by James Corbett
May 22, 2021
So you know how anyone who points out any problems with the rush to inject everyone on the planet with an experimental form of gene therapy is portrayed as a stupid, scientifically illiterate, COVID denying, grandma killing anti-vaxxer by the dinosaur media?
And you know how any of your attempts to articulate these problems to your (former) friends will get you labeled as an anti-science loony and castigated from society?
Well, imagine if a team of researchers from a prestigious scientific institution infiltrated the COVID skeptic community to expose their scientific ignorance . . . and instead ended up discovering that the skeptics by and large care more about science—and are more knowledgeable about the scientific process—than their critics?
Guess what? You can stop imagining, because that’s exactly what just happened.
In this case, the researchers are from MIT, and their paper, “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online,” was published with little fanfare this past January.
It’s not hard to see why this paper was overlooked. If one merely skims through the paper’s abstract, it seems relatively innocuous. The researchers aim, we are informed, is to better understand how COVID skeptics use data visualizations to spread “[c]ontroversial understandings of the coronavirus pandemic” on social media. To do this, they used “a quantitative analysis of how visualizations spread on Twitter and an ethnographic approach to analyzing conversations about COVID data on Facebook.”
So far, so uninteresting. It’s the researchers conclusions about these visualizations where the real fireworks go off.
The first clue comes in the abstract, where the paper’s authors note “an epistemological gap
that leads pro- and anti-mask groups to draw drastically different inferences from similar data.” (Bonus points if you recognize this point as the central conceit of my Same Facts, Opposite Conclusions episode of #PropagandaWatch from last November.) But buried further down in the article are a raft of observations that cause problems for those trying to assert that “anti-maskers” and “anti-vaxxers” are scientifically illiterate.
For example, we are told that “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries,” that “their approach to the pandemic is grounded in a [sic] more scientific rigor,