Sunday, December 11, 2022

#2598: William Briggs

William Briggs is a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, former visiting professor of statistics in the Department of Mathematics at Central Michigan University and self-declared “epistemologist”, which is … an interesting assessment not exactly supported by his publications. Briggs does have some genuine credentials in statistics and even atmospheric science, but seems to have left science behind because academia has been corrupted by wokeness and the tyranny of facts evidence expertise. Scientists don’t, in general, agree with Briggs’s conclusions about what they are doing, and evidence suggests that Briggs has some trouble with, well, evidence that doesn’t fit the narrative he wishes to tell (he does love good narratives, though). He has authored a number of books and posts defending intelligent design creationism, climate change denialism, stop the steal conspiracy theories, COVID contrarianism and various anti-gay nonsense, and he seems to be somewhat popular – at least the Discovery Institute and associated anti-science venues like Evolution News and Views consistently praise his work – for his vehement attacks on science, which he tends to represent as being a somewhat nebulous and shapeless conspiracy against zeh people (i.e. against religion and conservatism).


Indeed, Briggs usually formulates his attacks on science as criticism of experts, an amorphous group of people whom he disagrees with and who are, accordingly, in some sort of conspiracy to stamp out freedom and free thinking. An example of the kind of evils scientists are up to, according to Briggs: in 2017, some scientists published a (pretty poor, it seems) study suggesting that they had used transcranial magnets to target and temporarily shut down regions of test subjects’ brain in a way that altered the subjects’ behavior and opinions. Briggs and Joe Miller went into deranged panic mode, with Briggs imagining, with no foundation in anything,  that the study would lead to “eugenics” targeting conservatives: “Basically what they’re doing is they’re trying to bring back eugenics even, in a way. Because they’re identifying what they say are biological constituents for belief. Therefore they’re able to test for these biological constituents” (all of which is a stunningly dumb thing to say). (Miller, by the way, suggested that transgender people would use magnets against people of faith: “The whole transgender crowd, they see their main opponent as being those of faith and so obviously they’re going to use any aggressive tactics they can to move forward that agenda.”)


Climate change denialism

As a climate change denialist, Briggs appears to have helped draft the Realist Catholic Climate Declaration, which claims that “earth’s climate has always changed, is changing now”, that we cannot know (only “surmise) the human contribution to current climate change, and that “[t]he salvation of souls is of more pressing concern than the air temperature,” which must count as one of the feeblest non-sequiturs we have ever encountered. Briggs’s primary position, however, seems to be to claim that “the climate of the earth has never stood still, and never will. That means efforts to ‘battle’ or ‘stop’ climate change are futile”, just like the fact that you will die some day means that medical treatments for anything is pointless.


Briggs was featured in Marc Morano’s film Climate Hustle 2: Rise ofthe Climate Monarchy, produced by the industry-funded climate change denialist organization CFACT, where he tried to argue that what environmentalists really want is “everything that’s against freedom” and tried to explain how climate change could be used as a pretext for authoritarian political goals – Briggs characterised environmentalism as a eugenicist and racist movement. He was also featured in CFACT’s original Climate Hustle film.


Indeed, according to Briggs, climate change is not at all a dire issue: “Not only are things not as bad as we thought, they are much, much better. And they’re improving. Crop output is up, the world is greener, storms are down in frequency and number, and on and on […] But why are things better? Because of the beneficial effects of releasing carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere”, which some might consider a surprising claim giving his skepticism elsewhere that human emissions can affect climate. But hey: know your audience and so on.


Briggs has, in fact, published on climate change-related topics, both with Christopher Monckton and with David R. Legates and Willie Soon (of Soon-and-Baliunas fame). With the latter, he wrote e.g.Learning and Teaching Climate Science: The Perils of Consensus Knowledge Using Agnotology, according to which students should be exposed to climate science skepticism: All sides must be covered in highly debatable and important topics such as climate change, because authoritarian science never will have all the answers to such complex problems.Yes, it’s the teach the controversy gambit, no less. The paper itself relied heavily on misrepresenting data and arguments from other authors in the field.



Briggs has written extensively about LGBT+ issues – often as a “senior contributor” to The Stream – and his writings run the whole gamut of paranoid silliness. Briggs claims for instance that bans on conversion therapy are a product of a “corrupt democracy” and that instead “pro-transgender, pro-sodomy, pro-perversion speech of any kind is hate speech and must be condemned, expunged, ridiculed, excoriated, punished”. He has also tried to connect the Paris Climate Accord to conspiratorial efforts to promote transgender rights – “the undead corpse of global warming” is apparently currently mostly a ploy for diversity advocates (= sexual perverts) to gain power over freedom-loving conservatives and Christians.


2021 Capitol Insurrection

Briggs has long been pushing Trump’s stop the steal conspiracy theories, and posted several … interesting tweets (since deleted) during the 2021 Capitol insurrection (scroll down here) voicing his support for a violent takeover of government. Explaining himself, he afterwards stated that “the Capitol protest was only to be expected the way the government [who? Trump’s?] has treated its people. Voting fraud, like when Nixon had his election stolen, was real and provably significant” … since if you assert, very firmly, that it was, you don’t need evidence – and Briggs offers none of the latter. (It was, for the record, neither real nor provably significant.) Also, “Masks in the general public don’t work, a well-known fact” – again, if you don’t like the facts, state the opposite as assertively as possible, and the facts will hopefully recognize that they’re not welcome and go away.


COVID Contrarianism

Oh, yes. Briggs is a major contributor to COVID denialism and associated conspiracies, such as the thoroughly debunked myth that the coronavirus was created in a laboratory and engineered to kill – by a conspiracy Chinese and American scientists (it can’t be exclusively Chinese … otherwise, how could you combine it with the conspiracy theory that Anthony Fauci had a hand in it?)


An early promoter of the casedemic myth, Briggs has long and erroneously claimed that increased testing for COVID would “make a dead epidemic seem still alive” and lead to “mak[ing] coronadoom zombies” – experts (Briggs hates those) who use corona alarmism to justify measures that threaten Briggs’s freedom. Many of his views are laid out in his post “A People’s History of COVID-19” (no link), which is a good example of how to tell a narrative by wilful misrepresentation, quote mining and lying by omission. The target is, of course, those darn scientists – zeh experts – who are confused airheads who always change their minds in the face of new evidence and use whatever means they have to scare people in an attempt to subjugate them. “early on, the healthy were touting the benefits of vitamin D, zinc, quercetin and even drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). This angered Experts, perhaps because they didn’t think of it first,” says Briggs. Yes, it’s all a conspiracy by SCIENCE to hide the truth: the CDC, the media, the libruls, and in particular the experts: hide the fact that ivermectin is efficacious (it isn’t), that “natural immunity” is better than vaccines [it isn’t], and that masks don’t work [they do] – notably, Briggs constantly point to suggestions that masks didn’t protect very significantly from contracting the disease, which most reasonable people probably knows was never the point.


And those same experts are, of course, hiding the huge numbers of vaccine injuries (yes, Briggs is of course antivaccine – what did you expect?). But take his argument in full, for it really reveals so much that Briggs doesn’t really get (or that he lies about): “There was an enormous rise in VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) reports. Critics scoffed that COVID received more “scrutiny”, therefore the increase in VAERS reports . . . was not real [indeed, those are the facts], It was a conspiracy theory to say, for instance, that myocarditis rates were rising because of vaccinations among the young. Who didn’t really need to be vaccinated anyway, because they suffered least from infections. And then it was acknowledged myocarditis could be caused by the vaccines, but that myocarditis wasn’t serious. Except in ‘rare’ cases.” The experts are of course right about the explosion of VAERS – it’s not hard to find clear evidence of overreporting. That is no conspiracy theory, of course; nor is it a conspiracy theory to criticize antivaccine conspiracy theorists who misuse the database (like Del Bigtree). But no one ever downplayed myocarditis – Briggs only wants you to think they did. Myocarditis was noticed, and taken seriously. Indeed, looking at the details about and concern shown for myocarditis sort of undermines Briggs’ VAERS point; but his is ‘the people’s story’ – you are not supposed to look at the details. And of course Briggs lies when he says that young people ‘didn’t really need to be vaccinated anyway’. They do, and the risk of COVID is vastly higher than the risk of serious myocarditis if they get the vaccine. There is no mischief here; Briggs, though, will spin it until it looks that way. No surprise there. Do you think Briggs knows the science? Of course he doesn’t.


Or take his comment that: “Your lack of a vaccine negated mine. The vaccinated needed to be ‘protected’ from the ‘epidemic of the unvaccinated.’ Nobody ever explained how a vaccinated person’s vaccine failed when they came near an unvaccinated person. Again, it cannot be explained except by magical thinking.” One wouldn’t think intelligent people needed such an explanation, but it was provided anywaysvirtually everywhere anyone talked about vaccines, also long before COVID. Apparently, Briggs thinks that ‘Experts’ at one point thought the vaccine was gonna be 100% effective (and quote-mines a meticulously selected series of quotes from early on to suggest that such a view was prevalent). No one actually ever thought that. But this is not about actual facts.


It’s interesting, though, that his book – coauthored with Intelligent Design creationist heavyweight Douglas Axe – is all about accusing his opponents of alarmism and panic-mongering. Self-reflection is not his strong suit: this is the guy who used a small nonsense study to go utter apeshit hysterical about how trans-people would initiate eugenics programs against Christians using brain magnets. And he calls himself an “epistemologist”, no less.


Diagnosis: It is easy to get proof of conspiracy when any case of anyone changing their mind in light of new information is interpreted as mask slipping. Briggs is in epistemic hell: his credence in evidence from science is 0, and in his own story 1. From those priors, there are no updates available – any input is evidence for what he already believes; nothing could change his mind, and any piece of evidence that doesn’t fit his narrative is just evidence for how stupid everyone else is; also conspiracies. But he does, indeed, have a significant audience. That is scary.


  1. Well, you sure hit all the buzzwords with this guy. That should satisfy the herd! However, Briggs
    "does have a significant audience"??

    Wow, there are people who actually think beyond the buzz? I can see how that would be scary to you!!

    1. More like people who don't think at all.

    2. To paraphrase (sort of) George Carlin: Never forget how many "people who actually think beyond the buzz" have no brain, and some of them think (hehehe..) that that fact actually should be "scary to you" and not scary to them.

      This "significant audience" never has a headache. No brain no pain. Eventually, they will (someday) not only destroy themselves but pull all of us together with them in abys.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. I heard when a friend suggested you learn about civics, you went to the nearest Honda dealership.

  2. "“The whole transgender crowd, they see their main opponent as being those of faith..."

    This is not true, of course, it's even woefully self-centered, BUT one could reasonably respond that it seems to be those "of faith" who seem the be the only ones interested in denying transgender folks the right to live, work, and, well, exist. (I know, FAR from all people of faith are hateful fucksticks towards LGBTQ+, it's only the loudest that are.)

  3. Ah, yes. The Transgender Agenda: namely, seeking full equality. How dare they?!