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Powerful people like Rep. Jim Jordan are promoting health misinformation

Misinformation and conspiracy theories about health had long been a growing problem before the pandemic, but it took COVID-19 to get the government and researchers to take it seriously. Now, a new report in The Washington Post adds to previous reporting from multiple sources describing how allies of misinformation—and not just health misinformation—are striking back under the guise of defending “free speech.”

It turns out that health misinformation and disinformation and the “freedom” to promote them now have very powerful allies, as a report in the Washington Post published a week ago demonstrates:

Academics, universities and government agencies are overhauling or ending research programs designed to counter the spread of online misinformation amid a legal campaign from conservative politicians and activists who accuse them of colluding with tech companies to censor right-wing views.

The escalating campaign — led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans in Congress and state government — has cast a pall over programs that study not just political falsehoods but also the quality of medical information online.

Obviously, the sort of misinformation that this blog has been most involved in combatting is health misinformation. Indeed, over the last three years, the tsunami of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines has become a primary focus of our work. While it is true that, as the pandemic has subsided somewhat, we have increasingly returned to our pre-COVID-19 subjects, COVID-19 is never far from our concerns. However, the problem described in the Post report goes beyond health misinformation:

Facing litigation, Stanford University officials are discussing how they can continue tracking election-related misinformation through the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a prominent consortium that flagged social media conspiracies about voting in 2020 and 2022, several participants told The Washington Post. The coalition of disinformation researchers may shrink and also may stop communicating with X and Facebook about their findings.

This is, of course, exactly the desired result of such campaigns, which intentionally target those who research misinformation, how it is created, how it spreads, and how to combat it, portraying such research as inherently biased against them and an attack on “freedom,” in particular “free speech.” When such campaigns come from powerful legislators (virtually all of whom are right wing Republicans), the end result is this sort of reaction:

The National Institutes of Health froze a $150 million program intended to advance the communication of medical information, citing regulatory and legal threats. Physicians told The Post that they had planned to use the grants to fund projects on noncontroversial topics such as nutritional guidelines and not just politically charged issues such as vaccinations that have been the focus of the conservative allegations.

NIH officials sent a memo in July to some employees, warning them not to flag misleading social media posts to tech companies and to limit their communication with the public to answering medical questions.

“If the question relates in any way to misinformation or disinformation, please do not respond,” read the guidance email, sent in July after a Louisiana judge blocked many federal agencies from communicating with social media companies. NIH declined to comment on whether the guidance was lifted in light of a September appeals court ruling, which significantly narrowed the initial court order.

This is, of course, another consequence of the simple fact that the government funds a lot of science research. Two of the greatest triumphs of science in the US have been the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Neither are perfect or completely free from potential biases, but I have in the past argued that the methods by which they review, rank, and fund grant applications come as close to a meritocracy as one is likely to find, with grants being reviewed by panels of scientists with expertise in the subject matter of the applications picking the applications over with a fine tooth comb before giving them a priority score from 1-9 (at the NIH, with which I’m most familiar), lower scores being better. Even more surprising, for the most part, the grants with the lowest priority scores are the ones that are funded, regardless of the conspiracy theories of antivaxxers and COVID-19 cranks that have sought to portray funding decisions as a quid pro quo of: “You support Anthony Fauci and the government’s ‘censorship,’ or your research won’t be funded.”

Purists frequently argue that science and medicine should be apolitical, a position that I have never taken. In years past, I used to argue that supporting science-based medicine is inherently political because government regulates medicine and quacks have long tried to use the the political process to weaken the scientific basis of medicine not just in academia but in the government regulatory sphere. Examples of the interface between politics and medicine include what Jann Bellamy used to refer to “legislative alchemy” in which the lead of pseudoscience and quackery (e.g., naturopathy, reflexologychiropractic, and unregulated supplements) are through the legislative process turned into gold through laws turning pseudomedical specialties into specialties recognized and regulated by the government in much the same way that medical practice by those who actually graduated from real, accredited medical schools and residencies is. Other include laws like one in North Carolina that bars the state medical board from disciplining physicians for using alternative medicine unless it can prove that the treatments utilized are ineffective or more harmful that prevailing treatments. (Note the reversal of the standard of evidence. The quack doesn’t have to prove the treatment is effective or less harmful than prevailing treatments; rather the state medical board has to prove that it is ineffective and/or more harmful than prevailing treatments.) This is a law that was passed in 2010, a full decade before the pandemic, and Jann had a good term for these “health freedom” bills and laws too: Quack protection acts.

As a result of the rather obvious interface between politics, medicine, and public health, traditionally I’ve always said that science-based medicine (the movement and this blog) is not apolitical (nor should it be) but rather should strive to be nonpartisan. Unfortunately, even before the pandemic this stance had become more and more difficult to maintain given how much the center of gravity of health misinformation in general, and the antivaccine movement in particular, had shifted to the right. Indeed, by 2015 I was noting with alarm how much the antivaccine movement had shifted to the right, to the point that Republican candidates for President were using antivaccine talking points cloaked in the rhetoric of “freedom,” opposition to mandates, and vaccine safety, while by 2019 certain state legislators had become rife with antivax legislator that antivaxxers were bragging about it. As early as 2018 I was declaring that Republican Party had become the antivaccine party. (It still is, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.‘s campaign for the Democratic nomination for President in 2024 notwithstanding.) I took no pleasure in saying this, because I’d long feared the consequences that could follow if the one area of public health and medicine about which there had been broad bipartisan consensus, school vaccine mandates, were to become hopelessly politicized, something I was warning about in 2017. I had no idea what was to come.

There are two incidents that the Post story primarily focuses on. Both are intended to shut down government effort (or even government funding of efforts) to study and combat misinformation and disinformation, but one is more of a slam-dunk than the other as far as egregiousness of intent goes. The worst example is Rep. Jordan’s effort to shut down the NIH’s program to fund research into misinformation and how to combat it; the second is Missouri v. Biden, a case now before the Supreme Court seeking to block a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that found that the White House, FBI and top federal health officials had likely violated the First Amendment by improperly influencing tech companies’ decisions to remove or suppress posts on the coronavirus and elections. It’s a case that is not without some reasonable, albeit still fairly weak, arguments that the Biden Administration might have gone too far with respect to government compelling speech. Unfortunately, it’s also a case that likely had significant influence on the NIH’s decision to scuttle—for now—its misinformation research program,

Politicians vs. the NIH and NSF

What Rep. Jordan is doing in terms of trying (and, unfortunately, apparently succeeding) in influencing the NIH to eliminate—or at least make much less robust—its program to study misinformation and how to combat is truly alarming. It goes beyond the NIH, too. According to the Post:

In September 2022, an NIH council greenlit a $150 million program to fund research on how to best communicate health issues to the public. Administrators had planned the initiative for months, convening a strategy workshop with top tech and advertising executives, academics, faith leaders and physicians.

“We know there’s a lot of inaccurate health information out there,” said Bill Klein, the associate director of the National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program at a meeting approving the program. He showed a slide of headlines about how online misinformation hampered the response to the covid-19 pandemic, as well as other public health issues, including gun violence and HIV treatment.

The program was intended to address topics vulnerable to online rumors, including nutrition,tobacco, mental health and cancer screenings such as mammograms, according to three people who attended a planning workshop.

Yet in early summer 2023, NIH officials contacted some researchers with the news that the grant program had been canceled. NIH appended a cryptic notice to its website in June, saying the program was on “pause” so that the agency could “reconsider its scope and aims” amid a heated regulatory environment.

Remember that memo to NIH employees about contacts with social media companies and warning them not to flag misinformation on social media platforms? That’s almost certainly as a result of Missouri v. Biden. I’m not going to comment on the suit itself much—I am, after all, not a lawyer—other than to note that on September 8, the Fifth Circuit ruled against the federal government, stating that it had “coerced or significantly encouraged social media platforms to moderate content”, which violated the First Amendment. The Court, however, also ruled that the preliminary injunction had been too broad because it blocked legally allowed content between the government and social media services. The Fifth Circuit Court narrowed the ruling to cover only the government “threatening, pressuring, or coercing social-media companies in any manner to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce posted content of postings containing protected free speech.”

Whether you agree or not that there is a First Amendment issue here, there was one thing that stood out to me as I perused some of the filings for the case. Take a gander at this one from the State of Missouri dated July 4, 2023:

The Court heard oral arguments on this Motion on May 26, 2023 [Doc. No. 288]. Amicus Curiae briefs have been filed in this proceeding on behalf of Alliance Defending Freedom,3 the Buckeye Institute,4 and Children’s Health Defense.5

Children’s Health Defense? That’s RFK Jr.’s antivax organization!

But, again, even if you think that Missouri v. Biden is based in legitimate First Amendment concerns about the Biden Administration using the power of government to coerce speech, either by removing or inhibiting it or by encouraging it, I would argue that what Rep. Jordan is about has far less to do with protecting freedom of speech than it does with protecting freedom of speech by those espousing viewpoints with which he agrees and with suppressing freedom of speech by those who espouse viewpoints that he detests. For example, take a look at what he’s doing to Stanford researchers, which is ironic given how much health information comes from Stanford faculty like Dr. Jay Bhattacharya when in June he did this:

Republican House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and his allies in Congress are demanding documents from and meetings with leading academics who study disinformation, increasing pressure on a group they accuse of colluding with government officials to suppress conservative speech.

Jordan’s colleagues and staffers met Tuesday on Capitol Hill with a frequent target of right-wing activists, University of Washington professor Kate Starbird, two weeks after they interviewed Clemson University professors who also track online propaganda, according to people familiar with the events.

Last week, Jordan (Ohio) threatened legal action against Stanford University, home to the Stanford Internet Observatory, for not complying fully with his records requests. The university turned over its scholars’ communications with government officials and big social media platforms but is holding back records of some disinformation complaints. Stanford told The Washington Post that it omitted internal records, some filed by students. The university is negotiating for limited interviews.

As much as Jordan and his allies cloak this in the rhetoric of the First Amendment and preventing government “censorship” of right wing voices, there is one purpose behind actions like this. It’s the same purpose that abusive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have when weaponized at scholars working for the government or for state universities where faculty emails are subject to FOIA: to dig for dirt to “expose” and weaponize against academics doing research that they don’t like and thereby to intimidate them either to silence or to tone down their work.

It’s not just the NIH, either. According to this weekend’s report in the Post, Jordan’s committee is going after researchers who have received NSF funding to study misinformation and how to counter it, with the intended results:

Some NSF grant recipients who have not received requests from Jordan’s committee say they are facing a barrage of online threats over their work, which has prompted some to buy services that make it harder to find their addresses, such as DeleteMe.

I’ve been subject to harassment, a libel suit, and abusive FOIA requests just for editing this blog and running my own personal pseudonymous blog, and that was bad enough. I can only imagine what these academics are going through. Let me disabuse you, though, of one idea. This is not just about the NIH and NSF. It’s about using the power of government to silence academics.

Politicians vs. academics on misinformation

In fact, this is not just about the NIH or the NSF, but about academics in general, as can be seen by further reporting:

Connie Moon Sehat, a researcher-at-large for the group, said she and other researchers have faced online attacks including threats to reveal personal information and veiled death threats. She says members of her team are at times under high levels of stress and having ongoing conversations about how to elevate accurate information on social media, as some platforms become increasingly toxic.

“We are double- and triple-checking what we write, above what we used to, to try to communicate our good intentions — in the face of efforts that willfully misconstrue our work and desire to serve the public,” Sehat said. “And I worry more broadly that we researchers may self-censor our inquiry, or that some will drop out altogether, to stay safe.”

Again, that is precisely the intended result of these “inquiries” into what people like Rep. Jordan are now calling the “censorship-industrial complex.” (Cute.) Those undertaking them want to punish academics whose research threatens them or, failing that, at least make them so afraid that they constantly second-guess themselves, tone down their findings, or even just leave the field altogether.

It isn’t about funding by the NIH or NSF, either. Private groups have been targeted:

Jordan’s committee has sent records requests to a number of universities and independent research groups that worked on the Virality Project, which monitored anti-vaccine narratives across social media platforms after coronavirus vaccines became available, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to speak publicly.

Groups that received demands for information include the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington, the National Conference on Citizenship, and New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics as well as its Tandon School of Engineering, the person said.

In one letter obtained by The Post, Jordan alleges strong ties between the Virality Project and federal government agencies, most notable being the Office of the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The letter seeks years worth of communications between employees at those organizations and representatives of the executive branch and social media companies.

In case you’re wondering what the Virality Project is, it’s a “global study aimed at understanding disinformation dynamics specific to the COVID-19 crisis.” Also, rather interestingly to me, it’s about more than disinformation spreaders:

We have a unique opportunity to address several outstanding research questions:
  1. Tactics: How do governments leverage the full scope of media and social media capabilities – overt and covert – to spread particular narratives? What can we learn about state information capabilities from this crisis?
  2. Priorities: What do government information operations tell us about their geopolitical priorities?
  3. Actors: What role do groups that are partially aligned or not aligned with governments, such as groups opposed to vaccination, play in these information operations? To what extent do these groups coordinate?
  4. Interaction between government narratives and local communities: What is the relationship between government narratives, user-generated content, participatory dissemination, and mass media?

Also, most importantly, the work is being funded by private sources:

This work is being funded by pre-existing grants by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Hewlett Foundation. Funding bodies interested in supporting this work are encouraged to reach out to [email protected].

All of this does, of course, risk angering those whose power and careers depend on spreading misinformation, and the techniques of harassment should sound familiar to longtime readers of this blog:

As the field of disinformation research has grown more politically contentious, researchers say that records requests, subpoenas and lawsuits have become tools of harassment. The fear of being targeted is profound enough that several researchers spoke on the condition that they not be named, and one prominent professor asked to be removed from the story entirely, citing concerns about his family’s safety.

“The set of techniques used to harass people online has gotten more sophisticated,” said Alice Marwick, an associate professor of communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Right now, there’s a lot of bad actors who are using freedom of information requests to harass academics working at public universities. And that wasn’t something we saw until a few years ago.”

Neo, not really. Those of us who have been combatting the antivaccine movement and various forms of quackery for a long time recall that abusive FOIA requests were “pioneered” many years ago and had become pretty common by the time the pandemic hit. I myself have been subject to at least three. I will say that the most recent of these abusive FOIA requests did have an amusing aspect to it. An antivaxxer wanted any correspondence between the NIH and me. While I have had NIH collaborators and a PubMed search will find several papers on which I’m co-author that involve NIH researchers, in reality the amount of correspondence that I have with NIH researchers is rather limited. I am, however, on several NIH listservs, which means that I have hundreds, if not thousands, of emails from those listservs. Since the crank who had subjected me to the abusive FOIA did not specify to exclude listserv results, I suggested that the university counsel send him everything. While this made only a little more work for the lawyer, because those making FOIA requests have to pay, it increased the expense of the request. I am hoping that I got a little bit of revenge that way.

Academics respond

Unfortunately, my bit of fun with one harasser is just one minor time when I feel as though I might have returned the favor in terms of causing inconvenience to a tormentor. The vast majority of the time, the academic targeted has no recourse other than to hunker down and hope the harassment blows over, combined possibly with either abandoning the targeted line of research or making their research somehow less threatening. In fact, it’s getting so bad that academics are considering this:

Many academics, independent scholars and philanthropic funders are discussing how to collectively defend the disinformation research field. One proposal would create a group to gather donations into a central fund to pay for crisis communications and — most critically — legal support if one of them gets sued or subpoenaed in a private case or by Congress. The money could also fund cybersecurity counseling to ward off hackers and stalkers and perhaps physical security as well.

This is a good start. Certainly, back in the day, when Dr. Paul Offit was receiving death threats, complete with harassing phone calls indicating that the caller knew the names of his children, where they went to school, and where his family lived in response to his defense of vaccines and pushback against antiavax misinformation, things were a lot less organized. Fortunately for Dr. Offit, he was on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which meant that he had a physical guard whenever he attended, and his university was supportive and willing to expend the resources to screen his mail. Still, two decades ago, cases like his were anomalies. They aren’t anymore. They’re much more common, victims of an intentional tactic to silence.

Another idea that sounds as though it might work but won’t is:

University academics are also mulling ways to rebrand their work to attract less controversy. One leader in a university disinformation research center said scholars have discussed using more generic terms to describe their work such as “information integrity” or “civic participation online.” Those terms “have less of a bite to them,” said a person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak on the private discussions. Similar conversations are occurring within public health agencies, another person said.

Superficially, this sort of approach seems reasonable. However, you can bet that right wing defenders of misinformation like Rep. Jordan will not be mollified by a rebranding or renaming of the research. They won’t be mollified by anything less than cessation of such research or changing the research so that it exonerates their allies who are promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation about health and so many other areas. It’s why the far right, assisted by Rep. Jordan and his committee, has targeted the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). It is all part of a coordinated strategy.

I realize that misinformation is not just being spread by the right and the Republican Party. Indeed, back in the day, it was much easier to be political in my advocacy for SBM while remaining, for the most part, nonpartisan. 15 years ago, there was some truth to the common stereotype of the antivaccine movement as being primarily made up of crunchy granola munching lefties. (The stereotype was always an exaggeration, but let’s just say that the leftwing component of the antivax movement was much more prominent in those days.) Here and now, in 2023, it can no longer be denied that, however much misinformation might emanate from left wing sources, the sheer volume of misinformation and disinformation that emanates from right wing sources far exceeds it. The recent volley coming from Congress is nothing more than the latest chapter in the long-running saga of the war on science-based regulation of medicine and public health in which the pandemic has served as a convenient event to push quacks and right wing activists and politicians who view all government regulation as the enemy into bed together. It is a conflict that goes back 200 years.

I am far less optimistic about the outcome than I used to be.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

35 replies on “Powerful people like Rep. Jim Jordan are promoting health misinformation”

Unfortunately this sort of abuse isn’t just for vaccine scientists and disinformation researchers – it applies to people who challenge fascism from a variety of perspectives. Brown Shirts for the digital age.

I bet Gym Jordan is secretly vaccinated despite his promotion of these hoaxes, just like most of the rest of the Republican leadership.

“If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero. If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
— Gov. Ron DeSantis, July 2021

“I hope this [Covid] wakes people up to the value of vaccines too. There’s so many wackos out there that think that vaccines are a scam, or they’re dangerous. There are so many people out there that won’t vaccinate their children.”
— Joe Rogan, March 10, 2020, interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm, pro-vaccine before Spotify corporation gave him $100 million, now he is anti-vaccine (at least in public). Only Joe Rogan show I’ve listened to.

“The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”
– H.L. Mencken

I wish that our reality was different. I wish that Covid vaccine was as promised: a completely safe substance that “stays in the arm”, prevents Covid infections, and stops the pandemic, or at least completely shields vaccinated people while confining the pandemic to the unvaccinated.

I would greatly prefer to live in a world like that instead of spending several nights in ERs and hospitals with a vaccinated relative, going to a cardiologist with someone who never needed one before, etc. One vaxed individual I know (not the above mentioned relative) had FIVE Covids.

In such a world, vaccinated people would be happy, the “misinformation” would be completely pointless as people would immediately see the benefits of the Covid vaccine”, no vaccinated people would have Covid, etc.

If that were the case, I would not have my substack blog because I would not be able to find any subscribers. There would not even be a need for “fact-checkers” and “disinformation researchers” – as the truth of the immense success of Covid vaccines would be completely obvious and undeniable.

My substack is an enormous investment of personal time, which I spend to save the world from the Covid vaccine, and it would be so much better if the world did not need saving. I would have much more free time.

Sadly, we live in a different world, where the Covid vaccine does not stay in the arm, damages hearts, sheds on infants and children, does not prevent Covid, makes Covid more likely, and barely prevents severe disease for a couple of months after each booster shot. In such a world, Pfizer needs to pay a cadre of “disinformation researchers” to devise sinister strategies and write dishonest fact checks.

It is no surprise that the “disinformation researchers” resist attempts to make their work transparent: they are the party who disinforms the general public and uses dirty psychological tricks. An example of such tricks is “inoculation with weakened misinformation”, an unethical approach to purposely debunk made-up absurdities to prevent the general public from looking at serious research.

Attempts to mandate a non-working vaccine backfired spectacularly and we are seeing a fallout from that.

To paraphrase the Principal from Billy Madison:
“Mr Chudov, what you’ve just said was one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent comment were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this website is now dumber for having seen it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

To accept Igor’s reality, we would have to reject most of what SBM, the media and governmental agencies all over the world have revealed about Covid vaccines over the past several years:
alternative thinkers like him present parts of research findings, slant others and make up additional data to scare the public. away from vaccines.
So we should believe them?

No one ever said that vaccines prevented illness 100% or that they were 100% safe YET Igor and likeminded mis-informers insinuate danger and life threatening scenarios that keep changing to keep their followers engaged and scared. In addition, they inject conspiracy theories about evil cartels and political manipulation that has no evidence in fact.

Why are Orac and most of his regulars not terrified of vaccines?
Because they understand enough to not fall victim to dis/mis-information.
Why do I not know anyone with a “vaccine injury”?

RCT trials showed 95% efficiency, not 100%
Interesting is that Fauci actually said was if you are vaccinated, you are safe. He did not claim no infections. This is an example of misinformation.
You did not tell us who claimed that vaccine stays in the arm. You should give a citation.

Right. All through the testing and rollout of Covid vaccines, numbers like 94-95% were repeatedly published
and NO product ever in reality is 100% safe- side effects and dangers like allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients are noted.

We observe how anti-vaxxers distort results/ news.

In addition to practicing all over three states I’m the meds director for a group that runs vaccine sites for one of those states. Been doing this for two years. NOT ONE reported vaccine injury. Not one in the Mayo system, which is where most of our sub specialists come from. As stated before -I ASK. No one has ever heard of a covid vaccine injury. We have all seen long covid, though, many times. 

Millions of patient encounters. Hundreds of thousands, of doses of the vaccines given across those two clinical enterprises. 

But, trust Igor. He seems to know where all these vaccine-injured people and hot-Costco-milfs are. 

Oh, as a p.s.-we just had the first fatality I’ve seen from covid in eight months at a sister facility. Totally unvaxxed. 51 years old. 

Again, trust Igor. 

A new record for incoherent 🐂 shit from Igor.

“One vaxed individual I know (not the above mentioned relative) had FIVE Covids.”

A friend of a friend’s uncle’s cousin told me this is utter fabricated nonsense.

A modest investment of your enormously valuable personal time in learning basic principles of science and critical thinking might pay big dividends. But you’d lose your germ theory-denying, conspiracy-spouting antivax loon subscribers. 🙁

Igor writes: “My substack is an enormous investment of personal time . . .”
Your substack is an enormous waste of our time. Stop the whining.

Igor writes: “My substack is an enormous investment of personal time . . .”

My blog has been an enormous investment of personal time for 19 years. If anything, I spend less time on it these days, as longtime readers can tell from my posting frequency having fallen from 5-7 posts/week back around 2010 to around 2-3 posts/week now.

I always find your posts to be interesting and stimulating reads. You have many loyal subscribers and you have a community going.

Life with a purpose is much better than life without one.

I post 2-3 times a week. Not all of my days are great days so this is about as well as I can do.

None of your claims is based on research, just tales, One aims of disinformation research study phenomenom of believing tales.
You will notice that your experience is specifc to you. Start with having 40000 experiences (a clinical trial).
This would not explain world wide conspricay run by Gates. Quite a jumo, I would say.


Your views on “disinformation” are shamefully, though, unsurprisingly, one dimensional.

Why don’t you have the same umbrage and passion for disinformation from corrupt government, of which there are copious examples, and the ramifications of said disinformation are far more significant than the quacks you passionately rail about? You say nothing about such disinformation. Why?

Here’s a prime example: “51 former intelligence officials” who signed an open letter to the public–only weeks before the presidential election, stating categorically the Hunter laptop had all the hallmarks of Russian election interference. That assertion was, complete, unmitigated, horseshit, and those “51 former intelligence officials” knew damn well that was true, and they simply told a brazen lie. And these weren’t merely low level functionaries–no, it included 2 former CIA Directors, former Director of National Intelligence, 2 CIA Acting Directors, 2 former CIA Chief of Staff, among many of equal caliber.

Isn’t credentials a big topic in your umbrage about disinformation? That quacks and heretics who haven’t even studied topics are (heaven forbid) allowed to “spread false/misleading information”–isn’t that a major red flag for identifying sources of disinfo? So tell me true Orac–do you have disdain and umbrage at the “former intel officials” that quite literally lied to influence the election? Pure disinformation–spread by “well credentialed experts” with the intent to mislead. In a presidential election no less. Why wouldn’t you comment on this type of misinformation if you care so deeply about the subject?

How about Russiagate? Yet another hoax brazenly foisted on the public by a government/media propaganda machine–again, pure lies about the Trump campaign being aligned or in contact with Russia during or after the campaign. The objective of that disinformation was to hamstring a duly elected President of the United States. You say nary a word. Why? It is another prime example of disinformation.

How about de-platforming people from social media? The Twitter files clearly show government censorship of “disinformation”, much of which wasn’t false or misleading–it was merely inconvenient. What about that example of how “disinformation” that wasn’t disinformation was handled? Do you think corporations should censor information at the behest of government–regardless of whether that information is indeed false or misleading–it is simply labeled as such by so called “experts”?

How about the vogue idiocy about men being able to menstruate, or that men/women can simply decide they are a different sex, and thus it is so, biologic fact be damned! Is that disinformation in your book Orac? If a man or woman does not agree with the assertion that gender is fluid–are those views disinformation? Or are the denizens of fluidity practicing the horror of disinformation?

You and folks like you seem to believe that your righteousness trumps all contrary views. I bet you will claim that’s not true–you only believe disinformation should be regulated/managed in very specific circumstances–like when it’s a matter of public health. That sounds very altruistic and righteous, except for the part where it’s clear you don’t care at all about disinformation in equally consequential instances like the Hunter memo, Russiagate, Twitter censorship, or gender fluidity–among many other countless examples.

You can’t have it both ways Orac. If disinformation is wrong, then it’s wrong across the board, not simply when its convenient, or when the disinformation happens to offend your sensibilities. And, you offer zero insight into how you–or anyone–could handle the obvious complications of trying to determine what is “acceptable”. (See above examples for evidence of complications).

Thankfully the founding fathers wrote the First Amendment specifically to thwart those who wish to regulate the speech of others.

How about the vogue idiocy about men being able to menstruate, or that men/women can simply decide they are a different sex, and thus it is so, biologic fact be damned! Is that disinformation in your book Orac? If a man or woman does not agree with the assertion that gender is fluid–are those views disinformation? Or are the denizens of fluidity practicing the horror of disinformation?

And, with the anti-trans bigotry and misunderstanding, you’ve revealed your true stripes.

The hyper-projection (complete upside-down from the real) is an even better tell.

Compelled speak is not censorship. Use right words.
How it can be even complled speak, if someone asks medical advice from a government scientist ? Indeed appeals court says that coercion is required.
Original assessment was actually lo probability of lab leak. There is investigation going on, Let us wait results.

portnoy must be jealous of igor’s latest fact free postings and is afraid that people will forget that portnoy is just as ignorant and biased as igor is. What a pair of clueless clowns.

Since facts seem to hurt your feelings, I suggest that you push your fingera further into your ears (until they touch perhaps). Don’t know how you missed the conviction of Trump allies for working for Russia. These invwstigations were initiated by the FBI head Trump appointed. Perhaps you were trying tob figure out if you’re male or female when those hit the news? Hope you got that settled.

It’s really too bad that there’s no socio-political vaccine strong enough to thwart Jim Jordan’s odious presence on the national stage, never mind anything the coatless nuisance promulgates through his overzealous piehole.

“coerced or significantly encouraged social media platforms to moderate content”

Errm…isn’t this also what happens when governments try to make social media companies crack down on racist, bullying and sexual abuse content?

Yes. And in the United States, the government can’t crack down on “racist” content, which is protected by the First Amendment. “Bullying” might or might not be; if it amounts to harassment of an individual or physical threats, the government might or might not be able to legally crack down – this is a fraught area of First Amendment law. If the “sexual abuse” is actually criminal abuse (such as exploitation of a child), the government absolutely can crack down on online dissemination of related material. If it’s sexual harassment, or revenge porn, or similar content where the underlying content isn’t clearly illegal, it again becomes a rather fraught area – it might or might be protected by the First Amendment.

Yes, and you’d better believe that people like Rep. Jordan would love it if the government would no longer be able to tell social media sites to moderate racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments either.

The U.S. government isn’t “able to tell social media sites to moderate racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments”. Racists, fascists, and neo-Nazis have First Amendment rights to Freedom of Speech and of the Press, to Peaceful Assembly, and to Petition. If the U.S. government were to attempt to induce private social media sites “to moderate racist/facist/neo-nazi comments” as such, that would be a clear and blatant violation of the First Amendment. The government can “tell social media sites to moderate” comments which involve incitement to imminent violence and credible threats of imminent violence, or where the comments otherwise amount to illegal conduct. But “racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments” are not in and of themselves illegal, and the U.S. government can’t interfere with them, and can’t interfere by proxy by telling a private actor to do so.

“as such, that would be a clear and blatant violation of the First Amendment”

Out of interest. Whose First Amendment? The company or the person posting?. I’m assuming the company since they can, presumably, set their own rules about post content if they want to.

Potentially, both.

The company can, of course, set its own rules on content. As long as only private actors are involved in the decision, the First Amendment doesn’t apply.

If the government tries “to tell social media sites to moderate racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments” that’s a blatant violation of the site owner’s First Amendment rights.

If the social media site goes along with the government’s instructions on how “to moderate racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments”, that’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment rights of anyone whose comments were moderated on that basis. The government can’t use private actors as proxies to do an end run around the First Amendment and infringe on freedom of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights to peaceful assembly and to petition the government.

In the U.S., the government can’t prevent “racist/fascist/neo-nazi comments” from being made in the public square, and can’t punish anyone for making such comments. It also can’t prevent anyone from publishing or disseminating such comments, or punish them for doing so.

This needs to be qualified some. Government can – and government always has – try to convince social media that misinformation is bad and harmful. Government tries to convince companies to do things all the time – and generally companies have no problem saying “no” if they don’t want to.

What the jurisprudence says is that government cannot coerce or order private companies to remove content. That would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Less clear – and trickier – is the question about substantial encouragement that led the Fifth Circuit to include CDC – which they found did not coerce social media – and CISA – in a recent injunction.

Hey, if I were Gym Jordan, I’d certainly like the conversation to be about vaccines, rather than about covering up xes crimes.

Because I know how much Orac et al LOVE these guys…

Gary Null, today, presents a clip of Bill Maher ( paraphrase) saying how stupid most people are…..

Sure, two loons who think that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent and that diet cures everything
Also, alties’ intrinsic misanthropy never fails to amaze me.

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