What’s your impression of baseball star Ty Cobb? Probably not favorable.
In 2015, a New York Times-bestselling book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, exploded the derogatory, even defamatory, myths and half-truths about the Hall of Famer. Writer Charles Leerhsen went over contemporaneous sources dispassionately and with an open mind.
So? So the “narrative” about a sports phenomenon was grossly wrong for years and remained the conventional wisdom until someone brought another perspective, systematic research skills and willingness to let the chips fall where they may.
The point is that the First Amendment protects property rights of free speech and independent communication outlets. The Founders valued John Milton’s marketplace of ideas, where open dialogue sifts competing ideas such that the truth rises to the top.
Yet, we see this threatened. Take the debate over responses to the coronavirus. Lockstep news media parrot the latest COVID model predictions as though they were gospel. They paint officials for lockdowns as morally superior and those for an approach balancing commerce and containment as evil or stupid.
In grad school, I learned how experimental-designed research with control group and statistically adequate data yields the most valid and reliable results. And even well-designed projects face internal and external factors that may invalidate their findings.
Groupthink poses a risk to free-speech property rights. All the experts speaking to one another in an echo chamber seem so assured and definitive — until proven incorrect. COVID modelers, who are experts in their fields, are humans with blind spots and limitations and perhaps a strongly fixed interpretive lens. Their track record? To quote N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “All the early national experts, ‘Here’s my projection model’ . . . They were all wrong.” One might say more Chicken Little and less Oracle of Delphi.
Today an oligopoly of Left Coast Internet platforms — that suck the lion’s share of advertising dollars away from smaller competitors — and a few dominant media conglomerates dictate a groupthink narrative about things. This stranglehold on the throat of the free marketplace of ideas is destroying free speech, through censorship and “cancel culture” writ large, including about COVID-19 issues.
This matters; it assaults our property rights of free speech. It also matters because of huge consequences. Consider Aaron Ginn, whose March 20 article on Medium, titled “Evidence over hysteria — COVID-19,” got millions of eyes, including two of a University of Washington interested expert. Medium pulled the article, which compiled official data and scientific research and presented fresh analysis by an unbiased party, after groupthinkers’ criticism.
What if Ginn’s right and they’re wrong? Should self-appointed censors with fat wallets be the sole judges of which ideas are privileged and which ones to “protect” the public from?
Another COVID-lockdown skeptic devoted to real science, Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford Medical School, has used sound quantitative methodology and statistical analysis applied to real data, instead of modeling based on flawed assumptions. For instance, Ioannidis analyzed actual data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and found a COVID death rate similar to regular old flu. You won’t learn that from lockstep propagandists.
True scientists admit their finitude, consider alternative conclusions, and adjust theories as new evidence and better, more substantial data emerge. That’s known as the scientific method.
We desperately need rededication to that and to Miltonian First Amendment rights. Americans should take to heart the principled and practical benefits of unencumbered exchange of ideas without resorting to character assassination.
As for Cobb, the “Georgia Peach” was elected on the first ballot to the Baseball Hall of Fame, getting the most votes of the five electees on the ballot. “The real Cobb was a far more complex character . . . ,” the book cover reads. Thankfully for Cobb, his HOF vote came well before Jacobins of political correctness and ideologues masquerading as scientists, experts and news reporters “cancelled” him based on a false “narrative.”