The Importance of Scientific Dissent
A recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal highlighted a law proposed by the California legislature concerning dissemination of unapproved information about COVID-19 by physicians.
A recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal highlighted a law proposed by the California legislature concerning dissemination of unapproved information about COVID-19 by physicians. The proposal stipulated that physicians licensed in California who issue “misinformation or disinformation” that contradicts or is contrary to the standard of care could be censured. As of this writing, the court has struck down this proposal.
Unfortunately, this is just one example of a growing problem: Namely, the increasing attempt to control scientific dissent. If this proposal — or something similar — became law, who would be responsible for determining who is reprimanded? Would it be practicing physicians, academic physicians, public health officials, or some other group? Specific to this case, the definition of standard of care is a nebulous and constantly changing entity that depends on the circumstances and who is defining the standard. Of greater importance, it has been demonstrated time after time that scientific consensus is not always correct. Remember, the world is not flat.
Another example of efforts to suppress dissenting information was seen in the attempt by high-ranking government health authorities to suppress the Great Barrington Declaration. This paper, published on October 4, 2020, was authored by Martin Kulldorff, PhD, who is a professor of medicine at Harvard University, a biostatistician and an epidemiologist, as well as Sunetra Gupta, PhD, a professor at Oxford University and an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology and vaccine development, and Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, a professor at Stanford University Medical School, an epidemiologist and a health economist. They pointed out that the COVID-19 lockdown dictated by the U.S. government was having significant negative effects on public health.
GOOD SCIENCE MOVES FORWARD SLOWLY, AND OFTEN NOT IN A LINEAR FASHION
The authors further stated that individual populations have different risks for contracting the disease and different responses to COVID-19. They suggested an approach they called “focused protection.” Their proposal would have isolated high-risk groups, and let others get back to the business of life. The response of some government health officials was rapid and derogatory. However, it is important to note that countries that followed this approach had less economic damage and still protected groups at risk.
It should also be noted that, at the same time, a number of media and social media companies took it upon themselves to decide what information should or should not be disseminated to the public about COVID-19. In some cases, if the information did not conform with what that company defined as contemporaneous scientific consensus and standard of care, the message was either killed, deleted, or placed further down on the queue.
Good science moves forward slowly, and often not in a linear fashion. It thrives when individuals and institutions have opposing ideas and are allowed to share those ideas in an open forum. This results in good science — which benefits us all.
Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
From Decisions in Dentistry. May 2023;9(5):6.