Institutionalized Scientists Angry Amateurs Showing Them Up, Demand They Be Stopped

Institutionalized Scientists Angry Amateurs Showing Them Up, Demand They Be Stopped

Crystal Lee of MIT—bio: “I work broadly on topics related to the social and political dimensions of computing, data visualization, and disability. I also conduct ethnographic and computational research on social media communities like COVID skeptics, Chinese cyber-nationalist fandoms, and data hoarders” (data hoarders?)—is lead author of the paper “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online” (pdf).

The paper is just as weird as the title indicates, and can be summed up: amateurs are beating the pros at science, which should not be allowed, because institutionalized scientists create The Science.

Indeed, they take as certain sure the opinions of institutionalized scientists (in areas the authors themselves are ignorant) while demanding amateurs (who are not ignorant) be reined in.

This odd work neatly captures a trend we’re seeing everywhere, in which the Appeal to Authority is becoming Official Policy.

Some quotations (emphasis original; reference numbers removed):

A pandemic that affects a few, [mask skeptics] reason, should not impinge on the liberties of a majority to go about life as usual. To support their arguments, these protestors and activists have created thousands of their own visualizations, often using the same datasets as health officials…

Far from ignoring scientific evidence to argue for individual freedom, antimaskers often engage deeply with public datasets and make what we call “counter-visualizations“—visualizations using orthodox methods to make unorthodox arguments—to challenge mainstream narratives that the pandemic is urgent and ongoing. [See, e.g., the CDC’s own data showing the pandemic is not urgent and ongoing.]

…this study finds that anti-mask groups practice a form of data literacy in spades. Within this constituency, unorthodox viewpoints do not result from a deficiency of data literacy; sophisticated practices of data literacy are a means of consolidating and promulgating views that fly in the face of scientific orthodoxy. Not only are these groups prolific in their creation of counter-visualizations, but they leverage data and their visual representations to advocate for and enact policy changes…

We define this counterpublic’s visualization practices as “counter-visualizations” that use orthodox scientific methods to make unorthodox arguments, beyond the pale of the scientific establishment…

Among other initiatives, these groups argue for open access to government data (claiming that CDC and local health departments are not releasing enough data for citizens to make informed decisions), and they use the language of data-driven decision-making to show that social distancing mandates are both ill-advised and unnecessary.

This study shows that there is a fundamental epistemological conflict between maskers and anti-maskers, who use the same data but come to such different conclusions…. Indeed, anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries…

This is followed by a lot of “visualization” fluff about how people who like to talk to each other talk to other, and those that don’t don’t, all couched in jargon. That’s what makes it real science.

Then comes this whopper, originally in bold, and written with a shiver: “anti-maskers value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over ‘expert’ interpretations.” The scare quotes are theirs.

They marvel that “Data literacy is a quintessential criterion for membership within the community they have created [of mask skeptics].”

Regular readers, hold on to your drinks:

So how do these groups diverge from scientific orthodoxy if they are using the same data?…they argue that there is an outsized emphasis on deaths versus cases: if the current datasets are fundamentally subjective and prone to manipulation (e.g., increased levels of faulty testing, asymptomatic vs. symptomatic cases), then deaths are the only reliable markers of the pandemic’s severity. Even then, these groups believe that deaths are an additionally problematic category because doctors are using a COVID diagnosis as the main cause of death…

All true, but our authors don’t bother disagreeing: it’s wrong because institutionalized scientists say it is. So they’ve heard. None of authors has any background in the subjects they’re critiquing. So how do they know what they’re pushing is true and the amateurs wrong? They don’t. They take it the institutionalized experts are right because they’re institutionalized.

Then: “This study forces us to see that coronavirus skeptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.”

Nor should it be.

By the end of the paper, they had grown hot, tying independent science with “American evangelical voters” and “climate change denialism”. And finally this:

The attempted coup on January 6, 2021 has similarly illustrated that well-calibrated, well-funded systems of coordinated disinformation can be particularly dangerous when they are designed to appeal to skeptical people.

This is not hilarious because it is false—grandmas walking through the Capitol a coup? Lordy Lordy—but because these institutionalized researchers believe it is true because they were told to think it.

They have thus proven, but their own arguments and admissions, everything they have said and argued is false. Skeptics really are more trustworthy.

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  1. DAV

    When I was growing up “institutionalized” had a different connotation. Perhaps you meant it, as well.

  2. PaulH

    How do I become a member of the counterpublic? Is there a form for me to fill out, or can I simply mention “counterpublic” in my online bio (if I had an online bio)?

    I seems the institutionalized scientists are like computer models. They simply say what they are told to say.

  3. awildgoose

    Quite a change from past days when the gentleman amateur was held in the highest esteem.

    Instead of all that word salad Crystal Lee could have just said, “I’m mentally ill,” and saved everyone’s time and effort.

  4. Jan Van Betsuni

    “We must follow THE SCIENCE and we must not follow THE SCIENCE.” ~ said the Walrus to Alice. “But which of those?” Alice replied smiling. “Whichever is correct of course” came the reply.

  5. Dean Ericson

    Kool-Aid drinkers programmed with Party Line OS software are impervious to truth. Yuri Bezemov described the type:

    ”You cannot change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information, even if you prove that white is white and black is black you still cannot change the basic perception and illogical behavior.”

    He was speaking of Soviet subversive programming. Of course, the Soviet Union is no more, and yet we still have the same sort of subversive programming. How can that be? It’s almost as if the animating spirit of Soviet communism didn’t die, it simply reorganized itself as “liberal democracy” and set up shop in Washington DC, its world-conquering revolutionary thirst unquenched.

  6. Kip Hansen

    Briggs ==> The paper you are quoting depends heavily on:

    Frank Fischer (2019) Knowledge politics and post-truth in climate denial:
    on the social construction of alternative facts, Critical Policy Studies, 13:2, 133-152, DOI:
    10.1080/19460171.2019.1602067 [ ]

    which includes this: “In this understanding, science not does not stand alone; rather, it is part of what co-production calls ‘truth regimes’ that involve sets of norms and institutions constructed by the state. An idea
    advanced earlier by Foucault (1991), a society’s regime of truth constitutes its ‘general politics of truth,’ which specifies the kinds of discourses that are accepted and turned into carriers of what is taken to be truth, the mechanisms that enable people to differentiate true from false claims, the ways in which truth claims are legitimated and sanctioned, the procedures and techniques given value in the quest of truth, and the
    standing of those who are responsible for declaring what counts as truth (Rabinow 1991).

    As such, knowledge produced by the science of a truth regime is seen to carry particular meanings of the objects of investigations and therefore has a built-in social bias, including possible political intentions behind the construction of the object.”

    The Fischer paper is even drier and obtuse than Lee but far more interesting if one can wade through it.

  7. Good Lord. Skepticism about the infallibility of experts was once considered a mark of intelligence. But then, we’ve never had quite so many “experts” trumpeting their “expertise” at us before. There are an awful lot of rice bowls to protect!

    If the data must be kept secret…
    If the numbers have no error bars attached…
    If the definitions and criteria of measurement are vague…
    If only designated “experts” are permitted to make statements about it…
    And if anyone who dares to question those experts is shouted down for his unorthodoxies…
    …then it isn’t science!

  8. Dennis

    DAV: There are many people responsible for the Covid response that definitely need to be “institutionalized” in the old sense…for many years, preferably permanently masked and in solitary confinement to ruminate on the horrors they’ve inflicted upon the world. Maybe it’s just the “counterpublic” dens of the interwebs I lurk in, but there seems to be a growing movement for trials and truth commissions of some kind to get to the bottom of what’s been inflicted on everyone for the past 14 months, starting with Fraudci (not that I expect it will ever happen…the regime will just bribe the public with new bread and circuses and try to move on, while still implementing the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution/Global Reset Agenda).

    awildgoose: Perhaps a new movement: Gentlemen Amateurs of the World Unite! (though that’s basically already rw/anon Twitter!)


    Mr. Lee:

    Please allow me to formulate a visualization of B*** S***!

  10. Forbes

    Our so-called “elites” and their “meritocracy, in its entirety, is based on an appeal to authority.

    In a society where literally everything has been politicized, it’s more than a bit embarrassing when the president proclaims, “get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do,” when the injection isn’t a vaccination (by definition) and mask use is a cult-signaling fetish. Dictatorial beyond anything of which Trump was accused.

    What other insanity is to follow…

  11. Ann Cherry

    Hmm… “Unorthodox Science”? Orthodoxy is conventionalism, or “authorized or accepted theory.” We’re told: those who oppose mandatory masks are using “unconventional” science, by applying the facts and data in some unauthorized and illegitimate way. Really?

    Up until about a year ago, the Authorized Conventional Expert Scientists (“ACES”) in our CDC and elsewhere, said, “masks don’t work to stop viruses, and their use by the general public causes more harm than good.”

    Now, “anti-maskers” are the unconventional ones. What changed?

    Up until about a year ago, the ACES said, “Transmission of cold and flu-like viruses by asymptomatic people is statistically insignificant.” They said, “If you’re sick, stay home for a few days (ie quarantine) until you feel better, then go back to school or work.”

    What changed?

    Up until about a year ago, the ACES, along with most everyone else, agreed that actually having a symptomatic virus provided more durable immunity that any vaccine.

    Now, only those who’ve been “fully vaccinated” are allowed to be fully citizens, and those who’ve had the virus are forced to submit to these experimental “vaccines”, in a possibly dangerous turnaround from past policies.

    What changed? Not much. ACES have always bent, folded, spindled and mutilated the facts to satisfy their political agendas. In all professions, it’s a matter of “filtering” the facts to fit the desired narrative.

    You’ve got your medical ACES (boys can be girls), and your scientific ACES (GlobalClimateWarmingChange), and your educational ACES (math is racist), and of course, the ACES in the Manson Media, who are some of the worst human beings on the planet, and are attempting to instigate race wars, just like Charles Manson.

    Speaking of the Manson Media, back in 2015-16, when John Podesta’s (Hillary’s campaign mgr) emails were stolen by a phishing scheme and put on-line by Wikileaks, the Manson Media had a foaming-at-the-mouth FIT, not so much about the unsavory revelations about the Democrats and their criminal tactics, but because the information given out by WikiLeaks hadn’t been FILTERED by them.

    They used that exact word, “filtered.” Thanks to the “filtering effect” of censored media and social media, Twitter-bots, and a stolen election, they now actually think they’re in the majority.

    That, along with our sheep-like acquiescence, has made them bold; bold enough to tell us, “you’ll own nothing and you’ll like it.” Bold enough to shut down our energy pipelines; bold enough to mask our children, inject them with experimental gene-altering agents, and chemically castrate them. Bold enough to suggest internment camps for the recalcitrant. Bold enough to tear down our monuments and destroy our country. Every day, they tell us EXACTLY what they’re going to do to us and our country, so why don’t we believe them?

    After all, as they like to remind us, they have all the ACES.

  12. john b()


    WOM is today reporting 1900 deaths in Richmond County (half of Staten Island), NY!

    Hmmm! Is that catching up with the Cuomo (hide the bodies) legacy?

    The deaths per million are now just under New Jersey’s

  13. john b()


    Musta been a glitch in the system

    WOM has backed that number off …
    deaths per million dropped from that last report so not reassigned to other days … still hmmm

  14. Dean Ericson

    Ann, the “Manson Media”, you are right, but Manson was piker, his crew hardly killed a couple dozen, at most. The Manson Media’s ongoing Helter Skelter has killed more than that, and they’re gunning for more. Manson was quickly fingered as a dangerous sociopath, but the Manson Media, acting with impunity, is considered by many to be a paragon of virtue.

    Jim Jones Kool-Aid cult killed nearly a thousand, but the new Jim Jones elite have killed far more with their poisonous “vaccines”, cruel lockdowns, nursing home carnage, and suppression of cheap and effective treatments for the coof. But the Jim Jones elite are thought by many to be the summit of moral perfection.

    The leaders of the modern west are Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Ted Buddy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. And the poor foolish people cheer. That’s one helluva PR operation.

  15. Russell Haley

    The constant drone of being called a lunatic has an unexpected benefit. It causes one to hone their arguments to the finest point.

  16. Milton Hathaway

    Scientific orthodoxy? As in scientific religion? Every time I see those words together I channel Inigo Montoya.

    Did Crystal Lee et al brilliantly sabotage their own paper to subtly make the opposite point? Intriguing possibility, but not intriguing enough to get me to invest the time to read it. What’s that quote? “Never ascribe to subtle brilliance that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

  17. Poha

    OK! Thank you Milton, now I see why Obama’s official portrait (by a Spaniard?) has the 6th finger! Because Obama has the delusion that being Count Rugen is a cool way to create chaos? Wiki:
    ” … In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is portrayed as a Spanish fencer and henchman to the Sicilian criminal Vizzini. Inigo’s father Domingo was a great swordcrafter, but he remained obscure because he disliked dealing with the rich and privileged. When Count Rugen, a nobleman with a six-fingered right hand, asked him to forge a sword to accommodate his unusual grip, Domingo labored over the sword for a year … When Rugen returned, he would not pay his promised price … Rugen then killed Domingo. Eleven-year-old Inigo witnessed the crime …”

  18. Data hoarders…The simple collection of figures about a particular topic certainly does not provide you necessarily with a good understanding of it, and it takes good reasoning abilities and general knowledge to make a good map out of that data. But the thing that irritates experts the most is not people misunderstanding figures, but the fact that that obliges them to know the same data, and hampers the use of the argument of authority.

  19. Alex

    Decided to visit The Staff Sergeant’s blog today after a long break – and was immediately sorry – that I did not visit it more frequently. Thank you for the amusing post.

    It is a sad time we live in now … Not so long ago this Lee’s et al article would have become an international bestseller – then everyone – EVERYONE would have immediately understood the text for what it was worth and laughed their heads off & applauded to the fine sense of humor demonstrated by the authors & stupidity of the editors who published the hoax .. Not today though – I bet the authors of the publication actually meant everything they say.

    This is what we get when scientific research becomes a business. As Milton Friedman once said – a single purpose of any business is to make its owner wealthy. From this it follows that where the efficiency of the business was perfected as above, with time & practice, something of value would be produced only accidentally. The modern official academic research is such a business.

    The modern “scientific establishment” are ALL working (active) businessmen/entrepreneurs – they “research”, publish, & advise only or primarily the things which earn them income. On the opposite side, are what Lee et al call “non-experts” , “anti-maskers”, climate deniers” etc . The latter are usually not thus restricted by the efficiency & profit. Moreover, people engaged in serious discussions of “serious” topics on social media platforms are often retired scientists, with (usually considerably) more experience & expertise in scientific research than any -or even many put together – officially approved government “experts”, while having none of the official “experts” political inhibitions. Plus they have more time to do what they really want & like to do, as opposed to what the immediate process of money making demands. This explains why supposedly “non-experts” on social media platforms usually beat the official “scientific experts” hands down in everything whenever they have equal or comparable access to the observational data. This also implies that the “non-experts” are likely more correct in their estimates than the official “science.” Not that this does anything good to anyone nowadays, though …

  20. Amateur Brain Surgeon

    Amateur Brain Surgeon thinks he speaks for everyone when he says that amateurism must be respected and that it would be a tragic idea to demand that an amateur be forced to become credentialed because, for instance, were ABS to take an advanced degree that would mean that ABS is a Doctor would would be as confusing as an observer claiming that Derek Chauvin looks like the son of Anderson Cooper if Andy of Litchfield had a son not purchased from a surrogate.

  21. Joy

    The constant drone of being called a lunatic is situation normal on the internet when all logic and truth have left the building

    The climb downs that are due, but will never come, are going to be as interesting to (not watch), as the ones required of the climage brigade

    It’s going to be interesting, but there’ll be do day of reckoning until the very end of days.

    “People don’t change their minds, they just die’

    The honest ones who do are rare as precious stones.
    One can think one’s in the company of such stones, to find out, one’s surrounded by good fakes

  22. Joy

    In case it wasn’t clear enough, I’m with the British government’s approach

    Claims of conspiracy and mass murder are similar to calling white black.
    In reality it’s just light black and black is dark white

  23. Amateur Brain Surgeon

    The Professional Political Class (The unemployables) is forever promoting the latest Court Cur who claims that conspiracy theories are a sign of mental instability/paranoia and no matter how many times it is dispassionately pointed out to them that the fact of conspiracies have been repeatedly proven, they try and label such men mentally ill.

    The definition of insanity is for putative authority figures to learn of the proof of conspiracies over and over again from critics but expect those critics to believe those self-same authority figures who label them crazy for trusting proven facts.

    It is the putative professionals who fear amateurs who mock them and tell them to go to hell. In fact, laughing at and mocking the haughty “professional” or “scientist” is the best way to knock them off their self-righteous pedestals.

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