Adam Creighton The Australian February 7, 2022
For decades public health experts recommended a low fat rather than a low sugar diet, contributing to the deaths of millions of people and the obesity epidemic we live with today, the costs of which dwarf the damage Covid-19 has caused. “If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive,” British scientist John Yudkin wrote in 1972, “that material would promptly be banned.” He was excoriated, his career ruined, yet he was proved right. No informed person believes the so-called food pyramid any more, which had bread and pasta on the bottom, and fat and oils at the top. Censoring educated dissent is destructive, insulting and ignorant of the history of health officials. Demands to boycott American podcaster Joe Rogan for interviewing scientists who criticised aspects of Covid-19 vaccines, spearheaded by ageing rockers, reflects a depressing reality: the growing popularity of censorship among elites who once championed free speech. Accusations of misinformation have proliferated during the pandemic. US President Joe Biden himself has urged social media giants to do more to stamp out so-called Covid misinformation. Yet much of it emanates from experts themselves. Public health pooh-bahs have an egregious history of trying to ruin critics who turned out to be right. Nineteenth-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered how hand washing could slash disease transmission, died in obscurity in the 1860s, mocked by experts. The popularity of Joe Rogan’s podcast shows who is driving the cultural conversation in the United States and across the world, says Washington Examiner White House correspondent Christian Datoc. In 1987, Oprah Winfrey told her massive audience “one in five heterosexuals could be dead of AIDS in the next three years”, relying on fearmongering public health experts who were hopelessly wrong even by the standards of science back then. If attempts succeed in forcing Spotify – and, by implication, any other social media platform – to censor Rogan’s podcast, the world’s most popular, the diversity of information available will shrivel further. Rogan made a huge mistake in apologising, whetting the appetite of the enemies of free speech. By sheer coincidence, of course, a mashed-together clip of Rogan using racist language (the N-word), without context, went viral on social media. The crude episodes had sat on the internet for 12 years, seemingly without causing offence to his 11 million-plus audience or anyone else. The clip wasn’t meant to fight racism but, rather, intended as a warning to anyone in the public sphere: step out of line enough and something in your past will be found to destroy you. That’s not a pleasant society in which to live. The two doctors Rogan interviewed argued compulsory vaccination for young, healthy men didn’t make sense because of the risks for that group. They argued – as one of Australia’s most eminent immunologists, Robert Clancy, has repeatedly – that generic drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin had been wrongly black-listed in treating Covid-19. Unless you consume only left-wing media, which studiously parrots the pooh-bahs’ view, these are not extreme, let alone crazy or dangerous, positions. Respected scientists disagree with each other on these and other issues. The idea of “the science” is nonsense at the best of times, but it can be especially hard to know what’s right when powerful vested interests, such as Big Sugar or Big Pharma, hold so much sway over decision-makers. It should be OK to have, and to air, a different view from public health officials, especially eminent scientists with long track records of publication, right or wrong. “More spectacle than substance:” Spotify’s new COVID-19 policy U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan’s apology was “a non-apology,” according to Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist who co-authored a letter signed by 270 scientists and health providers calling for Spotify to implement a misinformation policy. The pandemic has illustrated starkly how wrong public health experts can be. There’s a good reason no one yet has put their name to a book on the success of the world’s pandemic response. School closures, cloth masks and lockdowns were meant to slow the spread in a meaningful way – “three weeks to flatten the curve”, Boris Johnson said almost two years ago. Obviously, they didn’t. Remember Biden’s 100-day masking challenge to beat Covid? Washington DC is almost up to 450 days of compulsory masking amid one of its biggest outbreaks. Anyone who argued natural immunity might play a role in reaching herd immunity, or vaccines wouldn’t stop transmission, was dismissed as a purveyor of dangerous misinformation. Robert Redfield, the previous head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said masks were as effective as vaccines. Successor Rochelle Walensky worried last March about a summer of “impending doom” before the opposite happened. Claims individuals would be forced to get boosters were dismissed as a conspiracy theory, as was the idea the virus emerged in a lab in Wuhan. The holy grail of Covid experts – zero Covid – has rightly become a joke. Yet proponents of all these discredited arguments, ensconced safely in numbers in coward’s castles, hurled accusations of dangerous misinformation at those who turned out, for whatever reasons, to be right. Allowing criticism of government safety diktats is all the more important given decisions have massive inertia. In Virginia, school boards are fighting the new Governor to keep children masked, even after the most authoritarian health experts have conceded they are little more than “facial decorations”. Without dissent there can be no scientific progress. Thanks to social media and its growing alliance with government, the temptation and the ability to snuff out dissent and wreck careers has never been greater. Agitators for Rogan’s removal from Spotify should be careful what they wish for. Stupid arguments will be found out soon enough. Hurt feelings or, heaven forbid, even some misinformation, are prices worth paying for a free society.
1/ US podcaster Joe Rogan.