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E-Pluribus | December 12, 2022
The Twitter Files; more on shenanigans with statistics; and the economic liberty implications of the Dobbs decision.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Justin Hart: The Twitter Blacklisting of Jay Bhattacharya
The revelations from the Twitter Files released by Elon Musk to a select group of journalists and writers are keeping many Twitters users on the edge of their seats with reactions varying from “we told you so!” to “so what?” At the Wall Street Journal, Justin Hart’s closeup look at Twitter’s suppression of Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya’s Tweets regarding Covid policies is a particularly disturbing examples of how Twitter’s literal blacklists worked.
Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, was a latecomer to Twitter, joining in the summer of 2021. In his first tweet, he linked to a recent article he had written that discussed age-based mortality risks and natural immunity, among other topics. His main message was powerful and contrary to Covid policies enacted across the country. “Mass testing is an insidious form of lockdown by stealth,” he wrote. Many Americans, especially parents of school-age children, would agree. But it’s possible that many on Twitter didn’t see his message.
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Screenshots from an internal Twitter content-moderation system showed that his account was tagged with a label of “Trends Blacklist,” which ensured that his tweets would never make it to the algorithmic trending topics on Twitter’s front page.
How many people endured weekslong quarantine because Dr. Bhattacharya’s message was suppressed? How many students would have been spared the education death knell of remote learning had schools heeded his advice, or even known about it?
Read it all here.
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Christopher J. Snowdon: How Do They Know This?
Our roundup on November 28th included an article entitled “Why the Left Relies on Statistical Illiteracy.” Now in Quillette, Christopher Snowdon reviews a book by a U.K. House of Commons Library statisticians documenting her experiences with politicians and government officials abusing (or at least misunderstanding) the data that is her life’s work.
Georgina Sturge works in the House of Commons Library where she furnishes UK MPs with statistics. If Bad Data is any guide, she also provides them with caveats and other words of caution, which are ignored. This informative, reasoned, and apolitical book offers a string of examples to show that statistics are not always what they seem. Some statistics are rigged for political reasons. Others are inherently flawed. Some are close to guesswork.
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Crime and unemployment are hugely important to voters and therefore susceptible to manipulation by the authorities. England and Wales have data on recorded crime stretching back to 1857, but most crimes are not reported to the police and even when they are reported they are not necessarily recorded by police officers. Setting the police targets to reduce crime creates incentives for the police to allow possible crimes to go unrecorded. This has happened so much in Britain since the 1990s that the UK Statistics Agency stripped the recorded crime figures of their “national statistics” status in 2014.
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Statisticians always want more information. Life would be easier for people like Sturge if we had a more European system of identity cards and centralised data. She does not call for this, to be fair, but her day job is clearly made more difficult by the way the British state has grown organically, and not always logically, over many centuries.
Read the whole thing.
Anthony Sanders: Where’s the Legal Protection for Economic Liberty?
While the future of abortion was clearly the focus on the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court ruling, Anthony Sanders writing for Discourse Magazine says that the decision has implication for economic liberty as well.
When the court announced its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer, overturning Roe v. Wade, the implications stretched far beyond abortion. An issue lurking beyond the headlines was how the U.S. Constitution more generally protects liberty itself. Unfortunately, despite their disagreement on the issue of abortion, both sides in Dobbs gave a truncated view of liberty by drawing arbitrary lines. This was nothing new—in fact, the justices have done it for decades. Nevertheless, for those who believe the Constitution broadly protects liberty, the decision provided guidance for the future, particularly when it comes to the right to earn a living—and maybe even a bit of hope. That’s because the court stated that if it can be demonstrated that a right is “deeply rooted” in history and tradition, then the court might get more involved in protecting that right. That is truer of the right to earn a living than almost anything else.
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The Supreme Court’s protection of unenumerated rights mostly gave way in the New Deal. The justices didn’t completely surrender, but they only stayed engaged in a few areas. These areas included parts of the Bill of Rights and a couple other—seemingly random—unenumerated rights, such as the right not to be sterilized and the right to travel. It also seemed to leave alone the right of parents to direct the education of their children. These various areas received “heightened” protection, while laws regulating anything else became unconstitutional infringements on liberty only in the most extreme cases.
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In the 1960s and 1970s, the Supreme Court’s haphazard protection of unenumerated rights grew but remained limited. For example, the court added the right to obtain birth control, the right to obtain an abortion and the right to live with relatives. These were pretty hodge-podge. It is hard to defend, for example, why these rights were included but the right to earn a living was not. Of course, the cynical (and probably correct) answer is the court simply accepted state intervention in the economy. But whatever the reason, the justices never could defend the distinction between economic liberty and other liberties. They just moved forward anyway.
Read it all.
Megan McArdle with a thread on a phenomenon she sees reoccurring in the “everybody knew shadowing banning was happening” narrative regarding Twitter:
Professor and psychologist Todd Kashdan on getting out of friendship comfort zones for the sake of challenging our own beliefs:
And finally, J.K. Rowling once again risks the wrath of the radical transgender movement: