Phrases like scientifically valid, the late great philosopher David Stove taught us, signal distress. A writer wants to say valid, a strength word, but somehow can’t bring himself to this higher point, and finds himself using a prefix to weaken his claim.
Saying an argument is scientifically valid is like saying an argument is valid in transcendental meditation, or gender theoretic valid, or true in critical race theory.
Incidentally, this is a good time to brush up on the differences between local and universal or necessary truths.
It is also obvious that an argument or proposition can be necessarily (a.k.a. universally) true, and also be called “scientifically valid.” But it won’t be true because of “science” or “gender theory” or whatever. It will be true because the argument is valid itself—true premises and sound logical connections to a true conclusion.
So much is throat clearing. Time for an example of the attempt to leverage “scientifically valid” to define “disinformation”. As I have said many times, in order for there to be disinformation there has to be an official source of official received information.
This information might or might not be true, but it must be official—backed by some authority. Some say “science” is that authority, being, to them, the epitome of knowledge. They say this even though science is silent on math, logic, morals, on its very foundations. The theory of disinformation, then, is the living embodiment of the Appeal to Authority Fallacy. (Examined here: including it’s cousin, the Appeal to Non-Authority Fallacy.)
Enter the peer-reviewed paper “Lateral reading and monetary incentives to spot disinformation about science” by Folco Panizza and others in Nature: Scientific Reports.
This paper represents a general push toward creating official sources of information which cannot be denied legally, or without penalty. This isn’t unique to science and medicine, of course. In Germany, a 93-year-old grandmother was sent to prison the other day for the official crime of “denial”. And if you think she should be jailed for denial, you must agree that people should be jailed for denying the Resurrection, a well documented historical event.
Now we have seen untold numbers of people “canceled”, or fired, or denied employment for “denial”. Some for the “crime” that convicted the ancient old lady, but also for all sorts of “medical” and “science” disinformation. For one instance out of a legion, the Babylon Bee was banned from Twitter for saying the man Levine (the well known US government medical authority) was a man. In essence, they denied Levine was a woman.
We haven’t the space to list all the instances, which are in any case well known to readers. What is clear, however, is that the regime is advocating expanding denial crimes, and will use the name of “science” to do so.
Here’s part of the Abstract of today’s paper (my emphasis):
Disinformation about science can impose enormous economic and public health burdens. A recently proposed strategy to help online users recognise false content is to follow the techniques of professional fact checkers, such as looking for information on other websites (lateral reading) and looking beyond the first results suggested by search engines (click restraint). In two preregistered online experiments (N = 5387), we simulated a social media environment and tested two interventions, one in the form of a pop-up meant to advise participants to follow such techniques, the other based on monetary incentives. We measured participants’ ability to identify whether information was scientifically valid or invalid.
We have seen the work of “professional fact checkers”. Their better title is regime supporters. In any case, they are professional, hence official. They are, and must be, part of the Ministry of Truth, even if this Ministry does not have a formal existence.
And, as above, in order for a proposition to be judged “scientifically valid” or “scientifically invalid” there must exist an official list of approved “scientifically valid” truths. Which need not be necessary truths.
Our authors believe they have such a list. They say that “at the peak of the coronavirus infodemic, only 16% of fact-checked disinformation was labelled as such by Facebook’s algorithms, partly because content creators were able to simply repost content with minor changes, thus escaping detection.”
They are concerned unapproved truths can be seen by the unwashed, but if programs were in place, defined by them, “users themselves are empowered against malicious or false content”.
This paper is nothing in itself, of course, but it contains a wealth of woke disinformation jargon. For instance:
Research on countering disinformation has developed substantially over the last decade, bringing a wealth of different approaches. These include debunking, the systematic correction of false claims after they have been seen or heard, pre-bunking, preventive measures before exposure to disinformation, nudging, interventions affecting users’ choices without limiting their freedom of choice, and boosting, the empowering of users by fostering existing competences or instilling new ones.
Pre-bunking? Well, we’ll hit that another time, since we’ve gone on far enough for today.
We can ignore their experiment, which is effeminate and asinine at the same time. Worst, it’s results are already known. Who didn’t know you can pay somebody to pay attention to “official facts” (sometimes also called propaganda)? Wee p-values “confirm”. Etc.
The main point of this paper was confirmation that in order for there to be “scientifically valid” propositions, there must be an official group in charge of creating a list of such creatures. Our authors did so. They had to to conduct their “experiment.”
These efforts will expand beyond academia, as all bad ideas do, and become official policy of certain regimes.
What this means for science, and for us, we’ll continue to discuss.
Buy my new book and learn to argue against the regime: Everything You Believe Is Wrong.