A massive rock formation? A Massachusetts psychosis? No, a “mass formation psychosis” is the term that Robert Malone, MD, used on The Joe Rogan Experience to describe what’s been happening in the U.S. in recent years. Malone appeared on Joe Rogan’s Spotify podcast shortly after being permanently booted from Twitter last week for “repeated violations” of their Covid-19 misinformation policy. And if you look at some of the outrageous, unscientific things that are said on social media in general, it typically takes a fair amount of “pseudosciencing” to get booted in this manner. So was there any merit to Malone’s use of this “mass” term on the Rogan show? In a way, perhaps some. But maybe not in the way that Malone had intended.
Who is Malone? Well, he’s listed himself as the “Inventor of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines” on his LinkedIn account. Of course, you could probably list yourself as “The King of All Dinosaurs” on such a social media profile if you wanted. Others have questioned Malone’s “inventor” claim. But more on that later.
On Rogan’s podcast, Malone began talking about his background and then Covid-19 vaccines before segueing to Nazi Germany. Because who doesn’t talk about Nazi Germany when talking about Covid-19 these days, right? Some politicians and TV personalities have been putting the two topics together like cereal and water or forks and power outlets.
Malone began this part of the conversation by asking Rogan, “What the heck happened to Germany in the 20s and 30s? Very intelligent, highly educated population, and they went barking mad. And how did that happen?”
Since this wasn’t an episode of the TV show Jeopardy, Malone quickly answered his own question with, “The answer is mass formation psychosis.”
Malone continued with “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.”
Hmm, by “can be lead anywhere,” did Malone mean like believing conspiracy theories such as those claiming that Covid-19 vaccines can make keys stick to your forehead or have other side effects that aren’t being revealed?
Malone then described how “leaders” can exploit this situation: “And one of the aspects of that phenomenon is that the people that they identify as their leaders, the ones typically that come in and say you have this pain and I can solve it for you. I and I alone.” Malone further explained, “Then they will follow that person. It doesn’t matter whether they lied to them or whatever. The data is irrelevant.”
Let’s see. A leader lying to followers and making data irrelevant? Has that ever happened in the U.S.? Gee, have political leaders ever actually lied?
Where’s that look of shock emoji?
Speaking of the U.S., Malone next connected all of this with America, asserting that “We had all those conditions. If you remember back before 2019 everyone was complaining, the world doesn’t make sense and we are all isolated from each other.”
So Malone seemed to be painting a not-so-happy picture of the U.S. circa 2019. Indeed, on March 22, 2019, Christopher Ingraham wrote for The Washington Post an article entitled, “Americans are getting more miserable, and there’s data to prove it,” citing data from the World Happiness Report and the General Social Survey.
But back to 2021 and Malone’s interview. “Then this thing happened, and everyone focused on it,” stated Malone without specifying what exactly “this thing” or “it” was. “That is how mass formation psychosis happens and that is what has happened here.”
OK, chances are you don’t use “mass formation psychosis” in your everyday life. You probably haven’t told your significant other, “your cooking is a product of mass formation psychosis” or your boss “you are the product of mass formation psychosis. By the way, can I have a promotion?” It’s not clear whether “mass formation psychosis” has been an established scientific term or is a new/recent amalgamation of two existing terms. A search on PubMed for “mass formation psychosis” returns “Quoted phrase not found” and thus no real scientific studies on the topic.
Let’s, in the words of M.C. Hammer, break it down. “Mass formation” has been used in place of terms like “mob psychology” and represents how large groups of people can influence an individual’s behavior. And “psychosis” is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines psychosis as “conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.” So, it may not be the best situation when your financial advisor tells you, “I am having some psychosis right now but will decide on where to invest your money in a moment.”
Taken together, “mass formation psychosis” may represent a situation where mob influence can leave an individual with rather disturbed thoughts and perceptions and unable to fully distinguish what’s real from what’s not. It wouldn’t be too much of stretch to say that those conditions may have existed among at least some people in the U.S. before 2019.
The question though is what was Malone’s “thing” and what “happened” in the U.S. around or after 2019? What was “it” exactly? And who were the “leaders” that according to Malone may have been exploiting the situation? Was he referring to particular political leaders and TV personalities? And did any of this have to do with the song WAP?
Actually, on the podcast, Malone seemed to suggest that “it” was the pandemic and that the “leaders” have been the ones advocating for use of the Covid-19 vaccines. Huh? What does a vaccine that’s been protecting people from Covid-19 have to do with all this? And haven’t political leaders been calling the shots so to speak since before 2019?
Yet, during the interview with Rogan, Malone made numerous claims about scientists like Anthony Fauci, MD, the longtime Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Malone’s voice supposedly being suppressed, and the Covid-19 vaccines potentially having side effects that haven’t been revealed to the public. Although Rogan let Malone talk rather freely throughout the interview, how much hard evidence did Malone actually provide to support his claims?
This certainly wasn’t the first time that Malone has made such claims. In his article for The Atlantic entitled “The Vaccine Scientist Spreading Vaccine Misinformation,” Tom Bartlett wrote that Malone has “sowed doubt about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on pretty much any podcast or YouTube channel that will have him” and mentioned Malone’s appearances on shows hosted by Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and Glenn Beck. According to Bartlett’s article, “you might very well walk away with the skewed sense, after hearing Malone speak or reading his posts, that there is a far-reaching Covid-19 cover-up and that the real threat is the vaccine rather than the virus.”
Bartlett’s article and others have questioned Malone’s continuing claims that he was the “Inventor of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines.” Making such claims on LinkedIn is not quite the same as saying that you are a “passionate thought leader who is driven to activate synergies and change” or something like that. You’ve got to provide real proof that you indeed were the “inventor.” Meanwhile, here is what Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted about Malone back in July:
As you can see, on this Twitter thread above, Topol mentioned “Fact checks on @RWMalone’s pseudoscience and his lack of credibility.”
Most real scientists recognize the fact that major scientific breakthroughs rarely have a single inventor. Suggesting in any way that you were the sole inventor (or even the inventor) of mRNA and DNA vaccines would be a bit like suggesting that you were the sole inventor of dating apps. Real science doesn’t work the way that it’s been portrayed by Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers movies. One person isn’t the only one to come up with an idea and then disappear into a fully-equipped, self-funded lab by himself or herself to then later emerge with the solution. Instead, many people have been working on mRNA technology for many, many years. The currently available mRNA vaccines are the results of contributions from multiple people in different locations over time. In fact, who knows how many unsung students, post-docs, lab staff, and other scientists may have been involved yet never get the credit that they deserve.
After all, many of these other unsung folks haven’t had the over 200,000 Twitter followers that Malone has. Or make that had. According to Claire Goforth described for The Daily Dot, Twitter has “permanently suspended” Malone’s account (@RWMaloneMD) due to repeated violations of their Covid-19 misinformation policy. Ron Filipkowski, an attorney in Florida, described Malone as “absolutely the worst spread of vaccine disinformation on social media” in the following tweet:
OK, there wasn’t an official competition as to who was the “worst spreader of vaccine disinformation on social media.” Over the past decade, there’s been plenty of competition. And many of them are anonymous social media accounts posting misinformation like graffiti on a bathroom stall.
Even with Malone no longer on Twitter, a number of social media accounts have continued to push the “mass formation psychosis” term. For example, there were tweets such as the following:
Apparently, this social media account thinks that “mass formation psychosis” means making everyone look like Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy or a character from the movie Avatar.
Some social media accounts have been asking people “please share this far and wide” with “this” being a video of Rogan’s interview of Malone:
Gee, telling someone to share a video “far and wide” could work really well among people afflicted with what kind of condition again?
At the same time, others on social media wondered whether “mass formation psychosis” may actually apply to other “its” and other “leaders” that Malone didn’t mention. For example, the following tweet mentioned a “stolen moment” as well as a conspiracy theory that Keith Richards is actually John F. Kennedy, Jr.:
And Sarah Reese Jones, Editor-in-Chief of PoliticusUSA offered the following interpretation of the “mass formation psychosis” term:
Other social media posts presented “mass formation psychosis” as the reason why people have been listening to certain politicians and TV/radio personalities who continue to spout off conspiracy theories and claims about Covid-19, Covid-19 vaccines, and other Covid-19 precautions such as face mask wearing that aren’t backed by science. These include those who have been trying to equate face mask and Covid-19 vaccination requirements to what happened in Nazi Germany.
The most effective conspiracy theories have at least a kernel of truth. For example, it would be a bit too outrageous to claim that squirrels control the stock market when you know that they tend to focus on cryptocurrency. On the other hand, it would be reasonable to postulate that many in the U.S. have been more susceptible to suggestion, influence, and bad actors. It would also be reasonable to say that certain political leaders and TV personalities have been taking advantage of this susceptibility. Stoking fears and division can certainly further promote “mass formation whatever-you-want-to-call-it.” And one way to do that is to evoke images of Nazi Germany when everyone instead should really be focused on fighting against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that has already killed over 800,000 Americans.