Misinformation

“Deaths Have Increased Cumulatively”: BBC Producer’s “Asinine” Defence of False Extreme Weather Claim

Fresh insights into the techniques used by the BBC to catastrophise climate change are revealed in an exchange of letters with the producer of Justin Rowlatt’s  “Wild Weather” Panorama and a former producer of Top Gear. Justifying the Rowlatt suggestion that global weather is getting warmer and more unpredictable and the death toll is rising, the programme’s producer Leo Telling said the latter figure was “cumulative”. In reply, Ken Pollock called the explanation “asinine”, and suggested Telling recognised that: “The death toll in the U.K. is cumulative. It is difficult to imagine it not increasing, if you quote cumulative figures,” he explained.

The “Wild Weather” programme, broadcast in December 2020, was an emotion-charged rant that tried to show that human-caused climate change was behind a series of recent bad weather events. It led to two internal complaints being upheld against Rowlatt. On the death toll claim, the BBC accepted that deaths from natural disasters have actually been falling for many years.

Telling then went on to argue that heatwaves will lead to excess deaths in vulnerable groups with a lower tolerance to extreme temperatures. In addition, he stated that the heatwaves will lead to avoidable deaths through wildfires.

“How can you write with a straight face that heatwaves will kill more and more people,” replied Pollock, “without also accepting that cold kills 10 times as many people every year and extra heat may save far more people?”

How do you reconcile the fact that Singapore and Helsinki have average temperatures differing by 22°C, and yet you accept that a further 1°C could spell disaster, he went on to ask.

The Climate Thought Police Have Conveniently Forgotten the Lesson of Climategate

Slowly and surely the forces of climate science misinformation reach out from their academic bases to throttle debate and proscribe off-message reporting. Leading the way recently was the University of Exeter, where an Associate Professor of Geography found a “distinct problem” in pictures being published of blue seas and people on the beach during a summer heatwave while the climate is breaking down. Over in the Politics Department, another associate professor is investigating how computers can be used to help track down climate change wrongthink.

Writing in the Guardian, Associate Professor Saffron O’Neill complained that ‘fun in the sun’ photos were a dangerous distraction from the reality of climate breakdown. Such images, she said, “can hold the same power” as photos of the tanks in Tiananmen Square, and smoke billowing from the twin towers. Writing on the climate science site Watts Up With That?, Eric Worrall said his first thought was “someone should check for fungus growing in the University of Exeter water supply”. But seriously, he continued, “imagine what a locked down medieval dystopia we would all endure if these killjoys were fully in charge”. 

O’Neill’s paper of course assumes that climate breakdown is leading to hotter and more frequent heatwaves. “Not everyone is having fun during heatwaves superpowered by climate breakdown – for vulnerable people they can be deadly,” she says.

Governments Worried About Covid Misinformation Should Start With Their Own Lies and Distortions, Says U.S. State Attorney General

Governments concerned about Covid misinformation should start with their own lies and distortions, Indiana’s Attorney General has told the U.S. Government. In a submission to the U.S. Surgeon General, who had requested information on the impact of online health misinformation during the pandemic in the United States, Todd Rokita joined with leading scientists Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Dr. Martin Kulldorff to set out nine examples of disinformation propagated by the CDC and other health organisations that have “shattered the public’s trust in science and public health and will take decades to repair”. Read their full submission below.

May 2nd 2022

Agency: Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General 

Action: Request for Information (RFI)

Subject: Impact of Health Misinformation in the Digital Information Environment in the United States Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Response: COVID-19 Misinformation from Official Sources During the Pandemic

Submitting parties: Todd Rokita, Indiana Attorney General; Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine; and Dr. Kulldorff, Senior Research Fellow at the Brownstone Institute and former Professor at Harvard University School of Medicine.

The Office of the Surgeon General requested information on the prevalence of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of such misinformation on the U.S. public health system in order to be better prepared to respond to a future public health crisis.

We agree that misinformation has been a major problem during the pandemic. The spread of inaccurate scientific information has made it difficult for the public to make the right decisions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from COVID-19 and the collateral public health damage arising from the pandemic countermeasures. As such, the disinformation has led to great harm in the lives and livelihoods of Americans. We submit the following examples of disinformation from the CDC and other health organisations that have shattered the public’s trust in science and public health and will take decades to repair. 

How Disagreement Became ‘Misinformation’

Barton Swaim, an editorial page writer for the Wall St Journal, has written a brilliant piece about how censorship has become fashionable among America’s educated elites – and not just America’s – under the guise of ‘protecting’ democracy from ‘misinformation’. What’s particularly good about Swaim’s piece is that he links the mistaken belief that ‘data’ and ‘facts’ can drive complicated policy decisions with the avoidance of difficult decisions during the pandemic, with politicians outsourcing difficult decisions to ‘experts’. Here is an extract:

A quarter-century ago the word ‘censorship’ was almost a profanity in American politics. By the mid-2010s it was permitted, even praised, so long as it targeted heterodox thought. Speakers on college campuses were shouted down without a word of protest from people who in the 1980s had defended the public funding of sacrilegious photographs. Commentators in mainstream journals of opinion advocated the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues and had the effect of chilling debate on every contentious question. A large number of respected academics and intellectuals suddenly believed the U.S. government had a duty to stop people from saying things those same academics and intellectuals held to be factually inaccurate.

Sceptics mostly attribute this new support for censorship to bad faith. I prefer a more charitable explanation. The new censors sincerely mistake their own interpretations of the facts for the facts themselves. Their opinions, filtered unconsciously through biases and experience, are, to them, simply information. Their views aren’t ‘views’ at all but raw data. Competing interpretations of the facts can be only one thing: misinformation. Or, if it’s deliberate, disinformation.

It is in many ways a strange outcome. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, academic philosophies associated with ‘postmodernism’ coursed through American higher education. They held that there was no objectively knowable truth, only subjective interpretation. As if to demonstrate postmodernism’s total impracticality, yesterday’s straight-A college students have now retreated into a risibly facile non-philosophy in which there is no interpretation, only objective ‘fact’.

Such was the mental disposition of America’s enlightened politicos and media sophisticates when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The challenge of public policy, as they saw it, was not to find practical, broadly acceptable solutions. The challenge, rather, was to find and implement the scientifically ‘correct’ solution, the one endorsed by experts. Sound policy, for them, was a matter of gathering enough data and ‘following’ it.

But of course you can’t follow data. Data just sits there and waits to be interpreted.

When COVID-19 came ashore, the country’s political class, in thrall to the authority of public-health experts and the journalists who listen to them, was singularly ill-equipped to lead in a sensible way. What the pandemic required was not the gathering and mastery of information and the quick implementation of ‘data driven’ policy. The data was wildly elusive, changing shape from day to day and yielding no obvious interpretation. No one understood the spread of this astoundingly resilient virus, least of all the experts confidently purporting to understand it. There was, in fact, no clinically correct response.

The situation called for the acknowledgment of risk, the weighing of costs against benefits, the clear declaration of reasonable compromises between competing interests. What happened was an exercise in societal self-ruin – in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world. Politicians, especially those most inclined to see themselves as objective, pro-science data-followers, ducked accountability and deferred to experts who pretended to have empirically proven answers to every question put to them. They gave us a series of policies – business shutdowns, school closures, mask mandates – that achieved at best minor slowdowns in the disease’s spread at the cost of tremendous economic destruction and social embitterment.

Worth reading in full.

U.S. and U.K. Among 60 Countries to Sign Declaration that Commits to Censoring “Misinformation” and “Harmful” Speech

The United States and 60 other countries, including the U.K., Canada, Australia and EU member states, have signed a sweeping “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” which commits to bolstering “resilience to disinformation and misinformation” and somehow upholding free speech rights while also censoring “harmful” content. Reclaim the Net has more.

The White House framed the declaration as something that supports freedom and privacy by focusing on its commitments to protect human rights, the free flow of information, and privacy. The EU put out similar talking points and claimed that those who signed the declaration support a future internet that’s open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure.

However, the commitments in the declaration are vague and often conflicting. For example, the declaration makes multiple commitments to upholding freedom of expression yet also commits to bolstering “resilience to disinformation and misinformation”. It also contains the seemingly contradictory commitment of ensuring “the right to freedom of expression” is protected when governments and platforms censor content that they deem to be harmful.

Furthermore, many of the governments that signed this declaration are currently pushing sweeping online censorship laws or openly supporting online censorship.

For example, just a few days ago, the Biden administration called for private companies to censor online “misinformation” – the latest of many similar calls. The EU also recently passed its Digital Services Act (DSA) which contains requirements to censor “hate speech” and “misinformation.”

Some government officials, including Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne and UK Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Secretary of State Nadine Dorries, even mentioned their country’s online censorship laws during the live launch of this Declaration for the Future of the Internet.

The new Orwellian definition of ‘free speech’, which involves censorship of ‘misinformation’ – defined as anything that disagrees with the Government – and ‘hate speech’ – defined as anything not deemed sufficiently woke – is gaining ground. The ‘Conservative’ Party in the U.K. seems blissfully unaware that conservative ideas are precisely what the ‘progressives’ pushing this agenda want to censor, and already are.

Worth reading in full.

Banning RT and Sputnik is a Soviet Tactic

Jacob Mchangana, author of Free Speech: A Global History From Socrates to Social Media, thinks banning RT in Europe in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a really, really bad idea. (And I agree.) He has set out his reasoning in UnHerd.

In 1922, the USSR established the General Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets in the Press (known as Glavlit) to weed out “propaganda against the Soviet Union” that “stirred up public opinion through false information”. The mission of Glavlit reflected Lenin’s view that the press was “no less dangerous than bombs and machine-guns” and that its proper role was to serve as “a collective propagandist [and] agitator” for Bolshevik ideas.

Like Lenin and Stalin before him, Vladimir Putin is obsessed with controlling the public sphere through censorship and propaganda. In 2022 Glavlit has been replaced by the media regulator Roskomnadzor, which, in the past week alone has ordered media outlets to only use official Russian sources and banned words like “invasion” and “war” when reporting on events in Ukraine. It has also blocked online access to media outlets for “disseminating false information”, a crime which has seen at least ten media outlets facing legal sanctions. In addition, Russia is seeking to spread its propaganda globally through outlets such as state sponsored broadcasters like RT and Sputnik.

Faced with this development the European Commission is moving forward with an EU-wide total ban on RT and Sputnik – both online and offline – ​while a similar move in the UK has been proposed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. According to Ursula Van Der Leyen the EU´s “unprecedented” initiative is needed to “ban [Russian] toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe”.

While sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs and the kleptocratic infrastructure of Russia’s economy should be expanded, European democracies should be careful not to copy and paste Putin’s censorship tactics. Once the centralised command and control of media freedom in 27 democracies based on inherently vague definitions of “propaganda” and “disinformation” ​has been established, the danger is that it will almost inevitably be used to target other forms of undesirable information in the future.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Fraser Myers wrote a piece in Spiked a few days ago making a similar argument.

Mainstream Media ‘Misinformation’ Has Caused Far More Harm Than Joe Rogan

Ever since the airing of his interview with Dr Robert Malone, a critic of the mass rollout of Covid vaccines, Joe Rogan has been under more or less constant attack from those who would have him cancelled.

First, celebrities like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell threatened to pull their music from Spotify unless the company dropped him. Spotify owns the rights to broadcast Rogan’s hugely successful podcast, ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’, after signing a $100 million deal with him in 2020.

Next, a group of 270 ‘experts’ (only 87 of whom were actually doctors) penned an open letter denouncing Rogan, and demanding that Spotify “immediately establish” a policy to “moderate misinformation on its platform”.

Then the singer-songwriter India Arie posted a video compilation of Rogan saying the N-word, leading to accusations of ‘racism’ and further calls for censorship. Though Rogan apologised, as far as I’m aware, he never actually called anyone the N-word. Rather, he uttered it while commenting on the term itself.

And, remember, it’s only in the last few years that you’re not even allowed to mention the N-word (in the sense of what philosophers call the use-mention distinction). Even President Biden said it out loud when quoting someone else in Congress in 1985. Should he now be cancelled?

In the most absurd twist yet, CNN ran a piece titled ‘Joe Rogan’s use of the n-word is another January 6 moment’, though the title was later changed.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the campaign to cancel Rogan has less to do with his supposed role in spreading ‘misinformation’ than the fact he doesn’t blindly parrot whatever narrative the media is pushing at any particular time. After all, he’s interviewed pro-vaccine scientists as well as those who’re more sceptical.

Rogan’s own position on the Covid vaccines is perfectly reasonable, and barely differs from what scientists like Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya have been saying. In April of last year, Rogan stated:

I’m not an anti-vaxx person. I said I believe they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them … My parents were vaccinated. I just said that if you’re a young, healthy person that you don’t need it.

Here’s the strongest way of framing the case against Rogan. By exaggerating the risks and downplaying the benefits of vaccines, or interviewing scientists who’ve done so, Rogan has discouraged people from getting vaccinated, which has cost those people their lives.

Even if this is true, I would say that mainstream media ‘misinformation’ has caused far more harm. So if you’re going to censor Rogan, you ought to censor all the big newspapers and TV channels as well. (Or better yet, don’t censor anyone.)

What do I mean? The media repeatedly told us that everyone needs to get vaccinated – regardless of age, health or prior Covid status. But if we’d refrained from vaccinating healthy young people, and those with a prior infection, we could have donated millions of vaccines to people in poor countries who actually needed them.

Insofar as it prevented us from donating vaccines at a time when doing so could have made a difference, the injunction to vaccine everyone has cost many more lives than anything Joe Rogan or his guests have said. And note: this injunction was partly based on yet another piece of ‘misinformation’ – that the vaccines stop transmission.

Even if we just consider ‘misinformation’ surrounding the vaccines, the mainstream media comes out looking far worse than Rogan (who, I’d remind you, has interviewed people on both sides of the debate). Add in the ‘lab leak conspiracy theory’ narrative, and there’s really no comparison.

Joe Rogan Apologises to Spotify and Says He Will “Balance Out Controversial Viewpoints”

Despite the very limited extent of the wrinklies’ boycott of Spotify over podcaster Joe Rogan’s alleged vaccine ‘misinformation’, Rogan has apologised for “pissing off” Spotify and said he will “balance out these more controversial viewpoints”. It comes after the streaming service imposed new warnings and rules on content covering the pandemic. The Telegraph has more – though reader be warned this article itself (by unnamed ‘foreign staff’) is somewhat misleading (my comments added in line).

Popular U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan has apologised amid a backlash against COVID-19 misinformation [erm, this should be alleged misinformation – Spotify has said Rogan’s content does not breach its new rules] in his programme, as hosting platform Spotify said it would add a “content advisory” to any episode with discussion of the coronavirus.

Rogan, a prominent vaccine sceptic, has stirred controversy with his views on the pandemic and on vaccines and government mandates to control the spread of the virus aired on his top-rated podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience.

In a 10-minute Instagram video post on Sunday evening, he apologised to Spotify for the backlash but defended inviting contentious guests.

“If I pissed you off, I’m sorry,” Rogan said. “I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives so we can maybe find a better point of view.”

Singer-songwriters Neil Young and Joni Mitchell announced last week that they were removing their music from Spotify in protest at coronavirus misinformation broadcast on the platform.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have also expressed their concern to Spotify about COVID-19 misinformation but will continue to work with the company, a spokesperson for their Archewell foundation said on Sunday.

Some 270 scientists and medical professionals have also written to Spotify urging the company to prevent Rogan from spreading falsehoods [Actually, of the 270 signatories of the letter referred to, many were not scientists or medics].

Rogan signed a £75m deal with Spotify in 2020 and has an estimated 11 million listeners per episode is, by that measurement, far more popular than any news anchor in the country. [Did a word get left out of that sentence?]

The musclebound UFC commentator says he is not an anti-vaxxer, but he has used his platform to push, and host guests who push, a multitude of baseless ‘theories’ about the pandemic. [This is a smear]

These include the assertion that young and healthy people do not need the vaccine [This is a view shared to varying degrees by, for example, the JCVI and the Swedish health authorities], the idea that “mass formation psychosis” is responsible for people believing in the efficacy of vaccines [The fact that people believe vaccines stop infection and transmission despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary needs some psychological explanation] and that hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely diagnose COVID-19 deaths [That hospitals receive more money for Covid patients was a claim made by Elon Musk on Rogan’s show based on a claim made by U.S. Senator Scott Jensen; it was fact-checked by mainstream outlets and confirmed to be true].

At the time of writing, the top-rated comment by Jonny Chinchen puts it well:

DT please show some professional editorial behaviour!

1) This feels copied and pasted from another news agency.

2) Rogan himself has spread no “misinformation”. If he has, you need to quote it and prove it is misinformation.

3) You are printing misinformation yourselves. The 270 signatories of the petition against Rogan are not all “scientists and medical professionals”. I just looked at the list of signees myself and some were listed as bloggers and podcasters, journalists or students.

4) Re: above – this article is lazy and misinformative journalism. Your standards as a legacy news provider are slipping, this would be shocking if it weren’t already a trend at the DT.

Worth reading in full (well, kind of).

Prince Harry and Meghan “Express Concerns” to Spotify Over Joe Rogan Vaccine “Misinformation”

Just when you thought Neil Young’s ill-conceived boycott of Spotify over Joe Rogan was fizzling out, Prince Harry and Meghan step in to keep it fizzling a little longer. The couple – not known to be fans of people expressing themselves freely – have been “expressing concerns” to Spotify behind the scenes, warning of the “serious harms” of false information. The Telegraph has the story.

Spotify, which signed an £18million deal to work with the couple’s Archewell media company last year, has come under fire over the alleged spread of COVID-19 misinformation by other podcasters on its streaming service.

Prince Harry and Meghan have been “expressing concerns” to Spotify behind the scenes, it has emerged, with the couple warning of the “serious harms” of false information.

The revelation comes as the row continues about the platform’s marquee podcast – the Joe Rogan Experience – which has faced criticism due to the host’s alleged airing of vaccine-sceptical views and debunked claims regarding the treatment of COVID-19.

Prince Harry and Meghan have waded into the row, with an Archewell spokesman stating: “Since the inception of Archewell, we have worked to address the real-time global misinformation crisis.

“Hundreds of millions of people are affected by the serious harms of rampant mis- and disinformation every day.

“Last April, our co-founders began expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify about the all-too-real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform.

“We have continued to express our concerns to Spotify to ensure changes to its platform are made to help address this public health crisis.

“We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does.”

The comments from Archewell come after musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell demanded their music be pulled from the platform unless Joe Rogan’s podcast was removed.

Spotify removed Young’s music from the platform and retained the Joe Rogan Experience, which signed an exclusive deal with Spotify worth £82million in 2020, and is now one of the world’s most-listened-to podcasts.

The podcast has faced criticism during the COVID-19 pandemic for allegedly providing a platform for fringe views, including an episode with vaccine scientist Dr Robert Malone, who made claims about the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rogan himself has said on his show that the young and healthy do not “need” the vaccine. He later clarified that he was not anti-vaccine and stated: “I’m not a respected source of information.” 

Last year he outlined his position on the vaccine, saying that he was “not an anti-vax person” and adding: “I believe they’re safe and encourage many people to take them.”

The problem with the call to ban ‘misinformation’, of course, is that the authorities have changed their messages repeatedly throughout the pandemic. Different authorities also say different things, with the U.S. health authorities claiming the Covid vaccines are safe for young children while the Swedish health authorities say otherwise. This means there is no sound definition of ‘misinformation’ that can be banned that guarantees only to forbid what is false. Instead, what the call amounts to is a ban on the airing of any viewpoint other than the currently officially approved one in a given country, right or wrong. But that is just Government censorship of dissent, and is clearly neither liberal, scientific, nor conducive to the discovery of what is true.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Nils Lofgren, Brené Brown and possibly Dave Grohl have joined the boycott. At this rate Spotify will run out of artists some time in, er, the year 4000.

Royal Society Report: Big Tech Should Not Censor Dissent

In a welcome injection of sanity into the debate about whether social media companies should remove content that challenges the the scientific establishment’s orthodoxy about climate change, lockdowns and the vaccines, a report from the Royal Society has concluded that the risks of censorship outweigh the benefits. The Financial Times has more.

Calls for social media sites to remove misleading content – for example about vaccines, climate change and 5G technology – should be rejected, according to the U.K.’s senior scientific academy.

After investigating the sources and impact of online misinformation, the Royal Society concluded that removing false claims and offending accounts would do little to limit their harmful effects. Instead, bans could drive misinformation “to harder-to-address corners of the internet and exacerbate feelings of distrust in authorities,” its report says.

In the UK there have been calls from across the political spectrum for Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to remove antivax posts. However, “clamping down on claims outside the consensus may seem desirable but it can hamper the scientific process and force genuinely malicious content underground”, said Frank Kelly, mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge who chaired the Royal Society inquiry.

He added that removing content and driving users away from mainstream platforms makes it harder for scientists to engage with people such as anti-vaxxers. “A more nuanced, sustainable and focused approach is needed,” he said.

While illegal content that incites violence, racism or child sex abuse must be removed, legal material that runs counter to the scientific consensus should not be banned, the report said. Instead there should be wide-ranging action to “build collective resilience” so that people can detect harmful misinformation and react against it.

“We need new strategies to ensure high quality information can compete in the online attention economy,” said Gina Neff, Professor of Technology and Society at the University of Oxford, and a co-author of the report. “This means investing in lifelong information literacy programmes, provenance-enhancing technologies and mechanisms for data sharing between platforms and researchers.”

The well informed majority can act as a “collective intelligence” guarding against misinformation and calling out inaccuracies when they come across them, said Sir Nigel Shadbolt, executive chair of the UK Open Data Institute and another co-author. “Many eyes can provide powerful scrutiny of content, as we see in Wikipedia,” he added.

Some fears about the amplification of misinformation on the internet – such as the existence of “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles”, which lead people only to encounter information that reinforces their own beliefs – have been exaggerated, the report found.

Worth reading in full and you can read a summary of the report here.

Stop Press: Dr. Vinay Prasad, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, has made a similar case in UnHerd, arguing that Joe Rogan should not be censored by Spotify for inviting Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone on to his show. Dr. Prasad sets out what he thinks they got right and what he thinks they got wrong, but concludes that any attempt to suppress dissenting voices would be contrary to the principles of open scientific inquiry and would undermine public trust in science. Excellent piece. Worth reading in full.