social media platform that has become an online hub for Trump supporters and conservatives to meet online.

The site, which visually resembles Twitter or Facebook, became a haven for many pro-Trump types after many of them were banned or blocked from other major social media sites. Whereas posts on Twitter are called tweets, on Parler they are known as "parleys."

The trending hashtag was the unintended consequence of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube's Wednesday crackdown on Trump himself, who was banned or restricted from posting on most major platforms after some of his supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol and ransacked it, an invasion that resulted in four deaths. In an attempt to calm his supporters who falsely believe the 2020 presidential election was "rigged," Trump posted a video spewing misinformation about the election, and called the people participating in Wednesday's riot "very special."

Grievance politics are key to the ideology of Trump and his supporters — specifically, the notion that they are uniquely sidelined in media, culture and politics and thus must forcefully redress the situation. The "#Twexit" hashtag, which has also trended in the past on Parler, is an ongoing movement that plays into this perception of grievance: Trump supporters believe they are being uniquely targeted and censored by "liberal" social media platforms, when in fact they are violating other social media platforms' rules by spreading misinformation and inciting violence like we saw on Wednesday.

Predictably, Parler was abuzz after yesterday's events, with numerous posts bashing social media CEOs like Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg for punishing Trump, in their minds. This morning I spent several hours on Parler wading through Trump supporters' reactions to the riot in the Capitol. The white nationalist group Proud Boys wrote a parley that read: "Mark and Jack get to pick your president now," referencing Zuckerberg's announcement to extend a block on Trump's account for another two weeks. The post had two thousand comments, including some from users advocating for a "new country," inciting and suggesting violence. Some falsely claimed that the United States is now at "war." "Prepare, lock, load and get ready to defend yourself patriots," one user commented. "He should be arrested and hung for treason," another user commented, referring to Zuckerberg.

This all happened in just one post on the Proud Boys' Parler account supporting and furthering false narratives about Wednesday's attack on the Capitol. As the Proud Boys framed the event, people weren't "destroying the capital," they were "liberating it."

For the unfamiliar, Parler's platform combines many of the prominent features of both Facebook and Twitter. Users have a newsfeed and can follow influencers, but they can also post themselves. The general Parler timeline contains much of the brand of far-right misinformation that would be slapped with a warning label on either Twitter or Facebook, or be taken down.

Parler was founded in 2018 by two computer programmers named John Matze and Jared Thomson, and is financially backed by Rebekah Mercer, whose father is Robert Mercer, a major funder of Breitbart.

Donald Trump doesn't have an official account on Parler — yet. But many people on the platform were calling for him to start one today. Curiously, many Trump supporters on Parler appeared to be waiting for instructions from Trump, in order to understand "what's next."

Trump's daughter Tiffany Trump took a screenshot of Trump's latest statement given via Dan Scavino on Twitter, and shared it on Parler. Many Parler users commented, asking Tiffany to get her dad on Parler. "WHERE IS YOUR DAD? WHY IS HE NOT ON HERE? HIS PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR FROM HIM!" one user begged. Others told Tiffany they were "praying" for Trump.

The Team Trump account, which is the official account for Trump's re-election campaign, hasn't posted since Trump's video on Wednesday that got removed from mainstream social media accounts. However, many users posted comments to it throughout the day on Thursday expressing their support for Trump. "We love you Trump. Don't concede, fight for us. We want the insurrection act!" one user commented. "Do it and expose the corruption. We will join your army."

This is just a glimpse into high-profile Parler accounts. In the weeds, discussions turn much darker. Many users have referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a "traitor" and expressed interest in Trump "punishing" him "immediately," according to one thread in a group called "Biden Is Not My President."

Some users suggested that members of the media should be "tied" up, and suggested finding their addresses. Many praised Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot and killed during the Capitol invasion yesterday, a "freedom fighter." Then, there is the QAnon conspiracy group trying to spread a rumor that Babbitt is not in fact dead.

In scouring Parler, I saw plenty of terrifying, but unsurprising posts. In that sense it was a bit like yesterday's riot — scary, but entirely predictable. Many Parler posts clearly call for violence, though the tone of the rhetoric is aligned with what tech journalists have seen and reported on Parler and similar platforms for months.

On Wednesday night, journalist Kara Swisher interviewed cofounder John Matze, who said content on Parler that could incite violence is put forth to a "community jury." "Well, for violence, and advocation of violence, or violence specifically, it needs to be a clear and imminent threat," Matze said.

Parler's content also highlights how, despite any kind of attempts at moderation on behalf of Facebook and Twitter, Trump supporters will always find a place to organize and spread misinformation or disinformation.

"If there's anything we've learned in the past four years, it's that the President is who he is and efforts in constraining his behavior and rhetoric are often unsuccessful," said Dustin Carnahan, assistant professor of communication with a focus on political communication, in an emailed statement. "As such, I think we will continue to see more of the same – doubling down on the idea that yesterday's insurrection was a response to a 'stolen' election and blaming outside agitators instead of supporters for the more egregious behavior (e.g. Antifa)."

"This is already happening," Carnahan said. "So long as there is a group of media personalities and political leaders who are willing to echo these falsehoods, this will likely be effective among Trump's base."

Scientific drama continues over life on Venus

In September, news about the possibility of floating, cloud-based life on Venus caused a storm in the science world as tumultuous as the sulfur clouds that rain acid down on the second planet from the Sun.

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How Trump accidentally mobilized hundreds of thousands of women against him

Do conservatives own the phrase "housewife"? or can it be reclaimed by liberals? The stereotypes that the phrase "housewife" recalls — manicured lawns, whiteness, nuclear families like in "Leave it to Beaver" — may seem counterposed to liberal values, emblematic of a reactionary ideal of an idyllic American past. But in the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump's loss to President-elect Joe Biden was mostly due to voters in the suburbs of important battleground states. Exit polls show that Black women and suburban women were critical to Biden's coalition; as AP News explained, Trump would have won if only men had voted. Trump's loss is owed in part to this tidal shift in women in the suburbs, who banded together and organized in Facebook groups like the 200,000-member strong "'Suburban Housewives' Against Trump," a group that started after Trump's sexist and racist pitches to female voters in the suburbs fell flat.

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Inside Parler, the social media platform by and for Trump supporters

The first post I saw on Parler after joining would turn out to be exemplary of the culture of this relatively new social media platform. Republican Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted that she was giving away a gun. Not any gun, but the gun that (in her words) she had "featured" in a "warning to ANTIFA terrorists."

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Can Trump really stage a coup? Experts weigh in on whether it's possible

For the first time in history, an incumbent president is refusing to concede after clearly and indisputably losing a presidential election. That's making observers, citizens, and experts nervous that Trump may be preparing to stage a coup of some sort, or perhaps call again on his supporters to commit violence to sustain his rule.

Though it sounds alarmist, such happenings are certainly not unprecedented in the global arena; the United States frequently interferes with the Democratic process in other countries, and often undermines it in order to provoke a coup or make a citizenry lose faith in a governing party, as US interests did in Bolivia last year. What is more unprecedented is for such a thing to happen in the United States. We've certainly had bitter and controversial presidential elections, including, infamously, in 2000. Moreover, the Founding Fathers prophesied this happening: as my colleague Matthew Rozsa noted, in early American history George Washington warned against Americans electing a president who'd refuse to step down.

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What 'reasonable' Republicans? GOP leaders are boosting Trump's attack on democracy

Is it too soon to let out a sigh of relief? At the end of a long week, it looks as if America has avoided the worst-case scenario. With Joe Biden likely to be declared president-elect on Friday, we've officially reached the point where the biggest attempt to discredit the U.S. election is coming from President Trump, even as judges across the country are laughing his lawsuits out of court and the media is largely portraying him as a whiny baby throwing a tantrum.

But it is entirely too early to rest easy.

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Protesters plan to take to the streets if Trump claims false victory

As polls close on an acrimonious presidential election marred by fears of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, Americans across the country are preparing to take to the streets in protest to ensure that votes are counted.

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