My Jewish father was an old country lawyer who believed deeply in fairness and justice for all living people, so I was curious what he thought about the Nazis. It was spring of 1977, and the American Nazi Party had announced their intention to hold a July 4th rally in the town of Skokie, a predominantly Jewish community in Illinois. Not surprisingly, the town of Skokie had sought an injunction to ban the rally, and the Nazis had, ironically, sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to ght the injunction.
The subject at the family dinner table was this: Should the American Civil Liberties Union protect the free-speech rights of Nazis? Remember, were of Jewish heritage, so its hard to look at the philosophical issues involved objectively because theres so much emotion attached to the subject matter. Nonetheless, Ill never forget my fathers response: They have to defend them, he said of the ACLUs decision to ght the ban on behalf of the Nazi Party. Free speech isnt just for people you agree with. It isnt. Free speech is about vigorously defending the rights of people with whom you disagree. Censorship almost always creates more damage than whatevers being censored wouldve caused, my father told me. We Have a Way Bigger Problem Than Disinformation Analysis by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. Right now, the country is bitterly and tragically divided over the challenges associated with COVID. I want to suggest that were facing a bigger challenge equally terrifying, but one on which we can and should be united: the quietly emerging challenges to our free speech.
Theres a below-the-radar increase in censorship and de-platforming taking place right now, and its making disturbing inroads into our First Amendment rights. Exhibit A: Last month, Dr. Joseph Mercola one of the most inuential voices in integrative medicine and the owner of the number one natural health website in the world felt he had no choice but to remove over 20 years of content from his website, content that I and many other people have found immensely valuable over the past two decades. Among other things, Dr. Mercola was known for exposing his readers to brilliant but renegade thinkers like Kilmer McCully, M.D., the professor who was basically de- platformed out of his lab at Harvard for advocating the view that homocysteine was as serious a risk factor for coronary heart disease as cholesterol, a piece of disinformation that did not sit well with the establishment. Postscript: Dr. McCully was welcomed back to Harvard after about two decades of subsequent research essentially proved he was right all along. But I digress. Dr. Mercola explained why hes taking down the content on his site in a disturbing video on YouTube, the crux of which is that he could no longer endure the backlash (some might say persecution) he was enduring for publishing information that questioned conventional narratives on nutrition and health information that has been come to be branded disinformation. By backlash, Im talking threats on his life. He believes this is probably due to a New York Times hatchet piece and I dont use that term lightly that labeled him number one on its list of top disseminators of disinformation on health-related issues. If youd like an example of the dangerous misinformation that brought death threats to members of the Mercola organization, take a look at one of the FDAs warning letters to Dr. Mercola, which states that he is illegally selling products specically vitamin C, 1 2 vitamin D and quercetin intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID- 19. Never mind a recent published paper entitled Vitamin D Insuciency May Account for Almost Nine of Ten COVID-19 Deaths: Time to Act or that, according to Medscape, vitamin D deciency quadruples the death rate from COVID. Apparently, the FDA and the NY Times have decided that Joe Mercola is guilty of whats turning out to be the dening sin of the 21st century: Disinformation. I wonder if that word scares you as much as it does me. See, I was a kid during the cold war, and one of the things we used to read about was how the Soviet Union would send dissidents to re-education camps.
They had to be re-educated because they were lled with all sorts of subversive ideas (like communism was terrible) and had to be set straight and rehabilitated before they could be allowed to re-enter society. Re-education? Disinformation? It sounds like North Korea to me.
The entire concept should be chilling to any American, and I dont care where you stand on vaccination or on anything else! Look, I know there are exceptions to the free speech rule my father always used to say that free speech doesnt include the right to yell Fire! in a crowded theatre but were not talking about those one-off cases. Were talking about something much, much more insidious. Who Decides Whats Disinformation? The minute you accept the notion of disinformation you automatically buy into the notion that theres one truth. (In fact, if you google opposite of disinformation, the rst word that appears is truth, followed by facts). Now, you might say, Whats wrong with that? But the problem is, facts dont speak for themselves. Facts are impartial, and always have to be interpreted. Otherwise, theyre 3 4 5 just numbers without context they have to be woven into a narrative. And as we all know, its possible for intelligent people, acting in good faith, to look at the exact same facts and come up with very different narratives. As the Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., has taught us, we rarely if ever make decisions based on facts and data. Our decisions, conclusions and interpretations are subject to cognitive distortions such as conrmation bias, hindsight bias, and availability bias. Its been well-documented that people see what they expect to see if you doubt it, look at the results of the classic invisible gorilla experiment, which you can actually watch on YouTube.
The fact that there are multiple readings of the same data, multiple perspectives and interpretations of facts may be confusing, but is ultimately a good thing. And guess what? I want to be able to hear all those interpretations. And so should you. Be suspicious and frightened when the powers that be dont want you to hear them. When you buy into the notion that there is one clear-cut truth in science, health, and medicine, without nuance, shading, or consideration of alternate perspectives you have to answer a very uncomfortable question: Who decides what the truth is going to be? And for how long its going to be true? Id like anyone reading this who is familiar with the history of science and has read The Structure of Scientic Revolutions to tell me that they think that what we now think is absolutely true about the Coronavirus or any other health issue, for that matter is likely to remain absolutely true 100 years from now. Few things in health and medicine pass that test. Remember, as recently as 50 years ago, we thought it was absolutely true that low-fat diets prevented obesity and heart disease. To say otherwise was to be spreading disinformation. You remember how well that worked out. Cholesterol Disinformation? 6 7 8 I know this all to be true from personal experience. For the past decade or so, Ive been making the case that cholesterol does not cause heart disease, that too many people are on statin drugs unnecessarily, that saturated fat does not clog arteries, and that our myopic focus on an outdated HDL-LDL lab test is causing us to take our eye off the ball when it comes to doing what we can actually do to prevent heart disease. When cardiologist Steven Sinatra, M.D., and I originally appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, a committee of doctors wrote in saying we should be banned from television. (Cancel culture hadnt come into vogue yet, but thats what they were asking for!) I appeared with a dozen smart, credentialed people, including professors from places like Harvard Medical School in a documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company and hosted by a television journalist with a Ph.D. from Columbia Journalism School that reasonably questioned the conventional wisdom of cholesterol and statin drugs.
There was a coordinated campaign in Australia to remove the video from YouTube a campaign that was briey successful. A PR rm planted headlines in the local papers saying essentially that 31,000 people would die if they followed the disinformation in the documentary. We were essentially cancelled and de-platformed. And when Dr. Timothy Noakes one of the most respected medical researchers and professors in South Africa began to question the high-carb diet and recommended high-fat for his patients, the powers that be attempted to take his license and deplatform him for going against standard medical practice and giving advice that was unscientic. This resulted in a four-year trial, thousands of pages of scientic articles entered as evidence, and two international witnesses being own in, all of which led to the total vindication of Dr. Noakes and the restoration of his license. Turns out Dr. Noakes was right all along and wed never have known it if he had been silenced. It doesnt matter if you agree with me about cholesterol, or if you agree with the people who disagree with me, or if you agree with Dr. Noakes about the benets of high-fat diets, or with Dr. Mercola about the benets of vitamin D3, and it doesnt matter where 9 10 you stand on vaccinations.
The cost of silencing dissident voices is simply greater than whatever damage could be done by people spouting ideas that the establishment does not agree with. If you dont object vehemently to the censorship of ideas expressed in writing, speaking, and video, you are essentially agreeing to the idea of a Truth Police, because somebodys got to make the decision on what constitutes disinformation. Who shall that be? The people who work at YouTube and Facebook? The government? The American Heart Association? The Scientologists? The Anti-Scientologists? The Vegans? The Carnivores? Democrats? Republicans? I vote for none of the above! The only way to not have to solve the awful Rubik Cube problem of who shall be the Truth Police is this: Eliminate the position. We dont need truth police. We need to be able to hear all lawful points of view on any subject and we need to start reading up on things and trusting ourselves to make our own judgements. And, as long as Im dreaming, wouldnt it be nice for us to all make our judgements and arrive at our opinions without being so attached to our tribes version of the truth? Wouldnt it be nice if we could hold our positions on health matters in a space that allowed us to modify our positions when new data and interpretations present themselves? OK, I know thats a fantasy, but its how science actually works. Science is the practice of questioning things, constantly offering alternative hypotheses to accepted wisdom, and then testing those new hypotheses. If you dont hold conventional wisdom up to examination, then youre not doing science, youre doing propaganda. Questioning is how we grow our knowledge base in the rst place. You cant do that if you silence the questioners. Disinformation? Bring it on! I want to hear all points of view. Ill disregard the ones I think are crazy, but I want the opportunity to decide for myself what makes sense and what doesnt, and I want you to have that same opportunity. No matter where we stand on other matters, I hope we can stand together for open borders in the marketplace of health information. Sources and References The New York Times, The Fall and Rise Of Kilmer McCully, August 10, 1997 Youtube, Dr. Mercola - Why I Am Deleting All Content After 48 Hours, August 4, 2021 FDA, Warning Letter Mercola.com, LLC - MARCS-CMS 607133, February 18, 2021 Nutrients, 2020 Nov 27;12(12):3642. doi: 10.3390/nu12123642 Medscape, Vitamin D Deciency in COVID-19 Quadrupled Death Rate, December 11, 2020 The Cut, Kahneman: Your Cognitive Biases Act Like Optical Illusions, January 13, 2017 Youtube, Selective attention test, March 10, 2010 Shortform, The Structure Of Scientic Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn Youtube, Heart of the Matter Part 2 - Cholesterol Drug War, November 5, 2013 Diet Doctor, Professor Noakes on trial, July 30, 2017 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .
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