Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley explains how science is corrupted by “preapproved narratives.” Two slices:
Scientists were aghast last month when Patrick Brown, climate director at the Breakthrough Institute in Berkeley, Calif., acknowledged that he’d censored one of his studies to increase his odds of getting published. Credit to him for being honest about something his peers also do but are loath to admit.
In an essay for the Free Press, Mr. Brown explained that he omitted “key aspects other than climate change” from a paper on California wildfires because such details would “dilute the story that prestigious journals like Nature and its rival, Science, want to tell.” Editors of scientific journals, he wrote, “have made it abundantly clear, both by what they publish and what they reject, that they want climate papers that support certain preapproved narratives.”
Nature’s editor, Magdalena Skipper, denied that the journal has “a preferred narrative.” No doubt the editors at the New York Times and ProPublica would say the same of their own pages.
In January 2022, Johns Hopkins University economist Steve H. Hanke reported that Covid lockdowns had little effect on deaths. When he attempted to publish the findings on SSRN, the site turned him down. “Given the need to be cautious about posting medical content, SSRN is selective on the papers we post,” a rejection notice informed Mr. Hanke.
That’s the same response the site gave University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist Vinay Prasad when rejecting his studies debunking widely cited Covid studies, such as one claiming Boston schools’ mask mandate reduced cases. SSRN is run by the company Elsevier, which also publishes prominent medical journals that uniformly promote Covid orthodoxy.
Scientific journals and preprint servers aren’t selective about research quality. They’re selective about the conclusions. If experts want to know why so many Americans don’t trust “science,” they have their answer. Too many scientists no longer care about science.
Writing at National Review, Jay Bhattacharya describes and decries the plague of groupthink and censorship in science. Two slices:
Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.
I say this from firsthand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free-speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s Covid policies.
American government officials, working in concert with Big Tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies — criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.
So, what did the government want censored?
The trouble began on October 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I — Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford — published the Great Barrington Declaration. It called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies because they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits.
The declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public-health scientists signed on to our statement.
With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths of nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary-school children. Similarly, Florida has lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-crazy California since the start of the pandemic.
In the poorest parts of the world, the lockdowns were an even greater disaster. By spring 2020, the United Nations was already warning that the economic disruptions caused by the lockdowns would lead to 130 million or more people starving. The World Bank warned the lockdowns would throw 100 million people into dire poverty.
My GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein closely reads an important paragraph written by Adam Smith.
Pierre Lemieux writes about “the circus of FTC v. Amazon.” A slice:
The foundation of the argument against antitrust is that competition and potential competition provide a built-in constraint against concentration. Competition only requires that the market be free from government-granted privileges and legal restrictions to entry. In a free market, greed controls greed. In an overgrown state, power does not control power as much as it fuels it.
Economist Tom Hazlett explains Google’s popularity. Two slices:
The innovation was simple in design, complex in execution, and radical in result. The business achieved a rare triple play: First, a robust new web crawler devised a superior method for finding and tagging the world’s digital content, deploying cheap PCs linked in formations to achieve momentous computing power (Brin’s genius). Second, this more prolific database of global digital content was better cataloged. A clever “Page Rank” score evaluated keyword matches, countering the influence of scammers by scrutinizing the quality of their web page links (Page’s inspiration). Third, “intention-based advertising” displayed commercial messages to searchers self-identified as ready to buy. For instance, the internet user wondering about “coho salmon, Ketchikan, kids” gave Hank’s Family Fishing B&B in Alaska a digital target for its 10 percent off coupon, while signaling to Olay not to bother advertising its skin care products. This solved the famous marketing dilemma: “I know I’m wasting half my ad budget, I just don’t know which half.” Businesses loved these tiny slices of digital real estate, and Google mined gold.
The bountiful cash flow funded vast computer overhead and an elite army of software programmers, enabling Google to deliver truly extraordinary benefits to the mass market—all for free. According to Stanford University economist Eric Brynjolfsson’s conservative empirical estimate, each Google user in the U.S. enjoys an astounding $750 a year in consumer surplus, amounting to around $184 billion annually for the 246 million daily Google users— the equivalent to 1 percent of GDP.
It is crucial to recall that it was not yet theirs in 2002. Google was a phenom, yes, and it attracted 16 percent of U.S. search traffic. But Yahoo still had 36 percent, and strong rivals such Overture, Excite, and—yes—Microsoft were all in the mix. Yet, once Google scraped together the coin to launch on the big stage, consumers flocked. In just two years, Google passed Yahoo. The better mousetrap broke into a market where the giants demanded pay-to-play. So the upstart paid. Soon, the little guy owned the world. It is unfortunate that the then-ISP monopoly (as per the Federal Trade Commission’s official position), AOL, is not around to see it.
Pat Lynch spoke with Bruce Caldwell about Hayek (F.A., not Salma).