This morning I came across an article reporting Facebook’s sudden about face on the matter of whether Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan. The established narrative was that this debunked, a wild conspiracy theory, and thus the social media giant took it upon themselves to protect us from this misinformation.
Had you posted some speculation about the possible man-made origin of the pandemic prior to this it is likely it would be demoted by Facebook’s algorithms or removed entirely from the platform. This, like questions about the election results or the Biden laptop scandal, deemed to be fake news by Big Tech monopolies, present a prime examples of why I oppose all censorship.
Their supposedly independent fact-checkers, who somehow never found the time to flag some false claims (including the Russian collusion narrative, that ‘kids in cages’ started with the last administration, and the myth that Trump praised white supremacists), somehow instantly debunked the New York Post’s big scoop in the weeks prior to the election.
Of course, the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, did issue an apology for this “total mistake” and yet long after it could impact the election.
All this to say that, no matter your politics or perspectives, these Silicon Valley elites did a rather poor job of playing impartial arbiters of truth and really can’t be trusted to police the national conversation. Sure, maybe it was an honest effort, confirmation bias can make a fool of the best of us, they were relying on the experts, yada yada, but clearly they can be wrong and can be wrong again.
Wisdom of the Crowds
A few months back I had planned to write a blog on an interesting phenomenon called wisdom of the crowds.
In an experiment, Sir Francis Galton, a statistician, had the visitors to a country fair guess the weight of a dressed ox. He also had some experts independently assess the weight. Many of the non-expert guesses were wild and yet, when taken collectively, as a mean average, do you know who came out on top?
The crowd beat the experts and actually came within 1% of the true weight of the slaughtered animal.
Now this wisdom, when manipulated, say by someone claiming to know the weight, is no longer accurate. And this is not to be dismissive of expertise. There is certainly a place for doctors, lawyers and engineers, professionals, those who have spent years in careful study or ‘know the math’ so to speak.
Still, maybe just maybe we should rethink this idea that some kind of central body, especially in matters of partisan politics, should have complete control over what information is or is not fit for public consumption. I mean, do you really believe that smart people are immune to things like group think, that there’s no echo chamber or chance that they miss something in their ‘expert’ analysis?
It is absolutely fact that well-educated people can get things wrong. Remember that deadly collapse of a bridge under construction in Florida, someone in the FAA approved the 737 Max to fly before it was grounded after two plunged killing all board, surgeons sometimes remove the wrong leg and there’s a good reason malpractice insurance exists.
Even the best of us make mistakes. Add political agenda to the mix and there can be tremendous blindspots.
A friend of mine suffers from a rare genetic disorder. But it had gone misdiagnosed for years. A local hospital even refusing to consider the possibility of a genetic cause by running tests. Well, it turns out, a relative of his, a layperson, reading in publication about someone with the same disorder, put two and two together, my friend finally demanded the tests and that is likely the only reason he’s alive.
So why, again, should we blindly trust a small team of experts when we can open it up to the entire crowd?
Let the Idiots Speak!
One of the things that bugs me most about the whole censorship regime is that truth can come from complete idiots. Yes, I get tired of crackpot conspiracy theories, critical thinking often seems to be in very short supply, and yet I would rather have the open conversation than to arrogantly assume that the unwashed masses have nothing of value to contribute.
First of all, as previously discussed, the established ‘expert’ consensus can be wrong. The problem with experts is that they often have a very narrow focus and rely on other experts rather than research everything for themselves. So, in other words, incorrect knowledge can be repeated over and over again, taken as fact, because everyone trusts their colleagues too much and sometimes, even after peer review uncovers the error, the myth persists.
For example, the Lancet, a renown medical journal, was forced to retract a study they published that came out against use of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment option. How this got past their editors is anyone’s guess, but this shows the danger of relying too heavily on a few experts.
Second, idiots, being less knowledgeable, can be at an advantage as far as telling the truth as they see it. Confirmation bias, as it turns out, is something that plagues the intelligent or those who are more able to rationalize their way around the problems with their perspective. It is far less likely that an idiot will come up with wrong (yet plausible sounding) explanation which sways public policy in the wrong direction—like a PhD college professor could.
Third, children, who are idiots due to their lack of education, are less prone to functional fixedness, they often speak in an unfiltered way and have a fresh perspective that should be heard. The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes describes this well, the child in the tale didn’t know what they weren’t supposed to say and blurted out the truth that the socially pressured adults refused to see.
So, in conclusion, the established ‘truth’ can be wrong, the child (or unsophisticated mind) can sometimes see through the knowledge others have, and therefore we should allow all to speak no matter how stupid they sound to us. No, that doesn’t mean we should let the idiots lead or ignore the experts, but there is great danger in shutting even their incorrect and sometimes offensive ideas out of the conversation.
At the very least, nobody is safe when the tyrant king murders the court jester. When the idiots can be silenced it won’t be very long before the powerful begin to use the label “idiot” for anyone challenging their authority, including you, and who will dare to speak up for you after that?