Australian Academy of Science Demands Dissent be Silenced

Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t JoNova, Quadrant; In a submission to the Australian Government, the AAS has demanded “disinformation” about climate change, the great barrier reef, and Covid vaccines be censored from broadcast news and the internet.


3 August 2022

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) welcome the opportunity to respond to the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI)’s first annual review of the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation (ACPDM). The Academies look forward to working with social media platforms to address the challenge of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. In order to strengthen the Code’s capacity to guard against disinformation, the Academies put forward the following recommendations to DIGI:

Recommendation 1: Clearly define issues-based advertising and consider it within the scope of the Code.
Recommendation 2: Include misinformation from professional news content within the scope of the Code.

Recommendation 3: Platforms should consider mechanisms for proactive promotion of trusted information to inoculate against misinformation.
Recommendation 4: Expand the definition of “harm” in the Code to include cumulative harms and take stronger action against disinformation accordingly.

Recommendation 5: Apply an opt-out approach to the optional commitments under the Code.

Preventing science disinformation

Anti-scientific content abounds online, with climate science being an area of particular concern.

Climate denialism is just one example of how misinformation results in societal harm. Disinformation on health matters (such as false and misleading vaccination, sexual and reproductive health information), or ecological and environmental matters (such as material misrepresenting studies of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef) are a barrier to good policy and a healthy society. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic there were clear links between climate denialism and anti-vaccine movements (Hamilton, Hartter & Saito, 2015). The Code must therefore consider broader instances of misinformation and disinformation, including in issues-based advertising in all areas, especially climate change.

The updated Code must be strengthened to reduce the potential for misinformation to propagate and cause societal harm. In particular, the inclusion of issues-based advertising and professional news should be resolved to limit those as avenues of misinformation. However, DIGI’s discussion paper recommends excluding issues-based advertising from the Code (DIGI, 2022). Problematically, such advertising can be a revenue source for platforms, disincentivising its inclusion in the Code.

Recommendation 1: Clearly define issues-based advertising and consider it within the scope of the Code.

The Code currently excludes professional news content that is published under a publicly available editorial code, except where a platform determines that specific instances fall within the scope of disinformation. However, some Australian news outlets are havens for climate science misinformation (Lowe, 2018) – so this exclusion undermines the ability of the Code to guard against such denialism.

This exclusion allows climate science denialism and other misinformation to flourish, either through lack of enforcement of the disinformation provision of the Code or failure of news outlets’ misinformation to meet the higher bar of being considered disinformation. For example, a UK report recently found that Sky News Australia and its media personalities are a key source of climate science misinformation globally, including during the late 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) (King, Janulewicz & Arcostanzo, 2022). Clearly, the Code was not sufficient to address the traction of climate misinformation from Sky News Australia during this time.

Appropriate oversight of social media as publishers

The Academies consider that platforms should be held accountable and liable for content spread on their platforms, and that regulation on this should be comparable to that of traditional media. This position is suggested by the 2019 Australian court ruling that news outlets are liable for defamatory comments made on their posts by Facebook users.

Read more: Australian Academy of Science Submission (PDF)

In my opinion this is no less than a charter for halting the advance of science.

I’m not disputing that a lot of online content is nonsense, but some of the most stunning breakthroughs of the last century have been made by people mainstream scientists initially thought were crackpots.

Breakthroughs like Einstein’s theories of Relativity, Barry Marshall, who when all else failed proved peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria by deliberately infecting himself, or Alfred Wegener, who struggled to convince scientists of his theory of continental drift. And looking further back, everyone knows the story of Galileo, and his struggle with official censorship.

If the Aussie government had given a body like the AAS a gatekeeper charter 50 years ago, the power to decide who can be heard, scientists like Barry Marshall, whose medical insight saved millions of people from untold suffering, might still be languishing in obscurity. Criminal sanctions could have applied to anyone who attempted to publish his work.

In any case, the AAS is in no position to claim the mantle of gatekeeper. The inclusion of criticism of Great Barrier Reef science in their censorship proposal is particularly outrageous.

Remember how a few years ago, we were told the Great Barrier Reef was doomed?

Imagine not being able to criticise the alarmist statements of AAS affiliated scientists, like water quality expert Jon Brodie, who told the Guardian in 2017 that the reef was “terminal”. Or ARC Centre for Coral Excellence Director Terry Hughes, who told us in 2021 that “The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures driven by global warming,”. Or Coral Centre scientist James Kerry, who told us “It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016,”.

Scientists like Peter Ridd might be censored, he could be prevented from publishing evidence the Great Barrier Reef is doing fine.

Last year the Great Barrier Reef bounced back, with record coral cover. Claims over the years that coral bleaching is anything other than a natural part of the coral cycle have now been thoroughly debunked.

And of course, the shutdown of Sky News, explicitly mentioned in the AAS proposal, the shutdown of skeptic voices like Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi, Rowan Dean and other top rated media personalities who expose the flaws in establishment narratives, would rob Australians of an important source alternative viewpoints to the alarmism pushed by the likes of AAS affiliated scientists.

There is some good news on the censorship front. Facebook at least might be losing their taste for censorship, they have suffered a series of humiliating public censorship embarrassments.

Facebook recanted their censorship of the Covid lab leak theory in 2021, after Fauci changed his mind about whether the lab leak hypothesis was tenable. Facebook’s latest admission, that Facebook censored the Hunter Biden laptop story before the 2020 election, because the FBI told them to expect Russian disinformation, has really opened people’s eyes to how close we all are to losing the freedoms we take for granted.

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg could have held onto his information about the FBI until after the Midterms. But there is still a long road to travel, if Zuckerberg wants to fully repair his reputation.

In my opinion this self serving AAS demand for scientific censorship is just another establishment effort to squash dissent and protect establishment narratives from justified criticism, no different to what the FBI allegedly did, or Facebook censoring the lab leak theory, and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

NOTE – I want to give particular thanks to JoNova for her research efforts. My “h/t” acknowledgements don’t really cover the effort she makes to expose alarmist narratives.

via Watts Up With That?

August 31, 2022 at 08:35PM

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