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MIT social scientists: Thinking for yourself could erode trust in experts

In a little noticed paper titled Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online, social scientists at MIT sound the alarm that allowing transparent public access to scientific data that has not been properly memeified by experts could lead to people thinking for themselves. This could trigger “tragic consequences.”

“The groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution,” warned the authors. “Skeptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.”

The horror!

Contrary to mainstream media characterizations that coronavirus policy skeptics were scientifically illiterate, the paper conclusively showed that skeptics “often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the “objective” truth of public health data.” Thus, transparent access to scientific data enabling independent unorthodox analysis was seen as a grave threat to the established order.

The paper closes by asking, “What, then, are visualization researchers and social scientists to do?”

Have no fear. Big Brother will save us from heresy.

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