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Science and Free Speech

Apr 30, 2020

Stifling Free-Speech in the Name of Science

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed a video was recently published by Dr. Daniel Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi. After getting five million views on YouTube, the video was banned by YouTube. The video was then re-posted in another online video application Vimeo and lasted another 12-hours there before it was taken down again.

The Banned Video’s Points

I will state the basic premise that was presented by these two doctors:

  • The chance of dying from COVID-19 is 0.03%
  • It makes more sense to quarantine the sick and not the healthy
  • Healthy people will gain immunity by being with others, not locked inside
  • The government is arbitrarily selecting which retailers must close
  • Sweden didn't lock down and is experiencing a comparable death rate to others who did lock down
  • Fear of visiting hospitals has created stress on healthcare professionals who don’t have enough patients forcing them to layoff critical healthcare workers and forgo critical care.
  • Stay-at-home guidelines are creating higher incidents of child molestation and/or domestic abuse

This is a simplification, and it is paraphrased because I have no published record of their video to refer.

Public Health Experts Counterpoints

The video was taken down because “public health experts” claimed the video and its message were dangerous to public health and contrary to their messaging. I will try to state their viewpoints as fairly as possible:

  • The data extrapolations presented in the video are exaggerated
  • The U.S. is not Sweden and so comparison isn’t valid
  • The data presented by the doctors was not peer reviewed
  • Viewpoints counter to World Health Organization and the CDC will cause harm

Again, this is a simplification, and it is paraphrased because most published counterpoints are riddled with hyperbole that I didn’t feel comfortable repeating.

So What?

I'm an engineer by training and have had curiosity about science since I was a young child. As an engineer, I’ve had many opportunities to use analytical problem solving to benefit the companies I worked for, my customers and myself. As I watch how scientific ideas are debated in public and then politicized, I am very concerned how the public hears and then processes scientific evidence and conclusions by “experts”. Below is a list of my specific concerns and why this may be the number one challenge we face in our businesses and in our world.

Scientific Perspectives

The first concern is obviously the “scientific perspectives”. In our present day of mass-media, you'll hear, watch, and read all sorts of claims that present a “scientific” argument. Obviously, some claims are made by scientific professionals with lots of credentials while other claims are made from others from a pragmatic view, and still others are often concerned with conspiracy claims.

Confirmation Bias

Since most people are not scientific experts, they tend to agree with one claim or the other based primarily on which claim tends to suit their personal situation.

For instance, if you happen to work in the oil, gas and coal industry, it will be reasonable for you to become upset and oppose climate change claims that advocate the reduction of the use of fossil fuels.  If you own a company that manufacturers wind generators, it will reasonable for you to agree with claims of global warming that result in government grants to construct wind farms.

Mass Media

In the old days, most public information was disseminated by newspapers, radio and eventually three television networks. Reporters were charged with researching topics or witnessing news events and then telling the public about those events. Our modern mass media has changed quite a bit. Today, reporters interview experts and then spin the interview in a certain way. Typically, in a way to fit the confirmation bias of their particular brand. 

In the interview of the two doctors, you could hear the voices of the interviewers in the background. They asked questions like, “So, you’re saying that you know more than the top epidemiologist in our country?” This question is not coming from a place of scientific curiosity, but rather an effort to pick a fight; and create conflict.

Critical Thinking

In addition to the confirmation bias I mentioned above, the public and media seems woefully inept at critical thinking. Critical thinking is defined as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Obviously, confirmation bias hinders critical thinking. However, it goes deeper than this.

Critical thinking takes work. In order to digest advanced information, it may require additional education on your part. If someone presents a scientific theory that involves Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, we will most likely turn our brain off and pick a side of a scientific debate that favors our bias. If you’re objective, which critical thinking requires, then you'll attempt to engage. You may look at extenuating circumstances or proof that the theory being told to you is acting like the “experts” told you it should. You don’t need to be an expert to think critically. However, you do need to do the work of thinking.

Private Sector Profits

Very recently, Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the primary voice we listen to in this pandemic announced that a new drug called Remdesivir will likely block the COVID-19 virus. Remdesivir is manufactured by the drug company Gilead Sciences, Inc. After a year of trading at $65 per share, Gilead Sciences, Inc. stock rose to $85 per share.  This trend started at the end of January 2020, when it became apparent that the U.S. would face exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

The cost of Remdesivir has not been advertised at this point, but it will be very expensive because Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a for-profit drug company. They own the patent for this drug and rightly plan to profit from this drug for as long as they are allowed.

Two other drugs are contenders to battle COVID-19. One is Hydroxychloroquine, and the other is Azithromycin. Both drugs are considered “generic” which means they have been used long enough that they can be manufactured by anyone without violating the original drug manufacturer’s patent.  Translation: "they are very cheap."

Dr. Fauci claims that Remdesivir has undergone the scrutiny of testing between a control group and a test group, while the other two cheaper drugs have not. 

So that you know, the two generic drugs will never go through a test because the drug companies pay for these tests, and they have no profit motive to pay for a test on a drug that won’t make them money.

A critical thinking reporter may ask, "Dr. Fauci, do you have any financial interest in Gilead?"

Conspiracy Theories

When the pragmatic and scientific thinkers disagree, conspiracy theories emerge. The pragmatic thinker says, “the actions that I’m seeing and the data that I’m seeing don’t seem to agree with what I think I know about science, and so there must be something else going on.”

The something else, is a sinister motive by powerful people in our government or corporate leaders. Sadly, we rarely know enough to prove or disprove conspiracy theories. The conspiracy may or may not be taking place.

It may give you conspiracy theorists heart to know that many conspiracy theories have been proven true once Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) forced secrets to be exposed years later.

Playing Politics

If it's not hard enough to discern scientific data, politicians and political parties pick sides which adds to the confirmation bias problem that I described earlier. If windmill companies give a lot of money to the Democratic Party, and oil companies give a lot of money to the Republican Party, you may now find that each party picks a side on a scientific debate causing even more confirmation bias among the political party faithful.

Worldview

We've been conditioned to think that there is this grand battle between science and religion. In our modern world, we’ve decided that it is a violation of liberty to introduce religion into public discourse of a scientific topic or any aspect of public education. In private, however, each person develops their own religion or worldview.

An Atheist claims they'll only believe what a science expert tells them. Maybe they’ve personally debunked religious ideals and believe that god was manufactured by man to battle their fear of death.

A Theist claims that God created all that we see and who we are. They believe that God may be directing the events that we are seeing in our world. There is scientific natural happenings, but there are also super-natural spiritual effects at play.

An Agnostic throws up their hands and claims they cannot know, nor do they need to decide on what is spiritual and what is material.

This oversight is the most important aspect of scientific deliberation and yet is rarely discussed.

Censorship

For critical thinkers to think and get their thoughts into the public to be processed, they must publish a video, a blog, a podcast; or rely on the mass media to broadcast their message in some way.

The main impetus for me writing this blog post was the clear censorship of the two doctors that had a legitimate scientific and well-thought-out view they wanted to present to the world.

The video in question was an interview conducted by KQED radio, TV and digital media in the San Francisco bay area. I’m not sure why the video was initially published and then removed. My guess is that this radio station was pressured by government officials, or others in the public health community who thought this message was negligent and harmful.

The problem with this motive is that the public is not given the ability to use critical thinking to compare the message broadcast by these two doctors versus the information being broadcast by academics and government officials. Instead, powerful people in our government censored what information you are allowed to process.

Academia

I’ve learned so much over my lifetime. Partly, through the school-of-hard-knocks, dedicated schoolteachers, and college professors, and mostly through my professional work as an engineer, sales professional, business owner and now business coach.  While I dearly respect academic professionals, and believe they play a critical role in our scientific research and development; they lack many of the pragmatic skills in the implementation of scientific principles. We tend to place these scientific credentialed individuals on pedestals they cannot possibly occupy. An expert in epidemiology cannot and should not answer questions about economics or other concepts outside of their field of expertise. I'm encouraged when I watch Dr. Fauci resist answering these questions when in the daily briefings.

The Government

With these elements emerging at the same time, it’s no wonder it takes us decades to make the wrong decisions when it comes to science. In the end, our elected officials must decide on some course of action. Often their decision is purely political and based on what they perceive to be popular opinion, but not scientific evidence. 

My Opinion

That’s a lot to digest, and I won’t tell you what you should think. I will tell you what I think.

I happen to agree with the doctors who were silenced. Frankly, they said the same thing that I had been trying to say for several weeks since the pandemic and lock-downs started.  I came to the same conclusions they did as a pragmatic ,critical thinker.

As a small business coach, I'm watching how the lock-downs are affecting my business owner clients. I am heartbroken for their loss. Some of these folks have worked their entire lives to build a business that earns a decent living for themselves and their employees only to see it demolished in weeks. Then they are promised money from the government that never comes.

I copied and pasted the link for Dr. Erickson’s video whenever and wherever I could. I was eager to get this contradictory message into the hands of others so they could process this information. I was disheartened when Youtube took down the video; and encouraged with the video emerged on Vimeo, only to be taken down hours later.

I don’t know what to think at this point. Maybe I should join the conspiracy theorists… because what is happening right now with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the all-out assault on critical thinking is not making sense to me.

Where do we go from here?

Thomas Jefferson wrote,

… wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” 

There are two concepts in Jefferson’s writings that I believe are calling to us Americans today:

  • we need to educate not indoctrinate ourselves, if we want to reap the benefits of self-government; and
  • it is ultimately our responsibility to pick the best course for our country, not our government leaders.

While we may complain about our government officials or political parties. Both are constructs of us, the public.

What can you do?

I urge you to ask more of your officials. Advocate for the free dissemination of speech…. even if you disagree with what the speech is saying.

Challenge and think critically about what you’re being told, even by the supposed experts. If their expertise is valid and truthful, it will stand up when tested by scrutiny.

Watch out for name-calling. It’s the last gasp of a poor argument.

Extricate yourself from your political party. It’s not serving your best interest or the interest of our country. It is contributing to biased group think, which is harmful.

Watch out for videos, blog posts, or other information that’s censored. Censorship comes from a hurt ego that says, you don’t have the capacity to think critically about information which they disagree.

Listen to others with whom you disagree. Respect them when they don't agree with you.

Be humble with your conclusions and bold with your facts.

If you get a chance to read this post, I would be most grateful if you'd shared it with others.

About Jeff Schuster

As a business coach and 30-year business veteran, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they’ve always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a successful business mindset, I offer online training along with individual and group coaching sessions.

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