August 16, 2016

The results are in, and 76 out of 77 experts agree: There is no truth to the chemtrails conspiracy theory.

Those who subscribe to the theory believe that condensation trails formed high in the sky by jets are actually chemtrails, harmful chemicals being sprayed on an unsuspecting populace in order to control people and manipulate weather patterns. Researchers from the University of California at Irvine, the Carnegie Institute for Science, and the Near Zero organizations asked 77 experts if they have ever seen any evidence proving that chemicals and elements like aluminum and barium are being spewed by aircraft as part of a coordinated effort, and 76 said they have not. The survey results were published last week in Environmental Research Letters, in the first peer-reviewed journal paper addressing the theory.

"The chemtrails conspiracy theory maps pretty closely to the origin and growth of the internet, where you can still find a number of websites that promote this particular brand of pseudoscience," study co-author Steven Davis, associate professor of Earth system science at UCI, said in a statement. "Our survey found little agreement in the scientific community with claims that the government, the military, airlines, and others are colluding in a widespread, nefarious program to poison the planet from the skies." Some subscribers to the theory argue that toxins found in soil and water samples prove that chemtrails are real, but several experts say that those samples were obtained using faulty methods, like placing them in Mason jars with metal lids. Under such circumstances, the data becomes worthless.

"We don't imagine that we're going to sway the beliefs of hardcore adherents to the chemtrails conspiracy theory with this study," Davis said. "But we thought it was important to go on the record with fundamental scientific facts to refute claims that the government is deliberately spreading harmful chemicals from aircraft." Catherine Garcia

12:29 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unveiled guidelines explaining which activities are safe for Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to resume.

The CDC on Monday released interim recommendations explaining that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit with others who have been fully vaccinated "indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing." A person would be fully vaccinated two weeks after they've received a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving one dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

Additionally, fully vaccinated people can "visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing," the CDC said. As an example, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing that "if grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family, even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease."

The CDC also said that those who have been fully vaccinated can refrain from quarantining and getting tested should they become exposed to COVID-19 and not have any symptoms.

However, the CDC said that fully vaccinated people should still continue to practice social distancing and wear masks in public, and they should also avoid medium or large gatherings. Plus, fully vaccinated people should still wear masks and practice social distancing around unvaccinated people at high risk for COVID-19.

Walensky called these guidelines an "important first step in our efforts to resume everyday activities," while warning there's still a "small risk" vaccinated people "could become infected with milder or asymptomatic disease and potentially even transmit the virus to others who are not vaccinated." Brendan Morrow

12:08 p.m.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) announced Monday that he won't be seeking re-election in 2022, meaning yet another Senate seat will be without an incumbent defender during next year's mid-terms.

The early sense among political analysts is that a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump will have the inside track to replace Blunt, given Trump's popularity in Missouri, a state he won by a commanding 15 percent in the 2020 presidential election. That was the highest share of the vote a Republican candidate had won in Missouri since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Old guard Republican senators are also stepping down in North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, which means the GOP could run as many as five Senate candidates from the so-called "Trump wing" of the party next year.

Democrats aren't hopeless in some of those states, but it seems likely Blunt's seat will stay within the GOP. In previous years, an open Missouri Senate seat might have suggested a more competitive inter-party contest was on the horizon, but that's probably not the case in a post-Trump world, The Appeal's Daniel Nichanian tweeted Monday. Indeed, it may be telling that Jason Kander, who gave Blunt a surprising run for his money in 2016, quickly announced he isn't looking to launch another campaign.

So, all things considered, it appears Blunt's retirement is another sign the GOP will continue to push itself closer to Trump. Tim O'Donnell

11:10 a.m.

If there was anything more shocking for Britons than Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview, it might have been learning what American television is actually like.

Harry and Meghan sat down with Winfrey for an interview that aired on Sunday in primetime, drawing worldwide attention. And on Monday, Ayesha A. Siddiqi compiled a Twitter thread of British people's shocked reactions — not to what was actually said, but to the experience of watching pharmaceutical ads that ran during the special.

"Totally forgot about MEDICINE being advertised out there," one gobsmacked user wrote, while another simply asked, "How are the side effects of the medicine in American ads more lethal than the thing they're treating?" Others described these ads, which American viewers may not have given a second thought to after growing accustomed to them for years, as "surreal," "post-apocalyptic," and "unhinged."

The surprise was understandable, as Thrillist notes that "the United States is the only country, besides New Zealand, that legally permits 'direct-to-consumer' pharmaceutical advertising." And Tom Gara observed that the onslaught of pharmaceutical ads consisting essentially of "speed readings of lengthy lists of side effects" is "easily the craziest thing about American TV when you move here from abroad." Next time, perhaps these viewers should ask their doctor if watching American television is right for them. Brendan Morrow

10:44 a.m.

"If there was a smoking gun" on the origin of the novel coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party "buried it along with anyone who would dare speak up about it," a U.S. official told Josh Rogin in a Politico piece.

Rogin published a column in The Washington Post in April 2020 after someone leaked him cables sent in 2018 from American diplomats who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They were concerned about lab safety and the fact that the lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

Following up on the column a nearly year later for Politico, Rogin reports that U.S. officials grew increasingly convinced an accidental lab leak was a possible coronavirus origin story that at least deserved further investigation (Rogin writes that many politicians and journalists conflated this theory with the false notion that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon.) The WIV was open about their research on coronaviruses, but a senior Trump administration official told Rogin many officials in the State Department and National Security Council came to believe Chinese coronavirus researchers had been taking more risks than previously thought.

Of course, as tensions between the Trump White House and Beijing rose, the matter of the coronavirus' origins became increasingly politicized, so finger-pointing narratives should be viewed with scrutiny. But Rogin notes an under-the-radar study from a group of Beijing researchers released in July 2020 did lead U.S. officials to consider, after consultations with experts, that the Beijing lab was conducting coronavirus experiments on mice fitted with humanlike lung characteristics long before the outbreak began, suggesting similar practices may have taken place in at the WIV.

But it seems unlikely that the speculation will clarify anything. "We'll probably never be able to prove it one way or the other," the official told Rogin. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

9:08 a.m.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle left the U.K. in "large part" because of racism, the Duke of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey in a new clip from Sunday's jaw-dropping interview.

Winfrey on Monday shared more clips from her conversation with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, in which the couple opened up about their decision to step back as senior members of the royal family last year. During a portion of the interview that didn't air on Sunday, Winfrey asked Harry if he and the Duchess of Sussex left the U.K. because of racism, and he acknowledged this played a major role.

"It was a large part of it," Harry said.

Harry went on to share an anecdote about being warned by someone he spoke with at a fundraiser that the media "will destroy your life" and that "the U.K. is very bigoted." Harry said he "completely" disagreed with the notion that the U.K. as a whole is bigoted, while agreeing that "the U.K. press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids."

But Harry added, "Unfortunately, if the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased, then that filters out to the rest of society."

One of the biggest bombshells in Sunday's interview came when Meghan Markle revealed there were "concerns and conversations" in the royal family about "how dark [Archie's] skin might be when he was born." Meghan wouldn't reveal who raised these concerns, saying it would be "very damaging to them." But on CBS This Morning, Winfrey said Harry "wanted to make sure that I knew" that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip weren't a part of these conversations. Brendan Morrow

8:17 a.m.

The U.S. is now vaccinating more than 2 million adults a day against COVID-19, but "we know that vaccines are not going to reach everybody across the entire planet in the next couple of weeks," National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins told Sharyn Alfonsi on Sunday's 60 Minutes. "People are going to continue to get sick in the meantime," and "we need treatments for those people."

Specifically, Collins said, "a big need right now is for a drug that you can take by mouth that you could be offered as soon as you had a positive test and that would reduce the likelihood that that virus is going to make you very sick. And we have some very good clues there," one of them being the generic antidepressant fluvoxamine, developed 40 years ago and used most commonly to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

To explain how "a pill that costs 60 cents" became "a dark horse to treat COVID," 60 Minutes visited a race track in California, where Dr. David Seftel, working off a tip he received hours earlier, decided to offer his jockeys and other staff fluvoxamine to stem a COVID-19 growing outbreak at the track. "Sixty-five patients elected to take fluvoxamine; 49 declined," he told Alfonsi, and "12.5 percent of all those who refused fluvoxamine ended up hospitalized and one died. In the group that did take fluvoxamine, none of them were hospitalized."

Seftel had heard about fluvoxamine from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Kirsch, who was funding a trial by Dr. Eric Lenze, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, who in turn was tipped off by his colleague Dr. Angela Reiersen. In a small, methodologically sound trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November, Lenze reported that none of the 80 of his 152 patients who took fluvoxamine after testing positive for COVID-19 deteriorated, versus 8 percent of the placebo-taking control group.

"So the results were really pretty incredible," Lenze told 60 Minutes. But "I have to be a scientist about this. We've tested it in one study. But — in my view, it needs to be confirmed in a larger study." That larger national study will report results starting next month. Collins told Alfonsi he regretted that last spring's "hydroxychloroquine debacle" sort of derailed the search for repurposed therapeutics, "but let me say, repurposing drugs is only going to work if you're kind of lucky." Peter Weber

6:47 a.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) close alliance with former President Donald Trump has long been something of a puzzle, especially when Graham announced early Jan. 7 that after the siege of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, he was done with Trump — and then quickly went back to hanging out with Trump and defending him. Graham told Axios' Jonathan Swan in an interview broadcast Sunday that his rekindled relationship with Trump is a mixture of friendship and ideological pragmatism, but not political expediency.

When Swan asked if Graham could have won re-election in November without being a big Trump booster, Graham noted that since he already won, "I could throw him over tomorrow. Why aren't I?" Right, Swan said, "that's what I really don't understand." Graham said Swan doesn't understand him very much, and Swan agreed. "I don't. That's why I'm asking you."

"I could say, you know, that's it, it's over, it's done," Graham said, not conceding that he did say that exactly two months earlier. "That's just too easy." It's harder to take the flawed leader of a movement he thinks is "good for the country" and "see if we can make a go of it," Graham said. "Mitt Romney didn't do it, John McCain didn't do it, there's something about Trump. There's a dark side and there's some magic there. And what I'm trying to do is just harness the magic. To me, Donald Trump is sort of a cross between Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, and P.T. Barnum." Swan laughed at the evident compliment.

Trump "could make the Republican Party something that nobody else I know can make it," Graham said. "He can make it bigger. He can make it stronger. He can make it more diverse. And he also could destroy it." Peter Weber

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