How the Disinformation Industrial Complex is destroying trust in science

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How the Disinformation Industrial Complex is destroying trust in science

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How the Disinformation Industrial Complex is destroying trust in science
Posted on April 23, 2023 by curryja

by David Young

Much has changed in science since the pandemic and much of it is change for the worse. The pandemic has highlighted the loss of credibility of the public health establishment and the often toxic nature of current public discourse. John Ioannidis stands out as perhaps the best example of a fine scientist who was smeared and denigrated mercilessly both online and in the literature. There was also a flood of fraudulent papers and badly flawed studies. This made claims that we should follow the “The Science” almost laughable, given the extremely poor quality of much of the science. The use of coercion was inexcusable when there was no rigorous basis for it.

John Ioannidis was perhaps the most famous victim of a broad ranging culture of censorship and suppression. As [1] summarizes:

“The aim of the present study is to explore the experiences and responses of highly ac- complished doctors and research scientists from different countries who have been targets of suppression and/or censorship following their publications and statements in relation to COVID-19 that challenge official views. Our findings point to the central role played by media organizations, and especially by information technology companies, in attempting to stifle debate over COVID-19 policy and measures. In the effort to silence alternative voices, widespread use was made not only of censorship, but of tactics of suppression that damaged the reputations and careers of dissenting doctors and scientists, regardless of their academic or medical status and regardless of their stature prior to expressing a contrary position. In place of open and fair discussion, censorship and suppression of scientific dissent has deleterious and far-reaching implications for medicine, science, and public health.”

Epidemiology

One of the first things that became obvious to me during the pandemic was that viral epidemiology was a primitive science dominated by crude mechanistic explanations that lacked quantification. One article that led me to this conclusion was [2]. I reproduce a part of the abstract here.

“The epidemiology of influenza swarms with incongruities, incongruities exhaustively detailed by the late British epidemiologist, Edgar Hope-Simpson. He was the first to propose a parsimonious theory explaining why influenza is, as Gregg said,”seemingly unmindful of traditional infectious disease behavioral patterns. Recent discoveries indicate vitamin D upregulates the endogenous antibiotics of innate immunity and suggest that the incongruities explored by Hope-Simpson may be secondary to the epidemiology of vitamin D deficiency. We identify – and attempt to explain nine influenza conundrums:

• Why is influenza both seasonal and ubiquitous and where is the virus between epidemics?

• Why are the epidemics so explosive?

• Why do they end so abruptly?

• What explains the frequent coincidental timing of epidemics in countries of similar latitude?

• Why is the serial interval obscure?

• Why is the secondary attack rate so low?

• Why did epidemics in previous ages spread so rapidly, despite the lack of modern transport?

• Why does experimental inoculation of seronegative humans fail to cause illness in all the volunteers?

• Why has influenza mortality of the aged not declined as their vaccination rates increased?”

It is blindingly obvious that the spread of viral epidemics is riddled with unknowns, is a badly ill-posed problem and models will all be wrong, and mostly badly wrong. Yet modeling played a significant part in motivating the policy response to Covid19.
The Role of the Media in Spring 2020

The list of issues where pseudo-science was used to make decisions is long. Mask mandates, lockdowns, school closures, vaccination recommendations, vaccination requirements for employment or university attendance, and travel restrictions. The public was often bullied and/or manipulated into compliance based on fear and/or media generated panic. Early statistics on Covid cases and deaths were shown endlessly in the spring of 2020. These statistics seemed to imply that 10-15% of those who got Covid would die, often horribly. This was gravely misleading without stating that the case fatality rate is not meaningful when testing is scarce and that infection fatality rate estimates always go down (often dramatically) as an epidemic progresses because testing becomes more accurate and treatment methods improve.

The well known fact that the vast majority of those dying from Covid19 were already quite ill or elderly was systematically hidden. Scientists who said this were ridiculed by this same narrative driven media. The media in the US at least are little more than ideologically driven (and now partially state controlled) purveyors of carefully screened “information” backing the elites in the West and their preferred ideologies [3, 4] and the public is becoming more and more convinced that they cannot be trusted. The media was and is a full participant in the culture of censorship and cancellation described below. Often their “reporting” is based on a single anonymous leak whose reliability is unknown by readers and in some cases the reporters. Of course, leakers usually have a partisan purpose and like to leak selectively to give a biased picture and/or support their interests or those of their employer.
Marginalizing Expertise

A must read is [5]. “Imperatives like skepticism and disinterestedness are being junked to fuel political warfare that has nothing in common with scientific methodology.” Ioannidis carefully lays out in detail a sad history of abuses and indeed in some cases, outright fraud. Ioannidis published prolifically during the pandemic and endured a public caning by a mob of online trolls and even fellow scientists and politicians. His is not an isolated example. Scott Atlas, Jay Battacharya, Martin Kuhldorff and Marty Makary are four more academic scientists who received similar treatment. I believe that the response to Ioannidis was particularly harsh because of his sterling reputation for being totally non-political and his incredible accomplishments. Thus, the online mob and the public health establishment realized that discrediting him was critical to preserving their own credibility.

As it turns out, these tactics backfired on our “expert class” as shown by the public’s abysmal uptake on the new vaccines. Sanity has returned to some European countries such as Denmark, where they recommend that those who are under 50 and healthy need not take any more Covid vaccines. But in the US, the CDC is putting the new Covid19 vaccine on their recommended list of childhood vaccinations in spite of very strong evidence that the harms of this vaccine vastly outweigh the benefits in the children and young adults [6].

Now we have the ultimate irony, an economics professor asking for amnesty for the terrible decisions and epidemic of lying and disinformation during the pandemic [7]. I for one am unwilling to give them amnesty without a full confession, apologies, and changes of personnel in leadership positions.

Perhaps fed by the pandemic, a new and disturbing trend is the prevalence of “zombie” trials in which there is no evidence there is any real data underlying the results [8]. This is further evidence of how weak the peer review system has become. The idea that fraud is widespread in science has moved from the fringes to the pages of the BMJopinion [9]. Ioannidis [5] cites a couple of covid papers in leading journals that were essentially fraudulent. At least one of these was still being cited over a year later!!
A Culture of Censorship and Cancellation

My previous post at Climate, Etc. [10] provided some references for the sad state of science pre-Covid. Basically, the replication crisis was in full swing. That post pointed to the serious problems in the field of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and offered some ideas for addressing them. Things have changed for the worse post-pandemic. Perhaps the most salient fact about the pandemic was how politicized the science became, just as with the AIDS epidemic. There was a remarkable coincidence between a desire to “stop” the epidemic by any means necessary (regardless of how many collateral causalities there were) and climate alarmism that seeks to control the climate by eliminating fossil fuels. The complete playbook that made climate science’s culture deteriorate was deployed to Covid science and epidemiology, making meaningful scientific debate virtually impossible [1]. As described out below, the Covid panic went well beyond the climate science playbook. [1] is long and very detailed and worth a full read.

“Creating a false consensus by censoring information and preventing scientific debates might lead scientists, and thus also policymakers, to sink into the ruling paradigm, causing them to ignore other, more effective options to cope with the crisis or perhaps even prevent it. Such a “consensus” leads to a narrow worldview, which impairs the public’s ability to make informed decisions and erodes public trust in medical science and in public health (Cernic 2018; Delborne 2016; Martin 2014, 2015; Vernon 2017).”

“Yet, there are three main differences [with previous instances of suppression]. First, when it comes to COVID-related knowledge, the censorship tactics used against dissenters are extreme and unprecedented in their intensiveness and extensiveness, with scientific journals, and academic and medical institutions taking an active and involved part in censoring critical voices. In fact, as one of our respondents indicates, even pre-print servers and academic social networking sites censor scientific papers that do not align with the mainstream narrative, and this seems to be a growing trend. Furthermore, what our respondents describe goes way beyond censorship, and includes a wide range of suppression methods intended to destroy their reputations and careers, solely because they dared to take a different position from that dictated by the medical establishment.”

As pointed out by Battacharya, this behavior is really analogous to the Middle Ages with ”The Science” being the new clerisy [11].

“We live in an age when a high public health bureaucrat can, without irony, announce to the world that if you criticize him, you are not simply criticizing a man. You are criticizing “The Science” itself. The irony in this idea of “science” as a set of sacred doctrines and beliefs is that the Age of Enlightenment, which gave us our modern definitions of scientific methodology, was a reaction against a religious clerisy that claimed for itself the sole ability to distinguish truth from untruth. The COVID-19 pandemic has apparently brought us full circle, with a public health clerisy having replaced the religious one as the singular source of unassailable truth.”

Collusion of The Deep State, Corporate Media, and Big Tech

The latest instantiation of this authoritarianism is the rise of a vast industry devoted to ferreting out and censoring “misinformation” and “disinformation” [12, 13]. The first piece is an excellent deep dive into the way the leaders of this complex view themselves. Of course, science often is the subject of these censors [14]. There is a large industry devoted to framing oneself as a “disinformation” expert, a category that is largely meaningless and has no well defined credentials. Just as there was competition over the last 30 years among non-scientists and political activists and a few activist scientists to hype climate catastrophes and sniff out and cancel the more realistic scientists, now political operatives, activists, the media and often the deep state and some scientists compete to see who can be in the forefront of rounding up the witches who spread “disinformation‘’ and burning them. This is just a new and much more pervasive form of Red baiting [13]. The Twitter Files [4] proved the existence of a broad collusion between the FBI, CIA, big tech, “disinformation” NGOs and corporate media to censor voices that appear to be suspicious of or contradict the “authorities,” with their often false and destructive narratives acting to deplatform these voices.

The range of issues and “information” that attracts their attention is quite broad. It extends even to ordinary Americans who were flagged as Russian trolls by the fraudulent Hamilton 68 dashboard, an oft cited source that was said to “prove” massive and consequential Russian interference in American elections.

This is detailed in [15]. This Taibbi Twitter files summary begins:

“Move Over, Jayson Blair: Meet Hamilton 68, the New King of Media Fraud. The Twitter Files reveal that one of the most common news sources of the Trump era was a scam, making ordinary American political conversations look like Russian spywork.”

This largely unsupported narrative of Russian interference peddled by the Clinton campaign, the deep state, and assorted so-called disinformation specialists is debunked by Seigel and Gerth [13, 16]. However, this narrative was supported by literally thousands of largely false corporate media “stories” for over 6 years, some of which received the Pulitzer prize. This is a striking example of the corruption of the corporate media. There have been very few retractions and no apologies that I am aware of. The media doubles down by refusing to cover these scandals and insisting they are nothing new. There is strong evidence that the US government is at least partially funding these “disinformation expert organizations” who sometimes do the data collection and screening for “disinformation” – really just another term for often true information or opinion that challenges the “legitimacy” of our “institutions.” This latter category is very vague and can be stretched to almost anything the disinformation expert doesn’t like. Perhaps it is no coincidence that these disinformation “expert” organizations present corporate and publicly funded media as least likely to spread disinformation.

In fact, there seems to be a revolving door between the US security state and the executive ranks at big tech companies and corporate media, making the collusion easy to set up and nurture. I believe that this Russian interference narrative is the most consequential disinformation and election interference campaign in American history outside of war time. [13, 15–17] Some activist scientists have chosen to wade into this morass and to participate in this Disinformation Industrial Complex, further undermining their credibility. This climate of fear and censorship is similar to what happened in the US during WWI, when debate was criminalized by the Sedition Act of 1918, really an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917. This was totally unprecedented in American history. Even during the Civil War, with a few exceptions such as Maryland in 1861, the Constitution was in full force, and debate was often libelous and nasty. There was a very vigorous anti-war faction in the North and it was a full participant in the political process. In 1918, many opponents of the draft and the war were prosecuted simply for saying so. The demonization of Germany was as intense in the media as the media campaign currently directed against Russia.

The law was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Socialist Eugene Debs was prosecuted for opposing the War and was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He famously campaigned for President in 1920 from prison. President Harding commuted his sentence in 1921. There were a significant number of prosecutions under the Act, but most were offered clemency by 1920. It appears that Americans after the hysteria of war was over had a devotion to the Bill of Rights. The 1918 Sedition Act was repealed in December 1920. It is likely that the 1918 amendment would be held unconstitutional today. The 1917 law continues in effect and is used against leakers such as Snowdon and Assange, even though Assange merely did on a larger scale what hundreds of corporate media “journalists” do every day. Daniel Ellsberg was charged under it for leaking the Pentagon Papers. His case was dismissed after the plumbers broke into his psychiatrists office. But deep state leakers, who use the corporate media to spread “information” that supports their version of events and often do immensely more damage, almost always escape punishment.

It is not a coincidence that President Woodrow Wilson, a former President of Princeton University and an opponent of full participation of Blacks in American society and government, also wanted to replace the Constitution with the rule of the administrative state, i.e., the “experts.” This deeply un-American impulse didn’t die with Wilson but survives and flourishes today in the deep state and their allies and symbiotes in corporate media. The standards for using leaks in news stories have dramatically loosened over the decades since Watergate. And the sheer volume of leaks has grown almost certainly faster than the Federal agencies. Fortunately, America came to its senses and the 1918 Sedition Act amendments were repealed in 1920. Our recovery from our current culture of fear may not be so rapid.

What is disturbing is that some politicians and activists are quoting from outdated Supreme Court decisions to try to justify the current censorship collusion. According to the Supreme Court, it is a violation of the Constitution for the government to deputize a private organization to do what it cannot do. The Twitter Files prove that the Biden Administration is in massive violation.
Is the Internet the Proximate Cause?

Another must read is [18]. The subhead is “How the truth monopoly was broken up.” Their thesis is that the internet transformed modern society just as the printing press did in the 16th Century. What we are going through is our expert class panicking because their monopoly on “truth” has been broken. Just as the counter reformation led to bloody conflict, the new disinformation enforcers are going to generate a lot of conflict and lots of innocent people will suffer.

“We beg to differ. Fake news is not a perversion of the information society but a logical out- growth of it, a symptom of the decades-long devolution of the traditional authority for governing knowledge and communicating information. That authority has long been held by a small num- ber of institutions. When that kind of monopoly is no longer possible, truth itself must become contested.”

“This is treacherous terrain. The urge to insist on the integrity of the old order is widespread. Truth is truth, lies are lies, and established authorities must see to it that nobody blurs the two. But we also know from history that what seemed to be stable regimes of truth may collapse, and be replaced. If that is what is happening, then the challenge is to manage the transition, not to cling to the old order as it dissolves around us.”

This is a lesson that climate science should perhaps take seriously.
Simple Minded Ideas about Science are Wrong

For me, the whole concept of science as a system of understanding the universe whose practitioners are honest and sincere truth seekers, as Bertrand Russell for example portrayed in his writings, is not believable. My training in the 1970’s if anything re-inforced Russell’s version. I did learn something about chaos in graduate school, but I was not really fully aware once I joined industry that when we switched from linear potential flow and electromagnetics to the full potential equation with coupled integral boundary layer, the Euler equations, and the Navier Stokes equations that we were entering a totally different world. This world is one of ill-posed equations, multiple solutions, and bifurcations, and often high uncertainty. This is not something that is readily evident either from typical graduate school education or the literature. It must be said that climate and weather scientists do a better job on this point.

Many of the most important topics in scientific research have hit a wall that constrains further progress, and that wall is uncertainty, in many cases caused by nonlinearlity and chaos, particularly in complex systems. The world may never yield to the kind of deterministic quantified explanations that many desire.

Most traditional scientific methods are provably effective only for well-posed problems. Many of the most important problems are not well-posed. Yet we train graduate students mostly using simplified well- posed problems and the numerical methods suitable for them. I believe new theoretical paradigms and methods will be needed for complex systems. Up until roughly 2000, scientists counted on rapidly increasing computing power to enable solution of more challenging problems. The frontier is now probably not going to be expanded just with more powerful computers. The underlying ill-posed nature of many of the problems will come to the fore.

Popular culture and the political left in the US (and their institutions) have become infested with an almost childlike faith in “The Science.” Faith in “The Science” is really scientism because it can only exist either with the suspension of the critical faculties or with ignorance of the real issues. The media have chosen to foster this ignorance and simplistic thinking as a way to manipulate public opinion in favor of certain political and cultural narratives or in the case of covid a set of “scientific” narratives as the Twitter files prove [4, 14]. [14] is the Twitter thread dealing with Twitter’s collusion with the US government to censor often correct information about Covid19.

Scientists often collaborate with these media driven narratives because they think they will get more funding and public adulation if the narrative is believed. They may also reasonably fear being ostracized and damage to their careers. Readers of this blog are well aware that this became true in climate science a long time ago. Some unscrupulous scientists have chosen to continue to support narratives that are even contradicted by the IPCC reports, particularly about extreme weather events. Some activist climate scientists were also among the alarmist camp concerning Covid19.
Threats to Democracy

Many of the tactics of our Disinformation Industrial Complex are rationalized as being needed to combat threats to Democracy. In fact, this Complex is itself the real threat to Democracy. [19] In an excellent Tablet article in January of 2022 Ioannidis and Schippers [20] explain how democracy cannot function if the public is fed a constant diet of half truths and even disinformation with dissenting voices systematically excluded. This was written before the Twitter files showed that this culture is deeply systemic in our elite institutions including science itself.

“Some people, organizations, corporations, and lobbyists (or combinations thereof) saw this crisis [Covid19] as an opportunity to establish some version of a desired ideological utopia, which, in reality, benefited only a zealous minority confident in their “truth”, “science” or whatever name they used to legitimate blind dogmas.”

We can with confidence include the Federal government departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Defense to this list of organizations.

“The population at large would benefit more from scientific skepticism (which doesn’t require a Ph. D.) than from the purging of “bias” by spurious information purifiers.”

“Concern about the manipulation of power and influence has also been exacerbated by the performance of media and social media. It is critical in free, democratic societies that media never become a vessel for a single, state-sanctioned, official narrative at the expense of public debate and freedom of speech. The same applies for social media: Removing content considered “fake” or “false” in order to limit the ability of ordinary people to judge information for themselves only inflames polarization and distrust of the public sphere.”

“This is especially important in the realm of scientific debate. Anyone who believes that it’s possible to cleanse “science” of error through brute force censorship has no understanding of how science works or how accurate, unbiased evidence is accumulated in the first place. The idea of arbitrators who select what is correct and dismiss what is incorrect is the most alien possible concept to science. Without the ability to make errors or make (and improve on) inaccurate hypotheses, there is no science. The irony is that scientists understand (or at least should understand) and embrace (or at least should embrace) the fact that we all float in a sea of nonsense; it is the opportunist influencers and pundits, lacking in any understanding of the scientific method, who believe in the possibility of pure, unconflicted “truth.” ”

[20] appeared nearly a year before the Twitter files were published but was prescient in many ways. They conclude:

“As the pandemic ebbs, the years ahead will help determine whether we as democratic citizens and free people are still capable of making our own decisions, pursuing happiness, and refraining from harm, without falling prey to the authoritarian temptations that have felled democracies in the past.”

Conclusion

In the year since Ioannidis’ article, much has been revealed about how pervasive the Disinformation Industrial Complex is by the revelations in the Twitter files. A deep analysis tracing the rise of this Complex whose beginnings arose out of the War on Terror and how this Complex is applying the propaganda tools of that war inside America (They have brought the War on Terror to the United States) is [13]. It is a long read but is the result of 3 years of research. Just as troubling is the rise of an exceptionally censorious public culture in the USA and in other parts of the English-speaking world.

The politicization of science, the honing of the activists tools for cancellation of people they don’t like, and the involvement of government in collusion with big tech and media to control ”disinformation” [really just another euphemism for state control of media] [4], and finally the conversion of the FBI into a domestic version of the CIA have me personally concerned about the future of the English-speaking world.

I hope a critical mass of scientists and the public is finally waking up to the dangers this culture of fear and censorship poses. The danger for the elites is that they may alienate and attack so many people that their supporters become a minority. The power of modern media and social media to spread misinformation (in many cases originating with leaks from the US security state) with political motivations is immense and is indeed a growing part of the crisis. The pushback does however seem to be growing. There are now some free speech media such as Rumble, Locals, and Substack. It is possible to financially support bloggers, including Judith, using Patreon. Public polling shows a near collapse of trust in corporate media. It is indeed ironic that those who claim to be squashing existential threats to democracy, have themselves caused a climate of growing acceptance of intimidation and threats, political violence and serious violations of Federal law. If everything is an existential threat and words are violence, real violence can seem more and more to be justified.

https://judithcurry.com/2023/04/23/how- ... n-science/
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