Bill Gates Conspiracy Theories
Today we're going to point our skeptical eye at conspiracy theories charging philanthropist and retired Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with being behind many of the world's evils; most particularly, that he is intent on genocide against racial minorities. Supposedly he plans to obliterate the populations of regions like Africa by distributing fake vaccines that actually sterilize people, or, more recently, deliver tracking technology that he plans to use for some as-yet-unrevealed nefarious purpose. What is it about Bill Gates that attracts the ire of the modern conspiracy theorist?
Just these three factoids alone paint a pretty complete picture of the typical Bill Gates conspiracy theory. Someone with resources enormous enough to mobilize technology via some fake public health initiative — like, for example, a fake vaccine that actually implants a mobile tracking chip that will somehow make tons of money for the conspirator. Given who Bill Gates is and the predictable nature of conspiracy theories, it's no surprise that these theories exist; the surprise would be if they did not exist.
Never mind that the Gates Foundation has been credited with saving the lives of 122 million people, most of them in the developing world. If genocide against these same populations is his actual goal, he has a pretty strange way of going about it.
Gates, and the majority of public health experts worldwide, do agree that birth control — particularly in places like Sub-Saharan Africa — is essential. From the Gates Foundation website:
In 2010, a Gates-funded project in Ghana called MOTECH deployed a mobile phone based technology platform designed to increase access to healthcare for poor people. But a disgruntled Ghanaian employee who had clashed with management went to the press with a fake story that MOTECH was actually experimenting on women with the contraceptive Depo-Provera, with deadly results.
It resurrected echoes of an actual health experiment in northern Ghana that had taken place a decade earlier, the Navrongo Experiment from 1995 to 2003, in which World Health Organization scientists tested various family planning strategies in order to reduce infant mortality. The program was very successful. But once word of the fake MOTECH scandal broke, conspiracy theorists conflated the two, and it wasn't a very long leap to get to "Bill Gates is experimenting on impoverished families in Ghana to reduce their population." This claim has been heavily promoted online by The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a small nonprofit that has promoted the claim that contraception is "black genocide".
The result of all this? Today there are global demands that Bill Gates be arrested for crimes against humanity; hundreds of thousand of people join Facebook groups devoted to stopping him; and a 2020 poll by Yahoo News and YouGov found that fully 44% of US Republicans think Bill Gates is "plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements".
These claims are all based upon the grossly unscientific assumption that an injection of fluid into the body can deliver a "tracking" technology of some kind. This idea is so ludicrously far outside the bounds of actual physics that even science fiction authors don't go that far. I had a rap session with some physicist friends to try and come up with ideas for how this might work:
Debunked idea #1 would be for the injection to insert passive RFID technology. Think of the ID chip implanted in your pet's neck. RFID technology is passive, which means the chip has no power source of its own, so has to be powered by holding a reader very close to it which generates an electromagnetic field — the same way your phone can be wirelessly charged. Here are the points where this would fail if you tried to use it for tracking people.
First, no matter how small you make the chip — let's pretend it could be small enough to be injectable with a medical hypodermic needle (which no existing chips are) — the antenna still has to be physically large enough to capture the wavelength, and this is a limit set by physics, not by technology. On the order of about a centimeter is the lowest bound, which is far too large to be injectable. Pet chips range from about 1 to 4 centimeters in length and about 7mm wide, fat enough that the needle used to inject them is huge and terrifying, nothing like a medical hypo.
Second, the reader would have to be held right up against the skin. Some RFID readers can work from a meter or so away, but since this one is inside body tissue which absorbs EM radiation, the signal is unable to penetrate. It certainly can't be read from a distance. As evidence of this, note that the pet chips used in real life can't help locate lost pets, which plenty of people would pay big bucks for if it were possible; you have to already have the pet in your hands in order to place the reader on its neck.
Third, these objects would be big enough to show up very obviously on an X-ray; it would be trivial to prove that it was there. In summary, physics does not provide RFID with any potential to covertly "track" people without their knowledge.
Debunked idea #2 would be to use nanobots or some kind of injectable microcomputer. Actual nanomachines are extremely simple and are light years away from being able to do useful things like transmit signals. The smallest computers in existence are like the University of Michigan's Micro Mote computer, which is 2x4x4mm, or 32mm3, staggeringly small but obviously nowhere near being either microscopic or injectable. But, let's fast forward technology into the land of science fiction and pretend that Bill Gates or the government has accelerated this miniaturization without anyone in the field knowing, and let's pretend they got it down to even 1mm3. That's still far too big to be injectable, but let's pretend. The remaining problem is its ability to perform tracking. The device would have to be able to receive a GPS signal then transmit that data to Bill Gates. From inside the body, GPS signals are undetectable and radio signals cannot be transmitted out. To overcome this, our imaginary nanocomputer would need a very strong power source and a big antenna, just like medical devices that perform a similar function. When Michigan tried to increase the transmitting range of their Micro Motes, they got them to reach a powered base station 7m away, but in the open air, and only by adding a 2mm external antenna. Neither would be possible with our internal nanocomputer, and it would need a battery far larger than 1mm3 to do any kind of transmitting. Nanobots and injectable microcomputers are not part of the solution.
Debunked idea #3 would be the closest thing to actually work: add a radioactive isotope to the vaccine to act as a tracer. While there are no special problems doing this, there are significant problems with its utility. What it accomplishes is making the vaccine recipient weakly radioactive for a period of time — depending on the compound used, it would usually take a few days before it's all flushed out of the system. So it wouldn't last very long, and it wouldn't include any identifying information. If Bill Gates built sensors all around the world, he might be able to tell when a vaccinated person walks by, but couldn't know who it is. Another problem is range. If you want the radiation to be detectable over anything greater than a very short distance, the person would have to be overloaded with a very lethal dose. And of course this practice couldn't be hidden, as any common radiation detector could easily prove what had been done, as could a simple blood test.
Everything else we thought of involves including your cellphone in the process. We all carry a device with power, near field communications, GPS, biometric verification, and a powerful transmitter already built in; so why couldn't Bill Gates' evil injectable technology piggyback off of those resources? Well, it could, but why bother? Everything needed to track a person is already in there. It evens proves your identification via your fingerprint or a face scan. That's why it's what governments and law enforcement already use to track people — both legally and illegally — rendering efforts that conspiracy theorists attribute to Bill Gates both redundant and unnecessary. If he wants to track everyone in the world, he can already do it now — no science fiction vaccine needed.
The universal response to all of this — at least the response I've gotten most often — is that Bill Gates, with all of his enormous resources, has obviously been able to advance the technology far beyond what the "sheeple" (including me, obviously) have imagined, and he's quite able to fill people's bloodstreams with armies of nanoscale computers that can do all of this and more. It's the logical fallacy of the special pleading — the unevidenced verbal assertion that the claim involves knowledge, power, or technology at a level higher than the rest of us can comprehend, and so is not bound by our troglodytic estimates of what is and isn't possible. This is why I pointed out that the limits on some of these ideas are imposed by physics, and not by our poor dumb attempts at technology; but like all verifiable evidence and facts, when this falls on the ears of a conspiracy theorist, it falls into oblivion.
One evil plan attributed to Gates is actually real, the so-called "quantum dot tattoo". Especially in developing nations where reliable vaccination records are hard to come by, researchers at Rice University have come up with a concept for delivering a vaccine via a patch that simultaneously leaves tiny copper capsules in a grid pattern under the skin that would identify the specific vaccine given. Equipped with a proper reader, doctors could thus tell which vaccines each patient had already been given and which were still needed. Early testing has shown they'd last about five years.
Luckily, the governments and populations of these underprivileged and at-risk developing nations continue to welcome the charitable efforts of the Gates Foundation and many other philanthropic orgs like them. Conspiracy theorists in their comfortable suburban basements will continue their online trolling to fight such public health initiatives, but luckily the people out there actually saving lives recognize that noise for what it is and ignore it. As should we all.
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