After podcaster Joe Rogan's wildly popular interview with Dr. Robert Malone aired on "The Joe Rogan Experience," fact checkers jumped into the fray to try to disprove assertions made by Malone.
One of those cited authoritative in the AP "fact check" tweeted in favor of cajoling the public into following COVID-19 restrictions, and now claims that the collective group think around COVID-19, termed by Malone as "mass formation psychosis," isn't real.
New York University assistant professor of psychology and neural science Jay Van Bavel, who "co-authored a book on group identities," has made claims that the only way to fight COVID-19 is for everyone to change their behavior until such time as a vaccine came along. And how to get everyone to change? "We have to think through the lens of behavioral science," Van Bavel wrote. "What can we do to nudge and encourage and cajole and motivate people to do the right thing?"
Van Bavel also used a quote from notorious Nazi general Joseph Goebbels to point out that propaganda is most insidious when the "manipulated" public believes they are "acting on their own free will."
Van Bavel seems to believe that he is not guilty of either spreading or believing propaganda, manipulating people or being manipulated.
In a Nature article in 2020, Van Bavel posited that "insights from the social and behavioural sciences can be used to help align human behaviour with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts." What is this if not an attempt to push people to do what they're told?
The article addresses using fear as a means to control people, in the right doses: "A meta-analysis found that targeting fears can be useful in some situations, but not others: appealing to fear leads people to change their behaviour if they feel capable of dealing with the threat, but leads to defensive reactions when they feel helpless to act. The results suggest that strong fear appeals produce the greatest behaviour change only when people feel a sense of efficacy, whereas strong fear appeals with low-efficacy messages produce the greatest levels of defensive responses."
Van Bavel deals with how to deal with "optimism bias" in a population, as well as risk perception, emotional responses, and how the "global pandemic may also create opportunities to reduce religious and ethnic prejudice."
He wrote that "People's behaviour is influenced by social norms," but that "Changing behaviours by correcting such misperceptions can be achieved by public messages reinforcing positive (for example, health-promoting) norms."
Malone offered Rogan a comparison of the current era of COVID-19 panic in American to Germany in the early 20th century, when Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to power. Like happened then, Malone claimed, the United States is in the midst of a "mass formation psychosis."
"It was from, basically, European intellectual inquiry into what the heck happened in Germany in the 20s and 30s. Very intelligent, highly educated population, and they went barking mad. And how did that happen? The answer is mass formation psychosis. When you have a society that has become decoupled from each other, and has free floating anxiety, in a sense that things don't make sense. We can't understand it. And then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point, just like hypnosis. They literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere," said Malone.
"I try really hard to give people the information and help them to think, not to tell them what to think. Okay? But the point is if I'm not — if it's not okay for me to be part of the conversation, even though I'm pointing out scientific facts that may be inconvenient, then who is who can be allowed?" Malone, who noted that Fauci "lies all the time," told Rogan in reference to his Twitter ban.
The AP's fact check listed Malone's claims, and then cited "psychology experts" who say "there is no support for the 'psychosis' theory described by Malone."
But that includes Van Bavel, who advocated for a group think mentality and the dissemination of propaganda in oder to get Americans to behave in the way that he thought was best during the early days of the pandemic.
Van Bavel is the director of NYU's "Social Identity and Morality Lab," which "examine[s] how collective concerns—group identities, moral values, and political beliefs—shape the mind, brain, and behavior."
"To my knowledge," Van Bavel is quoted as saying to the AP, "there's no evidence whatsoever for this concept." Van Bavel gained his "expert" status by being an assistant professor at NYU in psychology and neural science.
But it wasn't just that Van Bavel claimed there was no evidence for Malone's supposition that the United States is facing a mass formation psychosis, it's that Van Bavel had never even heard the phrase. The AP sourced an "expert" on a subject that "expert" had never even heard of.
"Van Bavel," the AP writes, "said he had never encountered the phrase 'mass formation psychosis' in his years of research, nor could he find it in any peer-reviewed literature." Why did the AP ask Van Bavel to speak on a subject that he didn't even know existed?
In response to Malone's interview on Rogan's podcast, so-called "fact checkers" attacked his resume, his claims at having worked on early iterations of mRna technology which is now used in two major COVID-19 vaccines, and the AP went so far as to fact check Malone's claim that a "mass formation psychosis" had manifested with regard to COVID-19.
The real point of the AP's "fact check" was not to discredit Malone, which they were unable to do given that one of the experts cited didn't even know what he was talking about, by his own admission, but to further press Americans to behave in the way they would prefer.
Van Bavel took issue with the critique of his "fact-check" about something he claimed he didn't know anything about, and went into a Twitter thread rant about it. After saying there was no such thing as a "mass formation psychosis," he claimed that there was a "massive collective effort to bolster false beliefs."
Van Bavel argued that those who go along and conform are not doing so "because they believe in the false consensus," but that "they are conforming due to social pressure."
And Van Bavel leaned on the same premise that the AP did in their fact check when he was confronted with those who claimed his "fact-check" was flawed. He pressed for vaccine efficacy, and claimed that those who disagreed with his contradiction of Malone's "mass formation psychosis" idea were merely conspiracy theorists, which is a handy way to discredit those with whom you disagree.
Malone's interview with Rogan was removed by YouTube from their platform over claims of COVID-19 misinformation. Malone was banned from Twitter.