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An end to medical progress

Mark Johnson writes about ‘Health misinformation’: the latest addition to the Online Safety Bill

… we have seen Big Tech increasingly taking on the role of online speech police in recent years. During the coronavirus era, this reached new extremes. At the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook took the step of removing content which promoted face masks as a tool to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Yet within a short space of time, the medical consensus on masks changed. But rather than acknowledge that it was wrong, Facebook flipped its position and censored in the other direction. A high-profile example saw Facebook label, discredit and suppress an article in The Spectator, written by the Oxford academic Carl Heneghan, disputing the efficacy of masks. What grounds or competency Silicon Valley’s fact-checkers had to overrule reasoned arguments by a Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine remains to be seen.

This approach is a direct threat to the epistemic process, so central to the free and open development of knowledge and ideas in liberal democracies. The fact that not even academics can escape this kind of truth arbitration speaks volumes.

Censorship is indeed a threat to the epistemic process, and one that is not limited to the UK. The threat is particularly dire in the field of medicine, where progress depends on a flow of information about the symptoms of illnesses and the efficacy of treatments coming in from patients and doctors.

Related: Facebook’s hired “fact checkers” versus the British Medical Journal.

17 comments to An end to medical progress

  • It is no accident that the industrial revolution took off in the most free-speech-oriented society of its time. Science depends on falsifiability, and the ability to falsify is social as well as scientific. You don’t just need a theory that makes predictions, a testable hypothesis, a measuring apparatus and all that stuff that says ‘laboratory – science done here’ to the ordinary observer. You also need the culture that says it is not racist to have a null hypothesis, it is not denialism to try and falsify the narrative of the politicians who voted your funding, it is not bigotry to risk reaching an unwoke conclusion.

    Without that, it’s not science, it’s just prejudice. Socialism started the trend for political movements giving themselves the cachet of being scientific. IIRC, it was the Czechs in 1968 who said

    “if socialism were really scientific, they’d have tested it on dogs first”

    but even this quip mistakes the paraphernalia of science for its essence. If socialism had ever been scientific, it would have been designed to allow its own falsification. If socialism had ever been scientific, it would have had a first amendment.

    But as we all know, that is not the case. What cured a young Thomas Sowell of socialism, and sourced him on lefty activism generally, was witnessing how hostile its supporters routinely were to even the mere suggestion of checking how their theories performed in practice.

  • Mr Ed

    The first exhibit in the case against ‘health misinformation’ is captured in the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology, awarded to Barry J Marshall and Robin Warren, who destroyed the prevalent medical hypothesis relating to stomach ulcers being caused by stress and curries etc. (see Marshall’s wiki page linked above at his name) and Marshall famously dosed himself with Helicobacter pylori to test his hypothesis.

    Niall, that quote about dogs and socialism comes from the English version of Viktor Suvorov’s book The Liberators, an excellent bio of a Soviet Army officer culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where the Soviet tanks had white stripes to mark them out (but some units ran out of paint, almost leading to red on red incidents).

  • Paul Marks

    The “medical disinformation” over the last two years has mostly come from official sources (“there is no effective Early Treatment for Covid 19”, “lockdowns work”, and so on) – the sort of people who will now have even more power.

    Nadine Dorries may sincerely believe that the On Line Safety Bill is not about increasing censorship, but the lady has been badly misinformed by officials. Again this is where most “disinformation” comes from – officials and official “experts”, on health, and everything else.

  • The Pedant-General

    “it would have been designed to allow its own falsification”

    ^ This.

    Error correction. It’s all about error correction. This is almost the entirety of the reason I voted “Leave” in 2016.

  • JohnK


    Does Nadine Dorries strike you as someone who thinks much about anything?

  • Patrick

    Free speech is necessary for material or scientific progress and truth. But if your objective is neither of those things but control then free speech is anathema. Welcome to the loony left.

  • Paul Marks

    JohnK – oddly enough YES.

    Nadine Dorries gave a better account of herself when being interviewed than many people do – but that does not mean the lady is correct, I think the lady is wrong (mislead by officials).

  • Alan Peakall

    It’s human nature to refuse to accept the falsification of socialism, but Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above.

  • Duncan S

    Mr Ed, re Helicobacter pylori

    In the late 90s I had a stomach ulcer following years of stomach issues (acid, bloating, reflux, etc). The medics at Wexham Park hospital in Slough prescribed medication to counter helicobacter pylori and my ulcer cleared up and I have had no recurring stomach issues.

    In 2001, I encountered a BUPA consultant who, when I mentioned my stomach ulcer and helicobacter pylori infection treatment, pooh-poohed the notion that stomach ulcers were caused by a bacteria!! He was a bit old-school, pin-striped.

  • The government doesn’t need to worry, the bork of feces is already banning “medical misinformation” see this tweet of mine

  • Mr Ed

    Duncan S,

    That’s a fascinating exemplum, the paper on Helicobacter was published in 1985, so the proposition was out there for over a decade by the time of your experience. The dismissive Consultant perhaps reminds us that medicine is not science, and medics are not scientists. (Not that I am saying that science is not used in medicine, just that there are cultures to deal with and the culture of medicine is not that of the ‘old school science’, the ‘new school’ science being, oversimplified ‘Will the State fund me?’). The 2005 Nobel Prize must have put the situation beyond reasonable argument in favour of extending germ theory into the stomach, a mere 120 years after Koch’s postulates. That everything should be challenged and should welcome challenge ought not to be a matter in the scope of debate.

  • Snorri Godhi

    AFAIK the germ theory of gastric ulcers was not censored: it was simply ignored, because the research papers advocating it were swamped by the much larger literature advocating the stress/acidic food theory.

    It would be much worse today.

    See also Ignaz Semmelweis.

  • Stonyground

    “It’s human nature to refuse to accept the falsification of socialism…”

    I’m still mystified as to why it is. Why are some people hard wired to have faith in an idea that has such a consistent record of failure?

  • JohnK


    Socialism retains its appeal because it appears to offer most people something for nothing. The rich get to pay. Damn the rich!

    Trouble is, the rich very quickly disappear under socialism. Who gets to pay for it all then?

  • Alan Peakall

    Evolutionary psychologists posit that success of a communal sharing model at a tribal scale depends on mental mechanisms that simply fail to scale to mass society. The instinctive hunger for the comfort of tribal solidarity blinds people to such failure. Conspiracy theorising in mass society might be another example: our instinct for the danger posed to us by conspiracies may be calibrated for tribal society, but, as the chances of success for a comspiracy diminish combinatorially with the number of its participants, organized conspiracies (as opposed to uncoordinated, emergent behvaior patterns) are less of a thread to us in mass society than our tribal instincts lead us to believe.

  • “It’s human nature to refuse to accept the falsification of socialism…”

    I’m still mystified as to why it is. (Stonyground, June 16, 2022 at 6:21 am)

    Socialism is to science as cargo cults are to a modern western economy – aping the outward trappings but lacking the inward essence. The simple idea of socialism having been introduced to the young and/or ill-informed mind, it becomes a thing to unlearn, and, as every conman knows, the mark’s vanity is the conman’s ally.

    “We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.” (F. A. Hayek)

    Some people would rather not learn that.

    BTW, for anyone unfamiliar with cargo cults:

    The indigenous societies of Melanesia were typically characterized by a “big man” political system in which individuals gained prestige through gift exchanges. The more wealth a man could distribute, the more people who were in his debt, and the greater his renown. These who were unable to reciprocate were identified as “rubbish men”. Faced, through colonialism, with foreigners with a seemingly unending supply of goods for exchange, indigenous Melanesians experienced “value dominance”. That is, they were dominated by others in terms of their own (not the foreign) value system; exchange with foreigners left them feeling like rubbish men.

    Since the modern manufacturing process is unknown to them, members, leaders, and prophets of the cults maintain that the manufactured goods of the non-native culture have been created by spiritual means, such as through their deities and ancestors. These goods are intended for the local indigenous people, but the foreigners have unfairly gained control of these objects through malice or mistake. … examples of cargo cult activity include the setting up of mock airstrips, airports, airplanes, offices, and dining rooms, … and attempted construction of Western goods, such as radios made of coconuts and straw. Believers may stage “drills” and “marches” with sticks for rifles and use military-style insignia and national insignia painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers, thereby treating the activities of Western military personnel as rituals to be performed for the purpose of attracting the cargo.

    You will not be surprised to learn that, in recent times,

    anthropology has distanced itself from the term “cargo cult,” which is now seen as having been reductively applied to a lot of complicated and disparate social and religious movements that arose from the stress and trauma of colonialism, and sought to attain much more varied and amorphous goals—things like self-determination …

    In universities that worship wokeness

    scholars … focus on Europeans’ characterization of these movements as a fascination with manufactured goods and what such a focus says about Western commodity fetishism.

    (So in its way, the modern woke university does indeed teach the west not to think the practitioners of the old cargo cults foolish, relative to themselves. 🙂 )

  • Stonyground

    There is the tendency for people who lack any marketable skills to blame nasty capitalist exploitation for their low wages. Also a tendency for some to blame anyone but themselves for their crappy life.

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