Social media fact-checkers are destroying good science
In 1999, then–attorney general Janet Reno empaneled a special counsel to investigate the 1993 Waco siege after learning that the FBI had misled her about the use of pyrotechnic rounds fired during the standoff's last day. The Special Counsel (predictably) found no evidence of government complicity in civilian deaths, and investigators like me and several colleagues, who'd tested weapons, observed infrared video, and calculated relevant geometries before coming to the opposite conclusion, wondered whether our diligent efforts had been in vain.
A few years following, I penned a critique of the deeply flawed science underpinning the special counsel's results. Now, nearly two decades later, I can see how amazing it was that an investigation was conducted at all. For I doubt whether it would have gone forward in these days of social media, when Facebook and Twitter rise above all, dominating the scene like Mt. Everest, their fact-checkers occupying positions of consequence well above their native levels of experience and renown.
That's what it seems like to me, as I've not seen the names and résumés of fact-checkers who pin "fake news" on the conclusions of a researcher such as, for example, Li-Meng Yan, M.D., Ph.D.
Conspiracy theory! False information! Unsubstantiated! blare the warning notices from my shaded Facebook posts sharing Dr. Yan's work, which also encourage me to check "reputable" sources (like the WHO) for the real deal.
In the old days, we who challenged official narratives were also called crazy, conspiracists, and right-wing extremists. The difference, then and now? We didn't risk being deplatformed — i.e., canceled, as no all-encompassing "free speech" platform existed back then.
Today, Facebook's faceless fact-checkers screech into the faces of science at every turn. Their shrill cacophonies influence the narrative.
Drive-by critique does not help the cause of science. It does assist in shuttering and eliminating opposing views.
Drive-by critique insults scientists by pitting the work of a credible researcher against the judgment of an employee whose name you'll never know, working for a company you've never heard of.
Drive-by critique is argumentum ad baculum, as it arrives with a cudgel to punish dissent with deplatforming unless you change your ways. (Dr. Yan's Twitter was deleted after only two active days.)
Instead of a national conversation on key issues, we now have platform-wide restrictions on speech. Far from drawing in qualified professionals to help resolve controversies by applying their expertise, this situation works to constrain professionals who might otherwise wish to contribute. After all, why apply the results of years of learning to a problem when one Facebook fact-checker, identity known only to that utility, can demolish your conclusions with a swipe?
Umm, no. I think I'll sit this one out.
After all, who needs scientists when you have Facebook fact-checkers?
Barbara G. Grant is an electro-optical engineer. Her website is grantdrone.com.