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The Great Censorship Boomerang

Suppressing negative information about a product doesn’t build trust—and much of the distrust surrounding the COVID vaccine can be traced directly back to pro-vaccine misinformation

The Great Censorship Boomerang

The Great Censorship Boomerang

 By Adam Mill

Juniper loves Milk Bone dog biscuits. Yet if you push one into her mouth, she will immediately spit it out until she has the opportunity to inspect the item being forced upon her. Understandably, Juniper assumes that I would not force feed her unless there was something wrong with the item. 

This simple exchange with my dog reminds me of a little-noticed statistic now published by the CDC: 60 percent of Americans eligible for the booster have yet to obtain the third jab. In spite of the fact that all American adults are now eligible, 6 in 10 Americans who voluntarily took the vaccine now hesitate before accepting a third shot. While Americans initially rushed to obtain the booster at the rate of 1 million per day, that number has begun to drop sharply. 

For many Americans, the booster promoters have, ironically, stoked skepticism through their heavy-handed mandates, shaming, and censorship. The outrage and propaganda directed at anything that might cast doubt on the vaccine or other pandemic mitigation measures has had exactly the opposite effect that the scolds intended. 

To illustrate, imagine you had to buy the vaccine online only to find out that the vaccine producers censor all of the one and two star reviews. We all read the negative reviews to reassure ourselves before making a purchase. No product is perfect, but we gain more confidence in the good reviews after reading the bad reviews. But when platforms censor reviews, we assume those concerns must worry the people most knowledgeable about the product.

The kerfuffle over Joe Rogan provides an instructive example. A group of doctors published an open letter to Spotify to call for the deplatforming of the most successful podcast in the world. The doctors were careful to accuse Rogan of spreading “misinformation,” an Orwealian term that doesn’t exactly mean “untrue,” or “lying.” The censorship urged by these doctors isn’t limited to combatting incorrect statements by Rogan, but a total destruction of his ability to say anything (true or not) in the future. 

What exactly has Rogan said that justifies this censorship? Rogan, according to the letter, “repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine.” That sounds more like a defense of faith to justify punishing heretics. 

So what exactly are these misleading and false claims? For the most part, the letter failed to identify specific claims Rogan made about COVID and/or the vaccines that the doctors considered false. Instead of taking issue with specific factual claims, the pro-censorship doctors want to destroy Rogan because his podcasts “damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals.”

But the letter did provide a few examples of Rogan’s “misinformation.” Rogan opposed vaccination of children. That’s a policy choice, not a scientific conclusion. There are legitimate concerns over whether the vaccines pose a greater health risk to children than the virus. The World Health Organization effectively confirmed this, writing, “Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, the priority should be to fully vaccinate older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers.” 

One of Rogan’s guests promoted ivermectin as a treatment for COVID and Rogan himself noted that he used the drug among a litany of therapeutics when he got sick last year. A recent study published in Cureus concluded, “In a citywide ivermectin program with prophylactic, optional ivermectin use for COVID-19, ivermectin was associated with significantly reduced COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death rates from COVID-19.” One can argue whether Cureus is a reliable source of information. But the study purported to use 223,128 subjects using propensity score matching. Rebuttal, not censorship, is the proper response to this kind of data and research.

Rogan has also questioned whether the vaccines work as initially advertised. He has observed that people who have had the vaccine and booster are getting sick anyway. That’s undeniably true based on the data, which verifies my personal observation of people I know who took the vaccines, wore the masks, and caught COVID anyway. At the time most Americans first took the vaccines, the public was being told that the vaccines were 94 percent effective in stopping transmission of the virus. One source claimed the Moderna vaccine was 100 percent effective. That message has changed radically, making some wonder whether they took the vaccine under false information.

There’s a growing sense that the backlash has begun to pick up steam. Canadian truckers rebelling against vaccine mandates have staged an historic demonstration convoy to Ottawa. The convoy attracted so many protesting truck drivers that it stretched to nearly 45 miles. Court victories in the United States have further emboldened vaccine skeptics to delay or resist taking the next shot.

So much of the distrust of the vaccine can be traced directly back to the pro-vaccine . . . well, misinformation

Only recently, two Supreme Court justices exhibited how misinformed the public has become on COVID. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in—in serious condition and many on ventilators.” The liberal factcheck.org was forced to admit that there were at the time only 4,700 hospitalized children who were COVID positive. But even that small sample was not necessarily in the hospital because of COVID. 

Justice Stephen Breyer said that there were “750 million new cases”—that is, more than double the entire U.S. population—in one day. The real number was closer to 750,000. Thus, the outrage over COVID misinformation has an undeniable bias. Only misinformation that increases skepticism over mandates is objectionable. Anything that stokes fear—regardless of its truthfulness—is left undisturbed to misinform the public. 

There are adverse side effects from the vaccines. All vaccines have side effects, but not to the same degree. Thus, every vaccine requires a cost-benefit analysis for the consumer. But, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, public inquiry and debate over this cost-benefit analysis has been stymied by the politicized information policies of social media. Again, censoring negative information about a product doesn’t build trust.

The good news is that the Omicron variant may be ending the pandemic. It spreads incredibly quickly in spite of all of the anti-COVID measures pushed by conventional wisdom. The experience of South Africa may provide some clues about what to expect next. After its initial experience with a rapid spread of Omicron in December, active cases have plummeted. As the new cases in the United States begin to drop, there’s every reason to hope that the public emergency will recede as natural immunity continues to climb.

The political fallout in the aftermath of the pandemic is difficult to predict. For many Americans who suffered under the lockdowns, mandates, and masks, the pandemic will end with them getting the virus anyway. Some will undoubtedly ask whether two years of sacrifices helped anything. While the Biden Administration declares victory, it will undoubtedly be haunted by old footage of candidate Biden blaming every death during the Trump Administration on the man in the White House. With the Biden-era devastation exceeding the Trump-era numbers, a Biden victory lap may not inspire gratitude.

 

Republished with permission by American Greatness.

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