Science

Naomi Wolf’s Brain Worms Have Reached Critical Levels

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I strongly believe that groups should police their own: Republicans should have fought back against Trump; atheists should throw rotten vegetables at Bill Maher; Canadians should have a word with Jordan Peterson; white men should…well, you guys have a lot of worthy targets. Good luck.

Anyway that’s why I feel the need, as a middle-aged white feminist woman, to vociferously criticize Naomi Wolf. If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about her. Back in the year of our lord 2019, aka the Last Sorta Normal Year, I discussed Wolf’s latest book, which like her previous books was terribly researched and full of a bunch of garbage. Unlike her previous books, though, this one led to a truly jaw-dropping piece of cringe. Let’s revisit it now, shall we?

Woof.

Here’s what else I said about Wolf:

“Her previous book, Vagina, was an absolute dumpster fire of pseudoscience, full of bullshit like “your vagina is a goddess-shaped hole.” Really? Is that what a goddess is shaped like? Yikes. And that’s before she gets into evolutionary psychology, a dicey subject even before Naomi Wolf gets involved. She preaches debunked hypotheses about the adaptive purpose of the female orgasm, and declares that dopamine is the “feminist chemical,” for fucks’ sake.

“And Naomi Wolf’s book prior to Vagina, The Beauty Myth, was so incredibly wrong about basic facts that it’s hard to understand how anyone agreed to publish it. As just one example, she claimed that most women had bulimia or anorexia. Most. Women. And she claimed that 150,000 women died from anorexia every year in the United States. The actual number? About 500.”

So yeah, she’s not exactly what one might call “intelligent,” or “well-educated,” or “familiar with reality.” But apparently she’s gone full fucking bonkers since COVID-19 hit:

“I just had dinner in a Greek restaurant in Massachusetts,” she Tweeted last week, “with two tables of new friends and without masks, and I feel like I just met an illicit lover in a shady hotel. Naughty! Nice!”

Gross!

About 3,200 Americans died that day from this preventable illness, and when people reminded Wolf of that inconvenient fact she deleted her post and apologized for taking such a selfish, unnecessary risk.

Just kidding, she posted a dozen more Tweets defending her actions and just straight up lying about COVID. Here are her arguments:

  1. It was legal! Yes. We know. That’s the problem.
  2. “I’ve researched aerosol transmission and in a ventilated space (as this was) there is no evidence that you can infect anyone sitting 8 ft…let alone at 20 feet away from us, as the next table was. None” So by “none” she actually means “loads and loads,” since there have now been several studies published that have found that COVID-19 can spread via airborne transmission beyond the usual 6-foot/2-meter recommended distance, especially indoors even with ventilation which if adequate can reduce but not fully eliminate the risk. And in fact, if you are staying inside the same room for an extended period of time without a mask, as one does when dining in a restaurant, your risk goes up dramatically to the point that the A/C running just is not going to help you. According to the CDC, “COVID-19 can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission. Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.”
  3. “Restaurant owners and staff deserve to feed their kids.” Yes, which is why we should have paid everyone to stay home for a month back in March of 2020, because no one should risk their lives and health to put food on the table.\
  4. “COVID is extremely age-dependent and dependent on underlying conditions re my own sense of risk.” Young people die from COVID all the time, we do not know the long-term effects of COVID in those who survive, and we don’t know who else you are going to give it to. Naomi Wolf is 58. As of this recording, about 50,000 Americans in her age group have died from COVID-19. That makes it the third leading cause of death for that age group.
  5. “So since… we weren’t endangering anyone else per science, (you were) we supported desperate local businesses (which you could have done via takeout), we obeyed law (a bad law that shouldn’t exist) and we made personal choices re our own risk (you made choices that affect everyone around you), I post this, as we don’t live in a police state and science today does not support withdrawal from human society for most of us. (It does, actually.)
  6. I’ll stop direct quoting because she just gets wordier and wordier as she desperately tries to lie her way out of this, but the crux is that she thinks COVID is no big deal if you’re under 65 and that shutting down restaurants doesn’t help and only hurts the economy, and that staying home is harmful to people. The science doesn’t support any of that. Lockdowns work, and if you doubt that I invite you to compare the United States’ case and death numbers with literally any country that even made a passing attempt at federal regulations that would help abate the spread of the disease. On one end we have the US and on the other end we have Australia and New Zealand, both of which at some point took decisive action and today enjoy maskless eating in restaurants with no risk of people dying. Isn’t that nice?

In addition to the dozens of Tweets in her main thread, Wolf continued trying to plead her case in replies to people. Here’s one example where she argues that she went to the restaurant because she needed Vitamin D. From inside a restaurant. What the fuck, does she think the “D” stands for “dolmades?” 

For the record, I do think spending a long time in quarantine can have negative consequences for many people. But you can still go outside and get sunlight, or eat foods with vitamins. The negative consequences are psychological — it sucks not being able to see family, hug friends, visit loved ones who are dying in hospitals, celebrate life moments like weddings and births. But none of that sucks as bad as dying of COVID-19, or passing that virus on to someone else who dies of it, or ends up with potential life-long problems because of it. 

And for the record, research shows that suicides have not noticeably increased in the past year. Of course, those studies were done in the United States, where no state even came close to instituting an actual lockdown, instead simply asking people to stay home while allowing big box stores and other nonessential businesses to remain open. So maybe suicides would have increased had we actually closed everything down like New Zealand did. Oh wait, no, New Zealand instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 25 2020, and then lifted all restrictions on June 8 when the virus was no longer in the country. In August of that year New Zealand’s Chief Coroner announced that that year up to June 30th they’d had the fewest suicides in three years. 

So no, lockdown doesn’t appear to lead to suicides. Or rickets. What a shock that Naomi Wolf was, once again, extremely stupid and wrong. But don’t worry, she’s not letting that get in the way of her plugging her book: “ I have a (prescient? Not for me to say) chapter on how infectious diseases in the 19th century in Britain led to the state grabbing control of all aspects of private life, as well as recounting the first anti vaccination movement.” Naomi, are you sure that that’s what happened? Or did you get confused about what words meant again? BEcause that’s the same book where you thought a bunch of gay men were executed for being gay when they were not, in fact, executed and they were, in fact, child molesters and rapists. But yeah sure, let’s all turn to that book to learn what happened in the 19th century. I’m sure it’s prescient.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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5 Comments

  1. FWIW Canada is also reporting a reduction in suicide in 2020. The spam filter here won’t let me link to the CBC article on the topic, but the headline of the article is “Many assumed suicides would spike in 2020. So far, the data tells a different story”

    1. Can confirm, same in Australia, particularly impressive in the state of Victoria which had 4 months of very strict lockdown.

      I read somewhere last year that suicides in Japan went DOWN 20% with lockdown, robably due to relief from their punishing work ethic. When Westerners complain, I am tempted to say “1st World Problems”!

  2. It’s nice that you mention Australia, but in fact In terms of deaths per million, most nations in Asia and Africa have done much better. Asia had SARS, Africa had Ebola and they know how to deal with pandemics.

    If there is one thing we could learn from all this its that we Westerners lack self discipline and Wolf appears to be a prime example.

  3. One of the things that is becoming obvious is that clear, consistent guidelines are key. Even as a non-parent I could have told them that.

    But anyway, countries where the government has consistently tried to follow the best scientific advice they can get, have explained what’s required, and have encouraged people do do the right thing, work together yadda yadda… those countries have done better. It’s worth noting that just about every country has had some lackwitted politician caught breaking the rules in an obviously stupid way. Some governments said “and that’s why you can’t be a minister any more” (David Clarke in Aotearoa resigned rather than be fired), and other places took a different approach (the list of offenders in the UK is long, the list of punishments applied very short).

    This is sort of distinct from countries that have helped people afford to stay home, quarantine, get tested etc. Obviously the best-performing countries have done both, and the worst neither. But countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh have done well mostly by the explain, persuade route.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/20/vietnam-covid-economic-growth-public-health-coronavirus
    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/vietnam-contain-covid-19-limited-resources/

  4. Not gonna lie, I loved Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth, but man has she lost her coconuts. She does get tons of media derision which I really don’t think anyone deserves, but at the same time she has spent the last few months using her platform to promote some pretty weak COVID denialism and vilify grassroots feminist groups that have popped up in response to the “gender identity” attack on women’s rights in the US & UK.

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