One Theory to rule them all

I’ve been slow on the uptake on all these conspiracy theories. I was completely unaware of all the “5G causes COVID-19” goofiness until all the cell phone towers being set on fire stories hit the news, for instance. Now Orac informs me of another wacky tale. Did you know glyphosate causes COVID-19? How about glyphosate and vaping? Maybe glyphosate in biofuels? Glyphosate in automobile emissions? Glyphosate in jet fuel? Meet Stephanie Seneff.

I am a senior research scientist at MIT [in computer science]. I have devoted over 12 years to trying to understand the role of toxic chemicals in the deterioration of human health. I have been particularly focused on figuring out what has been driving the skyrocketing rates of autism in America and around the world. My research strongly suggests that glyphosate (the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup) is a primary cause of the autism epidemic in the United States. When the COVID-19 pandemic began its march across the world, I started to consider whether glyphosate might play a role.

If there is indeed a connection between glyphosate and COVID-19, understanding why and how they’re connected could play a critical role in combating this pandemic.

The only thing missing is a claim that glyphosate in contrails causes autism and COVID-19. Maybe it’s already there if I were to dig deeper, but I’m disinclined to dig even shallowly.

Personally, my theory, which is mine and that of every moderately sensible biologist on the planet, is that COVID-19 is caused by a moderately infectious virus that has nothing to do with glyphosate or jet fuel or rivers or I-5. But that’s just me. And most educated persons.


  1. says

    I just saw a new one yesterday on Rebecca Watson’s channel about how cell towers and radio waves cause pandemics. She does a great job debunking the nonsense, but seriously WTF? How dumb can people be? Blaming radio waves for the 1918 flu? Then jumping ahead 70 years and claiming 3G cell towers caused SARS. Nothing in between BTW. There are some weird theories out there.

  2. blf says

    @1, Back in the 1970s or so, there was a conspiracy theory something to the effect that emissions from Ham Radio 2-metre band hand-held units were cooking teh brainz. Those units can be notably more powerful than, e.g., CB units / walkie-talkies (or cellphones), which (from memory) was a “reason” given for those more common handheld transceivers not having an effect. (Apologies for being a bit vague, I cannot now really recall the stories…)

  3. davidc1 says

    Notice how all them chemtrails have suddnly disapeared now that them planes are on longer flying ,i see a patton forming here .

    Anyway ,is computer science a real science ,you know bubbling test tubes and slime and all that stuff .
    @1 As for how dumb people are ,GB votes to leave the EU in 2016 ,America elects The snatch snatcher a few months later .
    GB gives bojo an 80 majority in December 2019 ,enough said .

  4. bcwebb says

    @cervantes – well of course glyphosate must be an ingredient in Chinese takeout – have to close the loop with a little racism while we’re at it.

    I’m no mere computer scientist and researcher but know I am of the finest quantum mechanics in the galaxy and my theory which is mine which is narrow at the front and wide in the middle is that it’s the Martians retaliating for the invasion of Mars by our robots and Matt Damon. Gotta go do a tune-up on some quanta now.

  5. davidc1 says

    PS ,one of the horrors of this present pandemic is that the supermarket ran out of tea a few weeks ago ,apart from Earl Grey .
    Slowly getting down the pack because i am too mean to chuck it away ,which dimwit though adding perfume to tea was a good idea .

  6. says

    Doing a little background research I was horrified to learn I am an undergrad classmate of this wacko. Thus I know, a “degree” in “biophysics” would have been impossible in 1968 as that is not the way MIT granted degrees then. There could be a “concentration” (which I accurately reported on my CV as computer science but that was not my official degree), so that is the most she could claim. So starting way back in 1968 with a lie about credentials disputes any credibility. Also MIT was not much of a powerhouse in biology in 1968 as that came much later. Someone should ask her who taught 7.01.

  7. HappyHead says

    @davidc1 computer science is real science, but it has nothing to do with any of the stuff this Seneff person is ranting about. Unfortunately, while Physics people mostly like to babble and pretend they know things about biology, my own field seems to draw in some serious weirdos and conspiracy theorists that the rest of us wish would just shut up. This one kind of reminds me of Vani Hari, who somehow parleyed her BS in CS into convincing people her BS about food and nutrition (with zero actual knowledge or education) should be listened to, no matter how many people she made sick with bad and nonsensical advice.

    The closest actual computer scientists come to working on Covid-19 is helping the other researchers get the computational parts of their research working better – which is what I do in my day job, most of our team works from home, and I’m the lucky sod who gets to go to the U in person to swap failed hard disks and other parts when needed, ’cause I’m the only one on the team without kids.

  8. kingoftown says

    The UK, not GB, voted to leave the EU. GB refers to the union between the Scottish and English crowns and excludes Northern Ireland. It is also irritatingly self aggrandising.

    Not that the other nations votes mattered though because England is so big and our union has no real federalisation, so hopefully we’ll be back to the more simple “Kingdom of England” soon.

  9. robro says

    I’ve seen assertions on FaceBook that 5G causes or will cause autism. It’s not even deployed and it’s already getting Wakefielded.

    I have seen some stories in the amateur astronomy press, and I believe in Scientific American, expressing concern that part of the 5G spectrum will interfere with a particular range of signals used in radio astronomy (I think).

  10. says

    @9 robertbaden

    There is some history there. Back when RADAR was still fairly new, MPs who guarded the RADAR sites in Alaska realized that they could hop in front of the antenna to warm themselves up. Not really a great thing to do. All the watery bits in your head are going to heat up faster than the cold bits in your extremities. They were literally cooking their brains. That’s just physics though. No conspiracy theory black magic needed.

  11. Ed Seedhouse says

    @3: I am a “ham” and use the 2 meter band every day. I have to VHF radios – a mobile unit repurposed for in home use, and a handheld. The main rig puts out 75 watts and sits right next to me, but all the RF is piped via co-ax to an external antenna. What with the square root law the handheld would put far more RF into my brain as it’s used right by my head, antenna and all. But I use the HT far less than the 75 watt unit.

    300 watts of brain heating electromagnetic waves are being broadcast much closer to my head, though. I believe they call this a “light bulb”.

  12. says

    It would be interesting to know how much the 5G fears are a combination of the existing fears about cell phones, and the worries of various Western governments about China and 5G. I had the impression that fears about cell phones and cancer had faded somewhat in recent years. On the other hand there’s been a lot of talk in the last 3 years about whether Chinese tech firm Huawei should be allowed to build the infrastructure for 5G, because the Chinese might use backdoors in the equipment to spy on people. It’s specifically been an issue in the so-called 5 Eyes intelligence alliance countries(United States, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand).

  13. KG says

    Something I didn’t know until I looked it up just now: China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of glyphosate, accounting for 60% of global production, and also a large-scale user. This is an aspect of the huge changes in Chinese agriculture over the past few decades – the growth of large-scale industrial farming, often involving foreign corporations, which according to this article has a lot to do with the likelihood of novel zoonoses emerging there:

    But to understand why the emergence of such zoonoses – human infections of animal origin – has accelerated in recent decades, you have to understand the forces putting those viruses in our path. They are political and economic. They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming concerns in China and the resulting marginalisation of millions of smallholder farmers. In order to survive, those farmers have moved into the production of more exotic species – animals that were once eaten only for subsistence. But the bigger operations have pushed the farmers out geographically too, as they have taken up more prime farming land. The smallholders have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats – reservoirs for coronaviruses – lurk. The stars have aligned, and not in a good way, to channel bat viruses through intermediate mammalian hosts such as pangolins, and into humans.

    So, while the crank’s “glyphosate causes Covid-19!!!11!!!eleventy” is indeed nonsense, the connections are there once you start thinking in terms of socio-techno-ecosystems, and specifically, the global takeover of farming by agro-industrial corporations.

  14. wzrd1 says

    @13, I seem to recall some male gonad dysfunction in some of the enterprising service members who chose to warm up via microwave as well.
    There was also a very long study on leukemia, which is odd, as I cannot figure any model where a touch of heat would induce changes in any way sufficient to induce the disease. Radiation from nuclear testing, as a hell of a lot of our continent ended up downwind, but not mere microwave and old VHF/UHF radar.*

    *There are still some high VHF and low UHF radar installations, most for observation of what is in orbit.

  15. blf says

    5G coronavirus conspiracy theory driven by coordinated effort:

    Marc Owen Jones, a researcher at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, who specializes in online disinformation networks, analyzed 22,000 recent interactions on Twitter mentioning “5G” and “corona,” and said he found a large number of accounts displaying what he termed “inauthentic activity.” He said the effort bears some hallmarks of a state-backed campaign.

    “There are very strong indications that some of these accounts are a disinformation operation,” Jones said.

    Jones said the campaign uses a strategy similar to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which was behind a disinformation campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But he said he hasn’t yet concluded that Russia, or any other government or organization, is behind the effort.

    Blackbird.AI, a New York-based company that monitors online disinformation campaigns, […] hasn’t determined who is behind the effort, nor have the researchers at the Global Disinformation Index, a non-profit that tracks disinformation online. “We’ve definitely seen plenty of organized disinfo around 5G-coronavirus,” said Danny Rogers, the index’s co-founder.


    Conspiracy theories about health risks associated with 5G have circulated since at least 2016. They were first spread on internet forums and YouTube, and were later picked up by the website InfoWars and Russian state broadcaster RT, which published stories cautioning that 5G could be a global catastrophe, causing cancer in humans and wildlife.

    Earlier this year, as Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, began to spread from China to the rest of the world, fringe groups began claiming that the virus was linked to 5G technology. The claims may have originated with comments made by a doctor in Belgium, saying he believed 5G was life-threatening and connected to the coronavirus, while noting that he had not done a fact-check, according to an article in Wired magazine. The newspaper that printed his comments retracted the story, but that didn’t stop the conspiracy theory from gaining traction.

    [… U]sers of online forums such as 4chan have encouraged people to vandalize 5G equipment.

    In recent days, at least 20 mobile phone masts have been attacked in the UK, some set on fire, and British telecommunications companies have issued statements saying the 5G conspiracy theory has led to abuse of their employees. Some users of 4chan celebrated the news that 5G mobile phone masts had been targeted by arsonists and encouraged copycat actions.

    There is no scientific basis for the concerns, according to Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading. “The idea that Covid-19 is caused by 5G mobile phone signals is complete rubbish,” said Clarke. “5G radio signals are electromagnetic waves, very similar to those already used by mobile phones.”

    “Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can’t get a virus off a phone mast.”


  16. unclefrogy says

    you know I have to laugh at all the paranoia about the Chinese might try to use cell phones to spy on people. It is way to elaborate to make sense. It used to be common for the paranoids to fear some sinister governmental department implanting spy devices in people secretly.
    Now the society has adopted the technology and freely carries a device around which uses radio frequencies to communicate which we are charged good money for as well and chose your own color. further we have readily adopted software to use on these devices that compile almost everything that can be known about us. There has developed a vast free market for this information that I would suspect that most national spy agencies avail themselves of ,which has the added benefit of at least the argument of plausible deniability .

    It does always amaze me how ignorant the majority of people are about the real nature of living on a planet full of a huge number of life forms that is orbit around a huge sphere of thermonuclear reaction. The depth of superstition and ignorance always leaves me speechless

    uncle frogy

  17. says

    @17 wzrd1
    Like a lot of cancer studies that look for environmental factors, there’s probably a lot of noise in the data. It’s really hard to screen for that. Especially in a world where radium was used in paint and asbestos is used in insulation.

  18. says

    Occam’s Razor, guys: When the ability to notice something changes, it is far more likely that a perceived increase in that something is due to people noticing what was already there than a radical change in incidence. (The latter can happen… but one needs to rule out observational bias first.)

    There is no evidence whatsoever for “the skyrocketing rates of autism in America and around the world.” There is a higher rate of diagnosis of (and subdiagnostic belief in, but that’s for another time) autism, caused by a combination of (a) greater general awareness, (b) greater referral to practitioners for a diagnosis (example: elementary schools in central Illinois routinely referred students for diagnosis in the 2000s; in the 1960s, not so much, not anywhere), (c) inclusion of Asperger’s and similar syndromes on the “autism spectrum” when even as little as twenty years ago they wouldn’t have been, and (d) other reporting-based factors from other sociological changes unrelated to actual incidence of the underlying condition.

    It’s sort of like claiming that there has been an explosion in sickle-cell anemia in the last century and a half because prior to that, it couldn’t be diagnosed due to silly things like “lack of knowledge” and “lack of equipment” and “lack of samples.”

  19. says

    Remember back in the 1930s? When electricity leaked out of your light sockets and killed you? Or created monsters to invade your homes and eat you?
    Or even earlier, when we were all going to die from driving at 30 mph?
    Or in the ’50s, when we were all going to get bone cancer from nuclear power stations?
    Remeber Art Bell, and the aliens?
    Or not too long ago, when cell phones were cooking our brains?
    I remember a neighbour in an apartment building wailing in the hallways, “We’re all gonna DIE!” when they installed smart meters.
    How about computer chips in vaccines?
    Weird: real dangers are promptly called hoaxes.

  20. chrislawson says


    I don’t think it’s paranoid to worry about Chinese-owned telecomms spying on us. What I don’t understand* is why spying is only terrible if it’s done by China. Apparently it’s perfectly OK if it’s done by the NSA, CIA, Russia, etc. Even supermarkets got us to hand over our privacy for tiny little shopping reward trinkets.

    *actually, I do understand; it’s racism.

  21. wzrd1 says

    @20 Ray Ceeya, yeah, add to complexities that typically mean nothing, I was born within a week of Tsar Bomba. Reality meets the road, I have a modestly increased gamma count, measured before a thyroid uptake scan.
    Laughably, our children were born in a hospital a few blocks from an EPA superfund site – for radium. Fortunately, none of that contamination made its way toward the hospital, where it’d have thrown some diagnostic imagery scans into a cocked hat. So, in our cases, it’s more noise than signal. :)
    Confounders abound, so one must guard against coloring one’s data incorrectly due to those confounders. I learned that bit from an epidemiologist I and my team was assisting.

    Still, 3G and 4G have caused me significant stress – due to dodgy signal when I rather needed it. But then, I remember seeing dozens of people wandering about looking like they were scanning for lifeforms, all to find a tiny edge of cellular signal…

    @22 Susannah, I remember people confidently telling me how microwaves stayed in my food. I asked how long the lights stayed on in their bedroom after the switch was turned off.
    I’ve read the same bullshit about magical computer “microchips” in vaccines quite recently, in regards to a mandatory and mythical coronavirus vaccine. Some blather about mood and mind control, for which I heartily wish that the blatherer would engage in some control of his vacant mind!

  22. says

    @davidc1: Off-topic, but: if you’re a really serious tea addict, the kind that drinks multiple pots a day, be just a little careful with Earl Grey. The oil of bergamot in it can cause some serious health issues if you go overboard, if you remember the news stories from a few years ago. (The case in The Lancet was drinking 4 liters a day, so clearly if you’re just having a couple of cups with breakfast it’s nothing to worry about.) My parents, back in their heyday, drank iced tea like crazy and would have had no problem with consuming 4 liters a day… but they didn’t like Earl Grey.

    (Also, apparently bergamot can have similar medication interaction issues as grapefruit. Scary!)

  23. Owlmirror says

    Cory Doctorow talks about 5G conspiracism:

    . . . and connects it to Youtube’s algorithm as a “people finder” — in this case, finding people who have the tendency to believe this sort of thing, and also the rise of actual emergent conspiracies (Sackler & opioid crisis, Epstein being protected by powerful government officials).

  24. John Morales says

    Owlmirror, that’s an example of how not to use Twitter; a blog post and a single tweet linking that would have sufficed.

    (Such unnecessary segmentation!)

  25. davidc1 says

    @10 Just a little joke ,CS is worthy of respect as any other proper science .
    @11 ,Thanks for that ,always wondered what the difference was between UK and GB .
    Britshitters have been let off the hook because of this pandemic ,any bad news about the economy caused
    by britshit can now been blamed on the virus .
    @25 Only drink about 5 or 6 cups a day ,i am on anti depressants ,i shall have to look in to the affects of bergamot .

  26. Jazzlet says

    You could always buy some plain tea and dilute tthe Earl Grey with the normal tea, it’s my preferred way of drinking Earl Grey as I find the full strength taste is just too strong.

  27. wzrd1 says

    What I most love about the full tilt conspiracy theorist is, they fail capitalism 101, in that they proclaim that the “poison” du jour is to kill off the populace, for some magical reason, whereupon things will be some nirvana for the powerful – without any fucking workers to do the work necessary for anything, nirvana or near-starvation alike.

    Still, I do give them the occasional existence of chemtrails – they were issued from the exhaust of the SR-71 and still are exhausted from the U-2 to make it a royal pain in the tuchus to find on radar.
    It wouldn’t do to have an aircraft nearly invisible on radar, only to have a radar image of god’s finger poking it up its ass! So, the exhaust had a few odd compounds injected to make it harder to see on radar.
    And obviously, kill off all of the workers in order to increase production of nothing or something…

  28. leerudolph says

    Jazzlet@29: davidc1 is only drinking Earl Grey at all because the store he shops at had nothing else, in particular, no “normal tea”. We must wait for Normalcytea to be restored!!!

  29. microraptor says

    @1: Well, there was also the idea that magnetic fields from power lines caused cancer in the 90s.

    Which really made me laugh because many of the same people who pushed it turned around and began embracing supposedly theraputic magnetic jewelry.

  30. wzrd1 says

    @33 microraptor, but, but, but those were alternating, the jewelry is static except when it moves and it varies or alternates or something.

    For all complaining about Earl Grey, I’ll happily trade my 100 pack or plain black tea for a 100 pack of Earl Grey. I enjoy Earl Grey hot and iced and the plain black tea was destined for the iced tea pot due to my getting low on Earl Grey.
    And no, nobody is getting my green tea. That’s also for iced tea… :D

  31. says

    Maybe we should start a conspiracy theory that the people who later founded the NRA invented Imperial Gunpower tea as a means of acclimating the populace to the pervasive odor of self-reloads…

    Naah. They weren’t that smart. But it’s an interesting theory, and makes me want to make some tea-smoked duck. I’ve got the tea, and the ducks are right outside, so I won’t even have to violate social distancing memes going to the store…

  32. Allison says

    A number of people in my family are on the autistic spectrum (well, that’s my lay diagnosis,
    only my older child has actually been diagnosed, but the others are a lot like my
    child.) I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand autism, so I think I know a lot more than
    any random Computer Science professor (though nowhere near as much as people who are
    actually doing real research on the subject), and the idea of autism being the result of a simple
    brain injury such as a random chemical would cause just doesn’t make sense. It’s like imagining
    that a computer virus is the result of gamma rays or something. (Not that I consider autism a

    BTW, autism is routinely confused with a bunch of other, non-autistic conditions, which have in
    common with autism only that if extreme, the person with it seems “weird.” Also: diagnosing
    ASD (autistic spectrum “disorders”) requires specialized knowledge, study, and experience;
    most mental-health professionals are not competent to diagnose it. (Forget about schoolteachers,
    pediatricians, or school social workers.) So I do not take the stories about the increased prevelance of
    autism seriously.

  33. Jado says

    “But that’s just me. And most educated persons.”

    OH REALLY??!! And how much do YOU know about MIT research in computer science? Nothing? And yet you feel entitled to comment on the biology and epidemiology of COVID-19?

    Hubris, hubris, hubris….You should take some coding classes before you embarrass yourself further.