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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Misinformation: the latest Orwellian term

Misinformation now means “facts that go against the narrative”

I was planning to write a nice boring article today about cosmic inflation, full of tedious equations and wild speculation about how physicists are now saying the universe might be eternal. That will have to wait. Scientific censorship has happened again.

By now, even scientists (including this author) who never use social media have noticed that Twitter, Facebook, and Google are curating what we're allowed to see. Now the trend is spreading to scientific publishers, who are “retracting” articles that produce conclusions they don't like.

What's disturbing is that the justification is not that the findings are wrong, but that they are encouraging people to question the narrative. Here's what JHU wrote about an article they retracted:

It was brought to our attention that our coverage of Genevieve Briand's presentation 'COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data' has been used to support dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic. We decided on Nov. 26 to retract this article to stop the spread of misinformation, as we noted on social media.

The article wasn't in a formal scientific publication, but it was scientific in nature. It analyzed CDC data and found that the percentage of deaths among elderly patients did not increase during the pandemic. The implication is that hospitals are, for whatever reason, misclassifying an unknown number of ordinary deaths as COVID-19.

Notice that JHU does not say they retracted the article because it was inaccurate, but because unspecified bad people were reading it and spreading “misinformation.” Misinformation is the latest term for facts and ideas they don't want you to see. Copies of the article have turned up here, here, and here. To quote some other blogger, read the whole thing. Okay, just read part of it then.

Politics is a bistable belief system. To a politically-oriented person, everything is either 100% true or 100% false. If they see evidence that a science publisher is corrupt, they may conclude that no science can be trusted. When science gets politicized, people select facts that support their political agenda and reject those that don't. Instead of science, we get two different sciences—left-wing science and right-wing science—each with a mutually-contradictory set of facts held to be true.

The author's hypothesis that there should be a spike in deaths among the elderly may or may not be valid. It may be relevant that Neil Ferguson and many others predicted that there would not be a spike—that the patients who died would likely be those who would have died within a short time. If so, we should discuss Briand's finding in that context, not suppress the result.

The retraction has elicited a flurry of speculation on the Internet. One example is a guy who predicted in advance that JHU would retract the analysis. His longstanding claim is that the virus SARS-CoV-2 does not really exist; the whole thing is a “cover story for the true phase-one goal: destruction of the economy.” I've repeatedly dismissed that idea here as a wacky conspiracy theory, but the pseudo-retraction just took all the wind out of my argument.

It's not just one paper. A few months ago, scientists retracted their own paper on homicides from PNAS because they thought the conclusions would provide support to gun-rights advocates. The misguided statements by Fauci, who allowed himself to be portrayed as anti-Trump, are another example.

Then we wonder why there is more mistrust of what we say. It is not “anti-science” sentiment: it is the rational response of people who are not dummies and know when they are being lied to.

The idea seems to be if people misunderstand somebody's result, don't explain it to them. Hide the result so they can't see it. That doesn't work in the lab and it doesn't work in real life.

If a journal censors a scientific result, people will ask: how do we know there aren't a hundred others that were rejected for political reasons by the editors or during peer review? It will quickly become impossible to know whether science represents the truth or a Soviet-style coerced narrative. Without freedom to debate unpopular ideas, the default idea among the public will shift to the presumption that all of it is fake. There is no faster way to destroy the credibility of science.

dec 01 2020, 6:09 am

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