Why we shouldn’t censor scientists

This pandemic has been awful in a lot of ways. But it has had a few silver linings. One of them for me has been the public interest in science in 2020. As a scientist, welcoming the world into my world has been really wonderful. Science is exciting. It is a way to understand our planet and all of it’s inhabitants– including Coronaviruses. And it has the tools to literally save our lives. I am in awe of the pace and success of the new vaccines for COVID. My hat is off to the scientists and companies that are rescuing us from this pandemic in record time and all with a new cool mRNA technology. I have been obsessed with the pandemic modeling and the AI technology that is trying to solve that difficult prediction problem.

One thing that has been very problematic though is the way that social media is gate keeping scientific discussion. I have been censored and so have many other scientists. The news reports half a sentence from an expert, out of context, and without all the nuance and caveats that that expert undoubtably had expressed. While I think social media is trying very hard to combat misinformation and disinformation, they really should not be censoring scientists. Scientific discussion is the way that scientists narrow down on the truth. It is not that there are experts and charlatans– people who should be allowed to speak or not speak. It’s that science is a process and a plethora of debate and ideas furthers that process.

The world is getting a front row seat to how science works and to how it will save our lives in 2021. But I think the anxiety of the social media gate keepers is hampering the world from fully appreciating that view. There were and are so many open questions about COVID. In order to design optimal policy we needed to answer such questions as 1. how does COVID spread? 2. How long does immunity last? 3. What is the actual death rate? 4. What are the medical consequences? 4. What drugs that we currently have will be helpful? 5. who is most affected? 6. what policy interventions will work?. These are all questions of science. And we will get to the bottom of all of them definitively in the end. But the way that we get there is to allow scientists to talk and discuss things. We do not pick sides and tape people’s mouths. This actually prevents progress. Science is a meander towards the truth and scientific debate and opposing views and publications is what brings rigor to that process.

Let the scientists speak. And let the process work itself out. No one expert will know everything or have everything correct and no one paper will definitely answer all the COVID questions. But in the end the proof will be in the pudding and we will understand COVID and have saved ourselves from it. We will do this through debate, consensus, and a lot of experimentation from a lot of different scientific teams around the world. We need to climb from that large base of expert opinion and ideas to the top of the triangle of meta-analysis, where the truth is perched. But we can’t do that if we are preventing our base from speaking. This climb takes time and is a community effort.

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