Misinformation and Censorship

Originally part of a post on August 26, 2021, Video: “Top 3 vaccine Myths” and Tech Censorship.

A word on tech censorship: The WHO said 2 false things early on:

SARS-2 is not human to human transmissible
SARS-2 is not transmissible as an aerosol.

Both of these things were demonstrably false, and perhaps politically motivated, even at time the WHO stated them. In in spite of this, the social media platforms came to hold the WHO as the gold standard for the truth on COVID matters. To this day, F@¢3b00k may place a tag on the end of this post claiming the WHO as the authority on COVID matters. Most platforms would delete or restrict anything that ran against the WHO. Yes, computer programmers in Silicon Valley are still pulling down information posted by medical doctors and scientists. Even Dr. Damania has had videos censored!

One of the worst results of the pandemic in the US is censorship of divergent opinions. Freedom of speech allows 3 things:

All opinions to be held up to public scrutiny.
True things to rise to the surface.
False things to be discredited.

When freedom of speech is restricted, none of these can happen. If a wrong thing becomes the “orthodox” view, and no other views are permitted, then the orthodox view will always be wrong, and we will end up solving all of the wrong problems. If there is a hole in your gas tank, it doesn’t matter how many times you put gas in it. It will always be empty. Fix the real problem first.

This is why all the claims of misinformation, from all sides, are so insidious. When you claim misinformation, you are claiming to have the whole truth on an issue. Sure, we can and should argue against views we think are false. But we must also protect the right to air all views! Or we are doomed only to have the first view that becomes dominant, and we are less likely to find the truth!

I also found an article on why some are still vaccine hesitant. For those of you who are wondering, you should read it.

Originally part of a post on August 30, 2021, Possible low efficacy of current vaccines against Delta, possible Delta enhancement in the future.

Another note on misinformation: My post from last Thursday generated a lot of discussion regarding censorship and misinformation. I argued strongly that the dangers of misinformation do not outweigh the benefits of free speech. Many of you are pro-vaccine and others are suspicious of the vaccine. I would simply urge this:

1) If you use the words “misinformation” and “disinformation” in a post or in a discussion, please come ready with evidence to support whatever claim your making! Don’t just throw out this word, support it!

I recently saw a video with a pro-vaccine medical person saying “we just need to keep pounding this information into people”. That is the wrong approach. With someone who is not yet convinced to get a vaccine, “pounding” away on them is just going to raise their defenses and exasperate you. Instead, gently show them your reasons for believing what you do! Explain to them what the data means. You may not convince them, but you may move them toward being more open to your view.

2) If someone makes a claim that sounds unfounded or that you don’t trust, don’t just tell them they’re wrong or make a counter claim, ask them to provide evidence, or where they got their information. You don’t have to do their homework for them! If they can’t produce any evidence, you are under no obligation to counter it. I’ve saved myself A LOT of work with this approach. It’s OK that they just heard it somewhere IF their source is reliable and has evidence themselves. You can still ask them to provide you with a link or something to that person’s statement. However, “I just heard it somewhere” is not evidence.

Part of the reason I’m not so worried about “misinformation” for myself is because of my regular use of suggestion #2.

Originally posted October 4th, 2022:

This post is about a new California law seeking to limit misinformation.

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2098 into law on Friday. The new law allows the Medical Board of California to punish health care providers for spreading misinformation.  The law does this by adding the act of spreading misinformation to the definition of “unprofessional conduct” used by the Medical Board of California.  Unprofessional conduct is punishable in California by up to the suspension or loss of a license to perform medicine.

The law defines “misinformation” as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”

There are many, many examples of ideas in science and medicine that were opposed by the scientific consensus and later accepted as true.  There are so many examples of this, that it should be considered as a normal part of the scientific process.  Examples include:

  • The Earth revolves around the Sun
  • Not cleaning surgical tools between operations can lead to increased mortality in patients
  • Ulcers are caused by the bacteria H. pylori, not by spicy food
  • Viruses can cause cancer
  • Cells produce energy by passing electrons through a membrane
  • The universe began at a discrete moment, and then expanded to its current form, creating both space and time in the process
  • The SARS-2 virus was created in a laboratory in Wuhan*

The idea that misinformation can reasonably be defined as an idea that is contradicted by scientific consensus is itself contradicted by centuries of scientific practice.

Scientific ideas come to be seen as true not merely by achieving consensus, but also by surviving challenge by new ideas.  No scientific idea is immune to this process. Science is not a set of facts set in stone, but a constantly changing set of ideas guided by the scientific process, a process which includes debate among scientists.  Requiring that new ideas achieve consensus immediately would freeze the advance of science in place, the current, and often wrong, ideas remaining dominant forever.

Of course, I have not yet addressed the obvious First Amendment violation this new law creates.  The First Amendment clearly allows freedom of speech, a cornerstone of American life.  This law will quickly be challenged by First Amendment advocates and will almost certainly be struck down.

As I’ve stated before, freedom of speech is not the cause of misinformation. It is the antidote.  Only if we allow the free flow of ideas can these 3 things happen:

All ideas to be aired
Good ideas to be confirmed and adopted
Bad ideas to be discredited

The correct way to battle misinformation is clear and persuasive communication, not censorship.

Dr. Mobeen Syed points out several other negative impacts this law will have:

  • Doctors will be suspicious of their patients, compromising the doctor/patient relationship.
  • Doctors will only give consensus advice, making going to the doctor more like going to a call center.
  • Laws will expand to include other kinds of “misinformation” further compromising the exchange of ideas.
  • Law will be used unequally to silence only certain kinds of speech.
  • Doctors may choose not to practice in California.

If I’m being too subtle, I’ll just say that this is a bad, unconstitutional law and should simply be ignored.

* I’m taking a little liberty on this one.  This idea was rejected totally early in the pandemic.  It is not yet universally recognized as true, but many scientists, including me, see it as most likely to be true.

Another excellent video by Dr. Christy Risinger.

Don’t fear, but be smart!


4 thoughts on “Misinformation and Censorship

  1. Pingback: What Went Wrong? |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s