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Dan Klein in the Wall Street Journal on the Censoring of Science

My GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein’s letter, to appear in the print edition of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, is a gem:

Thanks are due to Allysia Finley for alerting the public to the censorship of counternarrative science (“How ‘Preapproved Narratives’ Corrupt Science,” Life Science, Oct. 2). An account of censorship perpetrated by Social Science Research Network and medRxiv is provided in a new article in Econ Journal Watch by Jay Bhattacharya and Steve Hanke.

In one chapter of “The Road to Serfdom” (1944), Friedrich Hayek writes of the urge toward censorship in antiliberal regimes. “Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed,” he writes. Propaganda from the government is not sufficient: “The plan itself in every detail . . . must become sacrosanct and exempt from criticism.”

Consider the following sentence of Hayek’s in light of the Covid experience, along with the asides I insert: “The basis of unfavorable comparison [the savaging of Sweden’s minimal lockdown policy], the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken [e.g., focused protection], information which might suggest failure on the part of the government [the lockdown study by Prof. Hanke and co-authors, information about vaccine safety and efficacy, etc.]—all will be suppressed.”

Down the road to serfdom, in the sciences themselves, Hayek says, the “search for truth cannot be allowed” and “vindication of the official views becomes the sole object.” In scholarly disciplines, he continues, “the pretense that they search for truth is abandoned and . . . the authorities decide what doctrines ought to be taught and published.”

Hayek sounded the alarm because he saw how things unfolded on the European continent. The further we go down the antiliberal road, the more fragile and vulnerable are official narratives to criticism. As a result, Hayek says, “intolerance . . . is openly extolled” by the mind-guards and minions of official narratives.

Hayek’s point was not what Yogi Berra had in mind when he said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” But the point fits.

Prof. Daniel Klein
George Mason University, Mercatus
Chief editor, Econ Journal Watch
Fairfax, Va.