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E-Pluribus | June 23, 2023
The 'lab leak conspiracy theory' is looking better all the time; when 'racist' is really just stupid; and an argument for arguing.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Robby Soave: Lab Leak Theory: 1, Misinformation Cops: 0
The ferociousness of the anti-lab leak theory crowd early in the Covid-19 pandemic was as relentless as it was odd. Several years later, the ranks of those willing to defend the innocence of the Chinese Communist government are thinning. Robby Soave of Reason details some of what is turning the tide.
The lab leak theory of COVID-19's origins gained tremendous legitimacy this week as The Wall Street Journal confirmed independent reports that the earliest outbreak occurred at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in November 2019.
[ . . . ]
Assuming the intelligence reports are accurate and that Hu and his colleagues did contract the earliest cases of COVID-19, the implications are huge. This would mean that substandard safety protocols at the Wuhan lab probably unleashed a killer pathogen on the rest of the planet, and the Chinese government attempted to cover it up.
[ . . . ]
The confirmation of the lab leak theory would also mean that all the mainstream journalists, establishment scientists, and social media moderators who derided its adherents as conspiracy theorists were stunningly wrong. This should serve as a potent lesson to all the entities—many of them state-funded—that have made policing alleged misinformation their seminal issue.
Said cops including some of the most influential voices in the scientific community and expert commentariat. The New York Times' lead coronavirus reporter, Apoorva Mandavilli, previously described the lab leak theory as having racist roots. Vaccine scientist Peter Hotez criticized the comedian Jon Stewart for daring to raise the issue on an episode of Stephen Colbert's show. CNN medical analyst Leana Wen lamented the theory's likelihood of inspiring anti-Chinese animus. Others in the media called the lab leak a "fringe conspiracy."
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, vigorously banned and suppressed posts about the lab leak before finally abandoning this policy as the theory gained some mainstream acceptance toward the latter half of 2021. As revealed by the Facebook Files, Reason's report on the communication between social media companies and federal health bureaucrats, Facebook took its COVID-19 content cues from the government. All of this behavior—these efforts to shame or suppress individuals who were asking questions about the preferred narratives of government scientists—now seems incredibly short-sighted.
Read the whole thing.
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Noah Rothman: BMI Was Stupid, Not Racist
As seems to be the default response to any inequities today, the American Medical Associates has decided the body-mass index is racist. Noah Rothman at National Review is no fan of the BMI, but he asserts that this particular relic of medical convention wisdom is simply collapsing under the weight of its own worthlessness.
The AMA is urging physicians to avoid using the body-mass index (BMI) as a metric to gauge healthy individual body weight, in part because it has allegedly been used for the nefarious purposes of “racist exclusion.” Conservatives, who are understandably sensitive to the linguistic tics that serve only to broadcast institutional affinities for programmatic social justice, have criticized the move. And to some extent, the AMA, like so much of the American medical establishment, deserves all the grief they’re getting. This association long ago subordinated scientific rigor to the pop psychology that accompanies modern left-wing identity-focused activism — and you don’t need to be a conservative to recognize that.
But in this case, focusing on the AMA’s use of trite linguistic tropes misses the point. The logic that led the organization to scrap the BMI is perfectly reasonable, and scuttling this absurd metric is long overdue:
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Even in the time before the ubiquitous racially obsessive paranoia that passes for enlightenment today, the BMI was a controversial and deeply flawed measurement.
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In short, BMI was profoundly stupid. We’ve lost the gumption required to describe something that is stupid as “stupid.” Calling something “stupid” has come to seem simplistic; such a judgment must be couched in language that conveys the authority of the appraiser, and “stupid” just sounds, well, stupid. But that’s what BMI always was.
Read it all.
Andrew Jason Cohen: Instead of Bowling Alone, Let’s Argue Together
Some people just like to argue all the time (though they would probably dispute that!). But Andrew Cohen writes at Discourse Magazine that arguing is by no means something that should always be avoided either. Cohen says interaction with others will always carry the risk of disagreement, but that risk has its own rewards that should be embraced.
To really connect with others and prevent loneliness, we need to engage in genuinely open, prodding and meaningful discourse with others, including people with whom we disagree. That means, unsurprisingly, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, not only to criticism but also to condemnation. Without that, though, we cannot expect others to know who we really are. We can’t expect to know who they really are, either. In other words, we can’t expect to have genuine friends.
[ . . . ]
Honest conversation with anyone, if it is sustained or repeated often enough, will always lead to some disagreement—perhaps minor, perhaps not. The important point is that unless we want to wall off parts of ourselves from our friends, we have to be open to disagreement. That, in fact, makes our relationships stronger. We realize we can disagree without hurting each other. We realize we can disagree—proclaiming something our friend may find silly, mistaken or even offensive—and yet be accepted. We don’t have to worry about rejection with such people. Only in this way can we have genuine connections with others.
[ . . . ]
If we keep all talk at a superficial level where no serious disagreements are possible, we keep our real thoughts to ourselves and present only a facade to others. I thus encourage people to take seriously the idea that refusing to engage with others is a real cause of loneliness and to recognize that the path out of loneliness is to get past the facades and present our real thoughts to others.
Read it all here.
Via the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, not everything that appears to be “cancelling” is cancelling in the illiberal sense. Arizona State University clarifies why its Lewis Center is actually closing:
And finally, nature or nurture? We report, you decide: