AN information war is raging. Many people regard the state, institutional science and BBC as dependable sources of information. A sizeable minority, though, distrust government and approved experts, instead turning to critics. During the purported pandemic of Covid-19, parallel realities emerged. This two-part article was inspired by a special edition of Scientific American, titled ‘Truth v Lies’, containing more than 100 pages of intellectual rationale for tighter information control. We shall explore the concept of misinformation from two angles. First, as epistemology: how is knowledge created and validated for public consumption, and politically incorrect information discredited? Secondly, we shall delve into the ideological motives for propaganda and censorship.
KNOWLEDGE is power, explained Michel Foucault, and the powerful are unwilling to share it. Consider the allegedly lurid activities of President Joe Biden’s son, lurking on his misplaced laptop. Consider the multitude of VIPs who visited underage sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s island (the trial of accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell was not televised, and the clients for whom she trafficked victims has remained secret). Consider use of the Emergency Act to quash the Canadian truckers’ protest, and the redacted documents provided to the official inquiry on this extraordinary decision. We, the ordinary people, are only an edited version of truth.
On the outbreak of Covid-19, all debate was quashed. This is illustrated by the recent Spectator revelations of Isabel Oakeshott, who helped former Health Secretary Matt Hancock to write his account of the unprecedented public health regime. With a growing resistance movement holding large rallies in Trafalgar Square, in September 2020 Hancock implored Michael Gove to ‘kill it off’. Meanwhile Hancock worked behind the scenes to deplatform eminent scientists Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan of Oxford University, whose lockdown scepticism he slated as ‘absurd’.
Epistemology is the study and application of knowledge. The Enlightenment, facilitated by the printing press, was a liberating development, leading to mass literacy and enfranchisement. But authoritarians always strive to manipulate information to their advantage, while suppressing opposing evidence or opinion.
Then came the cyber revolution, and the summit of ‘Mount Freedom’ came into view. However, as the faltering Arab Spring showed, the internet is a double-edged sword: it is useful for building a movement, and for state surveillance. Nowadays optimism has faded, as governments collaborate with Big Tech to stifle inconvenient truths. New laws are criminalising wrong-think.
The establishment uses rhetorical devices to preserve its epistemological hegemony. In the 1960s the CIA devised the term ‘conspiracy theory’ to discredit alternative truths circulating around the assassination of President Kennedy. Melinda Wenner Moyer’s 2019 article in Scientific American on believers in conspiracy theories denies conspiring by people in power. Whether she is being naïve or partisan, for Moyer conspiracy is a comfort for people who fear progress.
Theorising is a core scientific practice. Conventional science develops through hypotheses, tested by evidence to verify, refine or refute the theoretical proposition. Karl Popper (1959) asserted that for theory to be scientific it must be falsifiable. However, human behaviour is less amenable to experimental rules. A conspiracy theory could be legitimate sociological inquiry. Conspiracies are elusive because they entail secrecy, but they may eventually be vindicated. Although conspiracy theory is derided, it is more of a stretch to think that everything happens by chance. Like the smugly satirical cock-ups of Private Eye, coincidence theory has no predictive value, and makes us passive recipients of fate. Planning (which we expect of government) becomes conspiring when leaders collaborate with masked intent and ulterior motive.
We have seen how contrived crises are used to make radical and previously unconscionable interventions such as lockdown and digital identity acceptable to the public. The ‘Great Reset’ is derided as a new world order conspiracy theory, despite Klaus Schwab, leader of the globalist World Economic Forum, writing a book The Great Reset (2020) on the technocratic opportunities of Covid-19.
Alongside conspiracy theory are other supposedly misguided or malign forms of untruth. ‘Fake news’ was a term used by Donald Trump for mainstream media, whose hostility throughout his presidency featured a fabricated story of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The establishment, meanwhile, applies the following classification of information disorder:
· Misinformation – unknowingly false information, conveyed without bad intent
· Disinformation – knowingly false information, conveyed with bad intent
· Malinformation – true information, conveyed with bad intent
Covid-19 led to a sudden growth in ‘fact-checkers’. These supposedly independent scrutineers label contrary reports as ‘false’ (or ‘misleading’ if the facts cannot be refuted) leading to suppression or removal. Full Fact, official fact-checker for Facebook, is bankrolled by global corporations including Big Pharma, but such conflict of interest goes unchecked.
Governments worry about counter-narrative because it propagates rapidly on the internet. Ideas can be contagious, and memes extremely virulent. This can work for or against the establishment. In Moralitis: A Cultural Virus (2020), Robert Oulds and I described how ‘woke’ ideology spreads online; the cover features the non-playing character from video games, used as a meme to ridicule slavish followers of the ‘latest thing’. A youth-oriented, aggressive form of progressive ideology, ‘woke’ has an anti-establishment façade, but it is really doing the bidding of the powerful. The educated younger generation was puritanical in pushing pandemic propaganda.
In the coercive consensus on Covid-19, silencing of critics escalated. The first stage of denunciation is to undermine and ridicule opponents. At the second stage, they are portrayed as not only wrong but immoral (this tendency was apparent with Brexit, when Remainers shunned Leavers as bad people). At the third stage, contrarians are cast as dangerous. By connecting dissent and danger, the establishment is invoking moral panic. Like heresy to religious fundamentalists, critical utterances are a mortal threat to society.
In fear of invisible microbes, people were instructed to ‘follow the science’. This created a contrast between believers and unbelievers. The latter, to the dismay of Scientific American writer David Robert Grimes, include people with scientific qualifications. In his article ‘A perfect storm for fringe science’, Grimes railed against the ‘infodemic’ (which the World Health Organisation declared as just as dangerous as the pandemic): ‘Since the dawn of the crisis, a disconcerting number of eminently qualified scientists and physicians have propagated falsehoods across social media, elevating themselves to the status of gurus to lend a veneer of seeming scientific legitimacy to empty dangerous claims. And these bogus claims, like their pathological namesake, have gone uncontrollably viral.’
According to Grimes, if dissenting scientists ‘embrace fringe positions and jettison the principles of scientific scepticism, then their qualifications, education and prestige mean absolutely nothing’. He noted that ‘the history of science and medicine is littered with the hubris of the arrogant and misguided, and mere credentials are no impediment to being wrong’. He’s right there.
In ‘The science of anti-science thinking’, Douglas T Kenrick and colleagues typify lack of insight among the Scientific American collective, telling us without irony that ‘fear increases conformity’. For these scholars, climate change denial is an affront to scientific consensus. They give two examples of anti-science thinking: the hostile reactions to Galileo’s heliocentric evidence and to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. But both of these showed the folly of orthodoxy. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1962) explained that science progresses not as linear trajectory but by a series of revolutions. Great force is needed to disrupt the established paradigm and its assumptions.
According to psychologist Mattias Desmet in The Psychology of Totalitarianism (2021), ‘no matter how fruitful a social consensus may be at a certain time, if it is not dismantled in time and renewed, it will putrefy and eventually have a suffocating impact on society.’ He explains that ‘scientific discourse, like any dominant discourse, has become the privilege instrument of opportunism, lies, deception, manipulation, and power’. Facts are sacred to the new religion of scientism, which is dogma rather than epistemic discipline. Like holy scripture, the creed must be accepted however miraculous (mRNA injections emulating the biblical bread).
Mass formation, explains Desmet, is how a collective truth arises in a time of existential crisis. Covid-19 enabled a pseudoscientific regime that accommodates neither doubt nor debate. The official narrative promoted solidarity, but the means of achieving this were fear and loathing. The government used the media to control the message, with animus stoked against anyone who failed to conform. Extremely discriminatory rhetoric was issued by national leaders such as Jacinda Ardern, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, as well as columnists and celebrities. Victims of adverse reactions were smeared alongside anyone refusing the experimental injections as ‘anti-vaxxers’, a label weaponised by the authorities to foment hatred.
Democracy, like freedom of speech, is problematic for narrative setters. In ‘Post-truth: a guide for the perplexed’, another Scientific American piece, Kathleen Higgins argues that because politicians lie, we rely on scientists for truth. However, on climate change and Covid-19, the scientific community is pursuing the same agenda as governments. Revealingly, the Scientific American editors assert: ‘Instead of surrendering to the idea of a post-truth world, we must recognise this so-called information disorder as an urgent societal crisis and bring rigorous, interdisciplinary research to combat the problem.’
Rather than being a problem for the authorities, ‘post-truth’ is the desired outcome. Next, we shall discuss the motives for this Orwellian ministry.