Home Health Covid-19 conspiracy theories go mainstream

Covid-19 conspiracy theories go mainstream

Too often the voices of science have been drowned out by the shrill certainties of the anti-science crowd. Meanwhile, wacky Covid-19 conspiracy theories, hyped by shrewd operators like Alex Jones of Infowars and Bobby Kennedy, Jr., have gone mainstream.

Here’s the thing: most of the time science is both boring and frustrating. Einstein likened exploring the frontiers of knowledge to searching for four-leaf clovers. No matter how talented and prepared you are, you need some luck. As the physicist Richard Feynman (another genius physicist) said, “I have many brilliant ideas. Most of them are wrong.”

Furthermore, most of the insights of researchers, including the specialized vocabulary, are beyond the ken of most educated laymen. Scientific American magazine is a welcome counterexample. It has done its best to bring science and technology to the masses since its first issue appeared in 1845. I have been reading it for decades.

Many famous scientists, including Albert Einstein, have contributed. In the early years it was more of a practical read, like Popular Mechanics. It originally styled itself “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise.”

The cover image of the first issue was an engraving of “Improved Rail-Road Cars.” According to the masthead, “The manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of excellent improvements, which … contribute to the ease and comfort to passengers, while flying at the rate of 30 or 40 miles per hour.”

The excitement of this era is captured in the video “Inventions in America’s Growth (1850-1910) – Phonograph, Telephone, Electric Lamp 24860 HD” on YouTube.

Scientific American has evolved to an eclectic read across the spectrum of science, as well as brain teaser stuff like the long-running column Mathematical Games by Martin Gardiner; and more recently, a host of special interest issues.

Recent special editions include “How Covid Changed the World and “The New Science of the Immune system.” The latter, a spring 2022 Special Collector’s Edition, includes “The 7th sense: long thought to be divorced from the brain, the immune system turns out to be intimately involved in its functioning.”

As writer Jonathan Kipnis explains, “The immune system is a marvel of nature that evolved over millions of years, starting well before the emergence of modern humans.” He spells out the two main components of the immune system:

Innate immunity, the primitive elements that evolved about a billion years ago with the first cells to detect and dispatch enemy forces quickly but without much precision. It is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, consisting of physical and chemical barriers to them, as well as cells that kill them. Innate immunity initiates the inflammatory response in which white blood cells sworn the site of infection and churn out proteins that induce heat and swelling to confine and destroy pathogens.

Adaptive immunity, which evolved after the innate component, consists mainly of cells called T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes which can recognize a specific pathogen and mount an attack against it. In about 1% of the population adaptive immunity loses control and attacks cells in the individual’s own tissues, causing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and certain forms of diabetes.


A short article at the back of the magazine steps away from theory to put some of the power into the hands of the health-conscious individual. In “How to boost your immunity: practical steps against viruses,” Claudia Wallace Wallis outlines several science-based steps to maintain a healthy immune system in the face of Covid-19.

First, don’t smoke. Smokers are more vulnerable to respiratory infections.

Second, cover your nutritional bases with a variety of vegetables fruits and other elements of a healthy diet. This may include supplements.

“Eating an optimal diet reduces the risk of getting an infection and reduces the severity of infections,” says Wafaie Fawzi, professor of nutrition epidemiology and global health at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Zinc supplements reduce the rate of respiratory infection, with a shorter duration of symptoms if you do get sick. The mineral zinc is also found in meat, shellfish, nuts, and whole grains.

Vitamins C and D have been shown to improve resistance to respiratory infections, says Fawzi. Vitamin C plays a role in reducing tissue damage from our own immune responses. Vitamin D supplements cut the risk of acute respiratory infection. He recommends s supplement with the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals. Along with a balanced diet, it might particularly help elderly adults who are prone to nutritional deficiencies.

Third, practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep is needed to produce a strong antibody response to a vaccine.

In one study, those who slept six or fewer hours a night were four times as likely to develop a cold as those who slept more than seven hours. Prolonged sleep loss can create a state of low-grade inflammation that seems to exhaust your immune system the long run.

Fourth, get regular exercise, which will also help you sleep.

While fast-mutating viruses like Covid are dangerous antagonists, these simple rules pack a punch of their own. The body has evolved extensive mechanisms of self-protection, but underlying them all is the basic health and responsiveness of the individual. Moreover, good health habits boost the immune system at any age.

One more thing: follow the science. Get the vaccine, and wear masks and practice social distancing where appropriate.

David Holt is the Editor of SILVER.


Scientific American: New science of the immune system — how the body fights disease and ways we can boost our defenses. Spring 2022.

You might also enjoy this story on herbal medicine.