This isn't any way to fight "misinformation"
Lack of slack seems a big throughline in the past year's discourse. So much soldier mindset (to borrow Julia Galef's phrase), racing to head off conspiracy theories and distortions by the other political side, leaving little space to grapple with uncertainty. That's another reason the contributions of Zeynep and others, keeping a step back from the conflict, have been so valuable. Officials and influential communicators may have to let go of the notion they can control the noise, and focus on quality of the signal.
Science is a wallow in uncertainty. Hearing or reading a scientist who can write about and address uncertainty without eliminating it leads to further trust.
Consensus so often is lead by scientific politicians seeking fame or career advancement from their publications that a watered down version of truth and even at times, untruth, is presented by consensus.
A coherent individual more often guides toward a truth than a consensus group.
Great coherent thinking and writing ✍️ here btw.
« follow the science » was the rational non Trump riposte to Trumpian MAGA. He and his are uncouth unthinking boorish morons. We and ours are rational, science affirming, decent, caring folk. How could this not have gotten out of hand? One thing this recent clarification has revealed is how much in the pocket of ideology the « good » side is, and how much message control is a weapon the good side is as keen to use as the bad side is. Now that there is a bi-partisan consensus that China is pur enemy and must be contained is it really surprising that with a democrat in the WH our side has discovered that China might really have been behind covid? There may be many acting in good faith, but they are trying to do so against a set of institutions, including scientific ones, that have power to protect and agendas to pursue. Nor is this recent. Both academic scholarship and MSM have shown their politics over a range of issue, especially as regards US foreign interests, for example. The idea that « science » would be spared politicization or that it could protect itself seems naive, or so events seem to have proven.
"Who’d believe it after this?"
Good question. The rushed 24 hour-cycle of the media plus never ending loop of social media posts only reinforces positions. We are battling two viruses at the same time. Likely that we will overcome Sars-Cov-2 somewhere along the line. But the information virus? Mutating fast into much more virulent forms that is threatening entire societies. And we are still talking if it is real or not.
Sam Husseini had a good article on this in Salon last year. In retrospect, brave to inquire in that way at the time. https://www.salon.com/2020/04/24/did-this-virus-come-from-a-lab-maybe-not--but-it-exposes-the-threat-of-a-biowarfare-arms-race/
Scientists strive to find answers to questions that have not been answered. Medicine is a scientific field. Yet, despite the two notions- scientists and physicians often tend to reject ideas that are "outside of their boxes". Add politics and the Trump administration to the mix and we get all mixed up about what is scientifically known, what is a scientific assumption- but not yet proven, and what we simply don't have the answer to. People in positions of authority- whether scientists, physicians or politicians, often are hesitant to give answers like "we just don't know." But in not doing so, it leads to assertions that turn out to be wrong and that leads to an increase in mistrust. Dangerous, I believe, because then our knowledge, for instance, that masking works and vaccines work- become mixed with what we don't know- like what is the source of the virus.
What would conclusive evidence be? Even high degree of probability? And what would be the tests to rule out confirmation bias?
An individual who says, Oops, I accidentally inhaled some before seeing my ophthalmologist?
Researchers’ logs that indicate they were either modifying or just studying a coronavirus with that genome? (This could still be coincidental unless it directly stated they had manipulated a similar genome to create the original variant.)
Reports of a malfunction in the holding equipment for that strain? (Still hard to prove it was not coincidental.)
These are all circumstantial, it seems. I’m not sure what a convincing argument would look like.
This trend feels much like the process of manufacturing consent, but applied explicitly to knowledge—manufacturing agreement, maybe?
The poor argument part is what really bugs me. Lots of what can be called enthememe; unfoldings of argument based on a false premise. One false premise is the bogus dichotomy of "found in nature" vs "man made in lab," as if there were no other choices (like, found in nature, cultured in a lab, and accidentally leaked.)
The recent NYT article still can't help taking sides, tipping the scale, by pointing out, accurately, that 'there is no evidence that it was made in a lab', without also pointing out that there is no evidence that it sprang from a natural host.
Two things of interest in your article: how this is suddenly mainstream, and how it is rife with poor argument.
The sudden mainstream is the easy one. About a month back I linked a Politico article on this forum that broached the lab-leak theory. I actually felt a little dirty about it, was worried I might get shunned as a conspiracy spreader. Especially since no other news outlet picked it up. Seems news outlets are subject to peer pressure just like anyone else, and so now that the subject had gotten some mentions, it is no longer taboo, and all these outlets have to play catch up. And so, the story looks bigger than it deserves to be, as there in fact is no new actual information, merely a belated reckoning with the question.
Hello Zeynep. Since AstraZenica has been kyboshed for the time being, people up here in Quebec who got AZ for their first dose will likely be assigned to Pfizer boosters. I am a nurse-vaccinator and I need to be up to date to manage the worry and angst from this cohort. I wasn't able to link to a study on your hyperlink on mixing vaccines (heterologous boost) where you suggest it produces a stronger response (see quote below). Can you direct me to where to find this information? Would "heterologous boost" be the keyword to use if I'd like to investigate this more? Thank-you!
"We now know that mixing vaccine types also produces a stronger immune response, which is, again, not at all a surprise because these are common practices (called heterologous boost) and the results are in line with expectations. (You might remember that I wrote a newsletter post about the faux-controversy around this idea)."