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E-Pluribus | November 28, 2022
Reporters as speech police; Fauci’s legacy; and the pernicious misuse of statistics.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Charles C. W. Cooke: When Journalists Become Speech Police
“We report and we decide,” says Charles Cooke at National Review, is how too many journalists currently view their jobs. Cooke asserts that many in the media are using the freedom of the press to undermine its cousin, freedom of speech, by censoring and otherwise suppressing information that does not fit their chosen narratives.
C. S. Lewis once observed that “it would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.” So it is here. Yesterday’s bowdlerizers were at least open about the enterprise in which they were engaged. Today’s, by contrast, are pathologically determined to euphemize it. Because they are vaguely aware that there is something untoward about members of the press playing whack-a-mole with the national conversation, their rules come couched in the language of necessity. Once upon a time, everything was speech. Now, there is “speech” as classified and approved by media sentinels, and then there is “disinformation,” “hatred,” and even “stochastic terrorism.”
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Worse still is the grotesque tendency for members of the press to cast their transparently self-serving determinations as raw scientific truths. It’s not the opinion of NBC, Axios, or the Washington Post that Twitter would be better left as is; it’s a fact — as determined by the “experts.” That these “experts” have been repeatedly proven to be full of it — remember when the entirely legitimate Hunter Biden laptop story was “a Russian disinformation campaign,” and therefore needed to be suppressed just before the election? — seems not to matter. Nor, indeed, does it seem to matter that a great many of our arbiters of truth are rank hypocrites and contemptible lunatics. The temptation to cast one’s preferences as fact is a remarkably strong one, and, for now at least, many modern journalists seem entirely incapable of resisting it.
[ . . . ]
In the Times’ op-ed on free speech, the editors complained that “many Americans are understandably confused, then, about what they can say and where they can say it.” And so they are! Which, in no small part, is because writers at outlets such as the Times feel entirely comfortable constructing lists of people who are presumptively to blame for crimes that do not, at the point at which those lists are constructed, even have a clearly established motive.
Read it all here.
Allysia Finley: Public Distrust of Health Officials Is Anthony Fauci’s Legacy
There are few more polarizing figures that have arisen in the past few years than Anthony Fauci. In The Wall Street Journal, Allysia Finley comes down on the negative side, writing that Fauci will be remembered for undermining the public’s trust in health officials in the service of political ends.
Dr. Fauci said he wants to be remembered for his work on infectious diseases, such as HIV and Ebola, prior to the pandemic. “Although Covid is really, really very important, it is a fragment of the total 40 years that I’ve been doing it.” Alas, Dr. Fauci’s legacy will be marred by his divisive and arrogant leadership on that really, really very important fragment.
Start with his dissembling on masks. When the virus began to spread in the U.S., he advised that “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.” He later reversed himself and acknowledged his earlier guidance was based on worries that there wouldn’t be enough masks for healthcare workers. In other words, he told an expedient lie.
Weeks later he endorsed universal masking even though studies showed cloth masks don’t protect against other respiratory viruses and there was little evidence they would do so against Covid. Over time it became clear that Covid was spreading through aerosols, tiny particles that cloth and surgical masks do a poor job of filtering out.
[ . . . ]
Dr. Fauci also dismissed the hypothesis that the virus leaked from a lab, perhaps to protect his agency, which helped fund gain-of-function virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Researchers who have studied the virus’s genetic sequence say it most likely leaked from the lab, but without assistance from China this may be impossible to prove.
Yet in an interview with Wired magazine this month, Dr. Fauci implied that those who disagree are ignorant or malicious: “I believe that anybody who studies this situation can’t in good conscience say that the lab leak is the most likely explanation.” During last week’s press conference, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre slapped down reporters who asked Dr. Fauci about the virus’s origins and lab-leak investigation.
Read the whole thing.
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David Randall: Why the Left Relies on Statistical Illiteracy
Maybe it was Mark Twain, perhaps Benjamin Disraeli, or perhaps someone else altogether that said there are “three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Writing for The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (reprinted by Minding the Campus), David Randall tends to agree with that sentiment when it comes to the use of “science,” statistics in particular, in making or advocating for public policy.
[S]hoddy research is far too common in the sciences and social sciences. This is a grave enough problem in its own right, but it has more serious consequences for America as a whole. We have delegated policymaking authority to professionals who claim expertise in wide swathes of administrative policy, judicial decision making, and legislation. Those experts who claim the mantle of “Science” are foremost among these would-be professional experts. Such men and women far too frequently subordinate the search for truth to the search to impose a preferred policy. Their shoddy research methods are part and parcel of their desire to forward a political agenda—although it should be emphasized that even researchers without a political agenda now use statistical and experimental methods guaranteed to produce a mass of false results.
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The monolithic politicization of science and social-science professionals, alas, is likely to become worse. A growing minority of these professionals have become committed to addressing the intellectual and institutional failures that have led to the irreproducibility crisis, including politicized groupthink. At the same time, unfortunately, the radical advocates in charge of higher education have significantly tightened the politicization of the sciences and the social sciences. They have even begun to censor access to databases that might provide material for research that could undermine the party line. Most importantly, they are endeavoring to screen out graduate students and professors who do not affirm the Woke catechism. There are few enough science and social-science professionals willing to dissent from the progressive party line; soon, our institutions of higher education may graduate none.
Read it all.
Via Jonathan Kay, this Canadian Business School isn’t even bothering with euphemisms about diversity:
Based on a recent post by Nature, Wesley Yang disputes the notion that wokeness has peaked:
And finally, via FIRE, an Orwellian statement, but in a good way: