On The Battlefield of Misinformers, Dissenters & Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative

On The Battlefield of Misinformers, Dissenters & Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative

Note that views expressed in this opinion article are the writer’s personal views and not necessarily those of TrialSite.

ErinKate Stair, MD, MPH

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve worked as a public health analyst and have been part of several scientific communication initiatives dealing with how and what information is relayed to a particular audience. These include tasks like explaining how mRNA or viral vector-based vaccines work, using only plain language, and monitoring and dispelling myths about the vaccines. Right now, there is an aggressive campaign to purge misinformation from social media platforms. My main issue with this campaign is that, whatever the motive, scientific dissent is being incorrectly categorized as misinformation. Not surprisingly, a war over information has emerged on a digital battlefield crowded with Misinformers, Dissenters, Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative and Confused-AF Spectators. This has allowed for keen observations related to strategy and tactics. Stay tuned for a self-published playbook on Amazon (that may even be available for purchase for a few days before being banned for violating something or other), but first I’d like to share some thoughts with you.   

It’s important to acknowledge the existence of misinformation, or information that is false. If you don’t believe in misinformation, then you are essentially saying that everything you see or hear is true. Sometimes misinformation has a nefarious intention behind it, and then it’s called disinformation. Scientific dissent, however, is not misinformation. Scientific dissent is logical arguments, legitimate concerns and opinions, often expert ones, that challenge the overarching, scientific narrative. Dissenters might challenge pieces of that narrative or even all of it. 

Scientific dissent is paramount, because it can help identify problems with a methodology, policy, drug, therapy, health program or even a widespread belief. I like to think of dissent as a Checks and Balances for science, ever important today when much of our medical system, regulatory bodies, health organizations and research agendas are under the spell of puissant pharmaceutical companies. They may not “love it when you call them Big Pharma” but big, they are. 

Can you think of a time when scientific dissent was historically valuable? I mean, I hope so, as there are plenty of examples, one of which I’ll highlight: dissent concerning the relationship between the earth and the sun. Once upon a time, there was a man called Nicolaus Copernicus. He was an astronomer from Poland, and he was also a Dissenter. He published a book promoting a controversial theory about the earth revolving around the sun. At the time, everyone stood firmly behind the physics of Aristotle and believed the earth was the center of the universe, so they told Copernicus that his theory violated the science. If Copernicus had a Twitter or Facebook, he’d be branded a Misinformer and banned for spreading misinformation. You guys know who turned out to be right…, right? It’s not all the time, maybe not even half the time, that Dissenters prove correct, though it was the case with Copernicus. 

Unfortunately, scientific dissent is not being recognized on social media platforms. It’s being misclassified as misinformation and banished. Now, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I believe private companies have the right to remove whatever content they want, and I’d only worry about a First Amendment violation if the government starts policing content for those companies. (Oh wait.) Either way, people deserve to know that these companies aren’t good at distinguishing misinformation from scientific dissent, and the baby will most likely get tossed with the bathwater.  

In fairness, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between misinformation and scientific dissent, which, given the importance of dissent, is an argument for doing away with censorship entirely. Others feel that misinformation can harm or even “kill” people, and therefore Misinformers, and the misinformation they spew, should be banned from every social media platform. But how is misinformation identified? It’s usually the job of “independent” fact checkers, sometimes journalists with no scientific background or journalists who consult with blue-check-mark scientists on Twitter who have similar biases and affiliations. And usually if information deviates from the almighty narrative, often dictated by a regulatory body, government or large health organization, it’s marked as misinformation. Scientific Dissenters are not invited to the fact-checking party, and why would they be? That would complicate the process, often create more questions than answers and sabotage the business plans of companies turning profits by posting the names of Misinformers as a righteous duty for all of humanity. 

Another question is what to do with anecdotes. An anecdote is a person’s experience, so it’s hard to call that misinformation or dissent. Still, many anecdotes are purged from social media sites under the umbrella of misinformation. I don’t support deleting personal experiences, because I fear it could push someone over the edge, and since I don’t really know the person’s mental state or level of brainpower, I don’t want to be the one to tell that person to shut up and quit sharing. There isn’t a “test” to join a social media site, and not everyone has the same intellectual power or is a master of online discourse. Furthermore, the heart of the internet is the democratic sharing of information. No level of censorship can stop people from interacting. If sites ban them, they’ll create new digital places to exchange ideas. It’s no mystery why sites like BitChute, Telegram, Newtube and Odysee, not to mention private newsletter subscriptions, are growing. The war on misinformation is like fighting guerilla fighters who don’t care about holding terrain, can set up camp anywhere, and make it very difficult for the other side to declare victory.

Anecdotes may also be useful for the evolution of science and medical practice. For example, take some people’s experience with antidepressants and antidepressant withdrawal symptoms. Traditional medical wisdom was that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants lasted up to two weeks. Regular people took to Twitter, Facebook and online forums to dispute that. They shared their experience of coming off antidepressants and having withdrawal symptoms lasting for a significantly longer time. While often accused of “pill-shaming” or being “anti-psychiatry” or spreading “dangerous misinformation”, they persisted in sharing their stories. Their persistence is why, for example, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and Royal College of Psychiatrists changed their guidance regarding antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.  

No matter who gets classified as what, there are notable tactics and predictable responses on the battlefield of Misinformers, Dissenters and Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative. Those who misinform, knowingly or not, latch on to Dissenters like parasites, so as to bolster their position and gain credibility. The Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative love when this happens, because they use the Misinformers’ parasitic behavior to discredit the Dissenters. It’s the old guilt-by-association bit. 

A dirty but highly effective tactic of the Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative is to hit the Dissenters with reductive, stigmatizing labels. “Quack” is their favorite, and I’d argue excruciatingly overused. I recommend spicing it up a bit with alternatives like “Flimflammer” or William “Devil Bill” Rockefeller, not to be confused with the Rockefeller Center that just donated millions to fight misinformation, but the guy who was a famous Snake Oil Salesman. Other go-tos are “conspiracy theorist” or “anti-vaxxer” if you express an iota of concern about vaccines. Sometimes they disguise condescension as concern and ask questions like, “Is he/she okay?” or they treat Dissenters like radicals…, as if the Dissenter went from Gizmo to Stripe in a blink of an eye and can no longer be saved. Such pigeonholes can cost Dissenters their social media profiles, their reputations and even their jobs, and anyone considering dissention will observe this backlash and keep mum. Also, let me be clear about something: There are folks who could qualify as Quacks, but not everyone who gets called a Quack is a Quack. There are folks who could qualify as radicals, but not everyone who gets called a radical is a radical, and so on and so forth. The main thing the Dissenters should be wary of is to not become illogical or tribal due to the overwhelming bitterness and frustration that inevitably ensues. Meditation helps here, perhaps copious glasses of wine too.

What about the Confused-AF spectators? They simply observe the Cyber Charlie Foxtrot of Misinformers, Dissenters and Staunch Stakeholders of the Almighty Narrative and end up having no idea what or who to trust. Some might say their confusion is a reason to censor information, like forging a path through the forest for them so they don’t have to do it themselves. Others believe censorship will only fuel their distrust. For example, if you fear your significant other is cheating on you and want to know for sure, do you want to read all his/her text messages, or only the ones he/she shows you? 

In conclusion, what one considers the best path forward probably comes down to personal, philosophical and political beliefs, but I think we can all agree that scientific dissent has propelled science forward, not backwards. Scientific dissent is information, not misinformation. Right now we lack tech overlords and consistent, unbiased fact checkers who can successfully distinguish scientific dissent from misinformation, and that’s a problem. 

Responses

  1. Excellent article and bonus, I get to add “puissant” to my vocabulary.

    Ok, I’m not making an argument for misinformation, but when I hear the gov, YouTube, FB, etc. wants to urgently and with desperation in their tone, get tough on misinformation, my first thought is always: how do you jack-asses think this all happened in the first place? Admittedly, there is a subset of the population who couldn’t navigate the world without a deep-dive journey down at least one twisted rabbit hole per day, without maintaining at least some guardrails of grounding, and who have veered so far from consensus reality that they’re completely off the reservation. I am talking about the inaccessible, basically unintelligible end of the wide spectrum of beliefs and truths in search of Truth with a capital “t”.

    It could be argued that for this specific group, the fact-checkers were born. On some level, these peeps could really benefit from reconnecting with some straight up facts to soften the edges of their airtight construction of the “way things are”, which was built, piece by piece, with once free, inquisitive thinking, now solidified into an impervious fortress of captive certainty.

    The fact-checkers, unable to have even a modicum of the perception, courage, and curiosity to even consider questioning the insanity and injustice that these people have tried to figure out, are quite oppositely the enablers of or major contributors to all of it, without an ounce of authentic currency with which to ever reach those who have heroically peered too deeply into the abyss in wanting to solve our problem in their love of the whole.

    So, these fact-checkers can go screw themselves with their shallow, righteous ideas of themselves as the gatekeepers of reality, as they show the barest of abilities by mindlessly slapping an approved science article on someone’s post-violation in order to smack down some “crazy idea” that was formed out of an attempt to make some sense of this dystopian nightmare we need to continue to fight up against as an all day occupation.

    Meanwhile, brain dead, unethical, inauthentic human beings gaslight them (us) at every turn, when instead they really need to down some magic mushrooms, or Ayahausca, and get their minds blown in hopes that maybe they can have the mind-bending, ego-crushing realization that we are all one and that they’ve been being shallow, self-important douchebags. And to realize that maybe they need to stop harping on others who are just trying to survive this constant onslaught, and take a hard look in the mirror with a lot more humility and respect for all life on this planet. Enough dicks in space, thank you.

    1. But really. That sort of censorship in order to ‘protect’ the public from extreme views? Since when are they our parents who should decide what i formation is acceptable? Where is that line drawn anyway? Since when is it OK to violate the fundamental right of free speech on such a flimsy reason like “they may be exposed to things that are bad? “ Maybe they can put parental locks on our computers. (Oh. They have.)
      The very reason free speech exists as a democratic principal at all, is so that government actions, and overreach, have a constant scrutiny and check. Any government that attempts censorship is acting to suppress dissent. No government has the right to control the voices of the people. Without dissent, there is no democracy.

      1. Note that I feel our governments are in tandem with Big Tech and the internet censorship. Biden said he wants to ‘work with Big Tech to track and censor even personal text messages that “spread misinformation “. And of course , one must ask, who exactly is deciding what will qualify as ‘misinformation’. It is obvious that the ‘fact checkers’ have a prescribed narrative to protect. That one narrative. There’s nothing about what they’re doing that has anything to do with ‘facts’.

  2. When obvious cases of information suppression arise, always use the old adage, “follow the money.” As an example, when everybody was trying to disparage the use of Hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQs) and later Ivermectin, ask yourself why and what financial stakes were involved? If either drug were seriously considered for treatment of the Wuhan virus, the mRNA experimental drugs would never have been approved for emergency use authorization (EUA) per FDA standing guidelines. Fauci knew this and did everything in his power to discredit the use of any existing drugs to treat the virus. Given that he was a patent holder and held a significant financial stake in the outcome of the approval of the EUA, “follow the money” appears appropriate in this regard.

  3. Great article, thanks for putting our feelings on paper. There’s more at play than most people consider in my opinion. To better understand the force behind this sinister machine, I would suggest a glance over the leading voices in our so called New normal, the great reset by Klaus Schwab. It’s like a prophetic script of the world ‘they’ are creating for us. I’d like to hear what others think of it.

  4. @ErinKateStair “Right now we lack tech overlords and consistent, unbiased fact checkers who can successfully distinguish scientific dissent from misinformation, and that’s a problem.”

    I respectfully dissent. What we lack in the social media realm is full disclosure of the identity and credentials of anyone who posts online what purports or appears to be expert findings, conclusions, or opinions. Also, persons who post online should be required to cite their sources. Perform the “Gedanken” and imagine an internet where anonymity/pseudonymity no longer exists for those who purport expertise in a particular subject — and where citation to competent authority is required.

    Stifling — yes, to those who don’t know what they’re talking about or lack the ability to present a reasonable argument. But, for those who actually care about the accuracy of the information they injest, such requirements would be revelatory.

    With such provisions, fact-checkers would have an easy job. If a person is anonymous/pseudonymous, then they simply cannot post anything other than what is within their personal knowledge (witnessed/observed/perceived). For those who do identify themselves, they must cite the authority for their statements, or show their work, if they are the primary source.

    Is this unrealistic? In my opinion, it’s a great deal more realistic than trying to qualify fact-checkers who can determine whether a particular hypothesis or research study is bona fide, or if a contrary opinion is “scientific dissent” vis-a-vis “barstool” commentary or government/big-business sponsored censorship.

    Is this stifling of 1st Amendment free expression? No, because on a social media platform, unless someone is interacting with a government official who is using their account within the scope of their official duties, there is no 1st Amendment protection. Private businesses are not subject to the 1st Amendment (or, any of the other Amendments, 1-14, except the 13th, which prohibits slavery, involuntary servitudes, debtors prisons, etc.).

    For the foregoing reasons (and for many others that would require hours of legal briefing) I respectfully dissent.

    1. I agree with @Ken.Kaplan.Esq about online anonymity. In practice, the challenge is that most workplaces will not tolerate outspoken employees or, in some cases, even mildly opinionated ones.

        1. @erinkatestair Personal experiences are admissible evidence. Claiming personal experiences as general proof is not.

          Re anonymity and online disinhibition, a margarita is also quite effective.

          But, if you’re claiming knowledge of quantum mechanics, then I want to know who you are, before I consider your comments. 😎

  5. This is a brilliant article. I loved the “confused A-F spectators.” This is both hilarious and apropos. The author makes some excellent points – the attack on those who question the narrative and smearing of many good doctors and scientists, has only made me less trusting of the narrative. At this point, I honestly feel that I have lost complete trust in the government of my country, the medical establishment and certainly the MSM. The continuing push of the vaccines has become nauseating and suspicious. Whatever the endgame is, the constant propaganda 24-7 tells me there is a lot at stake.

  6. Great insight!
    I might add, truth resonates with spectators who keep their ears open.
    As an average spectator, I can offer personal feedback. Although to some it may appear as confusion, my ears are open believe it or not.
    -Vaxxes were rushed.
    -Spiked proteins are not always staying resident.
    -Long term Adverse effects are unknown.
    -Phase 3 of testing still has 2 years to go.
    -Scientific dissent is censored.
    -The Delta Variant is worse, but no one can agree who it is worse for; vax vs nat.
    -Proven Reappropriated prophylactics aren’t profitable, therefore ignored, if not long disqualified.
    -Fauci is trusted to combat what he funded.
    -I can save 15% by switching to Geico.
    My list could go on. With my age group’s 99.97% survival rate, I will wait to get the jab until all data is complete (including all known risks) or the vaxx can be derived from a dead pathogen.
    Thank you for the article. Greater powers are at play. Censorship and dissent are IMO, just the skin of the Apple. 🍻

  7. This truly excellent analysis would be far stronger without the editorializing: the use of Almighty Narrative, Staunch Supporters, and all the other capitalized words. A clear distinction between dissent and misinformation is valuable, even without the zingers.

    Two other comments: I have no idea what AF refers to. (I’m not a social media user.) And I don’t believe that fact checking is even possible in a contest of ideas that isn’t about the science. There’s plenty of evidence that the public has been repeatedly lied to by the designated authorities. Determining truth would interfere with their agenda.

    1. I may be of some assistance; AF likely stands for ‘As F*ck’, commonly used in social media / text messages to emphasize an adjective or noun.

    2. Hi David,
      Consider Erin’s role as a public health communicator. If the goal is for the general public to read and appreciate articles, then use of colloquialisms and even a little snark is a virtue, not a liability. Damn kids these days… 😉

  8. The big unanswered, combined question of…
    What effect did ivermectin distribution for COVID-19 in India have/what effect did ivermectin distribution for other than COVID-19 reasons have on Sub-Saharan Africa, because both  are related to the antibody study article posted yesterday and both are related to the article about “unvaccinated spreading the variant” yesterday.
    We were told that the Delta variant came from India, and we know that Sub-Saharan Africa had a lot of countries low on the list in Worldometers/Coronavirus, so I am asking the question,
    Why cover up the studies and effects of ivermectin — FDA, NIH, CDC, WHO, BBC, all the fact-checkers, all the misinformation-disinformation censors and American mass media/Biden Administration?

    We have an underground base of millions of dissenters in America because science is about dissent. The meaning of life is also in question. Some research into motive is required, because there is great dissent in the evolution theory…about what motives ARE. Is the theory of sex drive and desire to perpetuate DNA now obsolete along with flat earth?
    Let humans continue to discuss both. The conspiracy to silence others is not a theory, people have this motive and they work together at it to “evolve” without the people they despise in the picture. Maybe Nature doesn’t want humans to push the boundaries, resisting the futile efforts of pride.
    “Many are called, but few are chosen”…ponder that, when you mold the future, scientists.
    The One who calls may have the harmony of the universe in mind, and you who think you are chosen to lead may in truth be rebels instead, leading many astray.
    What will the consequences be for rebellion?

  9. This is one of the most excellent articles on scientific dissent I’ve read. So clear. Let’s share it far and wide those of us who believe in medical freedom.

  10. Thanks for this well-written, well-reasoned, and witty discussion. The suppression of scientific dissent is indeed alarming. It is a tactic which – when employed by governments – we have often seen in totalitarian systems. I never expected to see it in our countries (I’m in Canada). Besides the frightening precedent from a freedom of speech angle, it bodes very ill for scientific progress and medical innovation in particular. There is a reason our civil liberty activists and courts generally discourage censorship. It is all too easily used to silence not just opinions but facts we simply don’t like. We’re all tempted to do that, but we need to resist, because inevitably the result will be to our detriment in the long run. Apart from child exploitation, hate speech, and incitement to violence, we need to get over our discomfort with messy debates and engage thoughtfully with the substantive arguments, preferably without ad hominem attacks and insults.

    1. Excellent points – I am in Canada too. Never would I have believed I’d see the day where I am now afraid of my government and their intentions. I worked in mental health for many years and have a psychology degree – if I sat down with my former psychiatric boss, and told her what I was thinking, she’d be recommending a strong course of anti-psychotics.

  11. Excellent article, Erin! Thank you for bringing up some important ideas about scientific dissent and sharing of ideas, as well as the ugly power-trip of censorship!

  12. Actually, we know the “motivation“. It is a tyrannical Marxist government, conspiring with Big Tech and Big Pharma, to aggressively hunt down, censor, and “cancel“ essential Constitutionally protected free speech. Also tragic, the actual “misinformation“ is primarily from government, “health“ institutions, and nefarious private companies, effectively injuring and killing millions of people for the sake of tyrannical political control over citizens’ lives and, extortion of massive wealth, while terrorizing people into silence.

    The idea of wished-for “tech overlords“, or allegedly correct “unbiased fact checkers” is itself inimical to unfettered free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. ALL speech, whether claimed to be “information” or “disinformation” is equally protected. Any censorship or government approvededitorial “labeling” deprives the citizenry of our absolute right to freedom of speech.

    1. Excellent response, ha6ai!
      While I may not feel as strongly as you do about your information in the 1st paragraph (and I DO agree with most of it), it’s your 2nd paragraph that really hits the nail on the head! Hopefully, everyone will put their feelings under control long enough to take advantage of the info on either side of an issue AND DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES which information they want to believe. It’s called free will and freedom.

    2. You sound like me.
      The freedom to ask anything is sacred. God does not even censor you for that desire in your heart to ask questions. Why do humans supress other humans’ questions? Because they fancy themselves in brilliance therefore despise being exposed for the darkness inside them, however small. A little dark secret will motivate a human to be brilliant.