When it comes to scientific debate, here are three perfect ways to shut someone up:
- Challenge their credentials. Call them a “quack,” a “conspiracy theorist,” or, simply, “unqualified.”
- Dismiss their ideas or their research as “unscientific.” Even when it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.
- Insist that they’re wrong, not because there’s anything factually incorrect about their argument, but because “The science is settled,” or “The science is clear.” No room for scientific debate or discussion. End of story.
Malarkey. Baloney. Poppycock.
After more than 15 years as a writer and researcher, one thing I know for sure is that science is never settled.
Another thing I know for sure is that scientific debate is always healthy. And censorship is always wrong.
You can’t have science without debate
Censoring scientific debate can and does lead to grave consequences. Censorship (coupled with junk science) helped give tobacco companies a free pass for years. Censorship (and junk science) led medical doctors to wrongly believe that diethylstilbestrol was safe during pregnancy. Without open and honest scientific debate, children get injured by unscientific medical practices. People die.
So what does all this have to do with coronavirus?
Why is scientific debate important when it comes to COVID-19?
These are trying times.
The lockdown in America may very well cripple the economy for years to come.
At the same time, tens of thousands of people have tragically died from the novel coronavirus.
There’s no doubt this is an extremely severe illness for some people. But some doctors and scientists are wondering out loud if lack of timely testing, faulty treatment protocols, an unwillingness to consider alternative interventions, and an over-exposure to toxins are responsible for some of the most acute cases and deaths.
Most of us are running scared. We’re terrified of getting sick, devastated by the idea that we may be asymptomatic carriers and inadvertently get someone else sick, and also panicked about what seems to be a worldwide violation of religious freedom and civil liberties.
I suspect that shelter-in-place orders may be too extreme, a sledgehammer when a small knife is all that’s needed. I suspect that a more scientific approach, which includes widespread testing and subsequent quarantine for people who are exposed (the model that has been successfully used in Singapore and other countries) may be the more effective course of action.
I’m also concerned about the rollback of civil liberties. There is a very real threat that we may be paving the way to give power to fascists, dictators, and demagogues.
Even if the shelter-in-place method is the best one, what if we are inadvertently creating more problems than we’re solving, stomping on human rights to “save” humanity?
This is an evolving situation with no easy answers.
Which is why we need scientific debate, as well as political debate, dinner table discussions, and a willingness to consider the data about COVID-19 coming in from all sides.
Hatemongers can’t quell scientific debate
Haters gonna hate. And it turns out when you speak out against censorship—and in favor of scientific debate—it can bring a lot of ugly out of the closet.
To wit, this email arrived in my inbox today:
“Just wanted to say fuck you antivaxxer. I sincerely hope that you and your family get covid19 and suffer extremely bad before you die. You absolutely fucking waste of oxygen.”
That hate letter comes on the heels of a debate I started on Facebook that exploded.
Here’s what I wrote:
“Censorship is dangerous. Dialogue and discussion are healthy. I know we are all smart enough to read and consider multiple points of view. It’s small-minded to try to use ‘science’ to shut people up. As if science were written with a capital S.”
Keep an open mind
Name-calling and ad hominem attacks aren’t going to get you or me or any of us anywhere.
When you get infuriated because you disagree with something someone says, I suggest you take a moment to breathe and to examine your own anger.
Look what happened to Macbeth. Instead of trying to shoot the messenger, consider the message.
What you believe today may not be what you believe tomorrow.
Be humble enough to know that you may not be right. Be mature enough to apologize when you are wrong.
Be open-minded enough to keep reading, questioning, thinking, and engaging in scientific debate.
Let’s agree to disagree. Maybe even often. Scientific debate is healthy. Dialogue is always good. Working together, talking together, and problem-solving together is how we save lives.
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Published: April 10, 2020
Last update: April 12, 2020