From the Desk of Thom Golab, ACSH President

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Science invites – and it's based on – skepticism. In the case of Changizi et al. versus the U.S. Surgeon General et al., government overreach and science skepticism collide.

The Changizi Case.

The plaintiffs were banned from Twitter (where they had a large following) following the government’s request to remove Tweeters who were skeptical of the government’s claims regarding COVID-19 and handling the pandemic. Changizi and his co-plaintiffs were skeptics of statements and policies that were later changed or retracted;  the plaintiffs alleged that they were censored for doing what the government itself did. The plaintiffs argue that the government’s use of a third party to censor them still amounts to government censorship.

The American Council on Science and Health was approached by the Atlantic Legal Foundation for assistance with their amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs and were cited in their brief.

Our Response

There needs to be skepticism, or else there isn't science. You observe, create a hypothesis, then try to prove or disprove your theory. If the hypothesis holds up in the results, you draw a conclusion. But you need to account for any and all superseding, intervening variables.

When you set out trying to prove your hypothesis, there can be too many unconsciously made decisions that can skew the results. For instance, cherry-picking data – intentionally or unintentionally – produces results that are not replicable. Reproducibility is one of the big debates in the science community because many “conclusions” scientists tout can't be replicated by other scientists, casting uncertainty on their conclusions.

Science is a search for the truth, whether that truth is found by the skeptic with a Ph.D. or a curious, well-read layman. The scientific "method" recognizes that you can never prove something true, only that something is false; skepticism is built into the scientific method. The idea that is not falsified extends our understanding and makes predictions better.

Public health policy, at its best, is informed by science. We think the term evidence-based science should be evidence-informed science. But public health policy involves tradeoffs; as a result, other factors and their impact must be weighed. It is abundantly clear that our public health system, when in doubt, follows the precautionary principle.

Science cannot be rushed.

COVID-19 was unusual because raw scientific thought and findings were immediately made public through preprints, journalism, etc. This did not allow the usual time for attempts to falsify the data. More importantly, the scientific data came from a constantly changing dynamic system. Yesterday’s news was replaced by today’s changes, making it seem like we did not know what was happening. Do you remember the high initial estimates of R0 or how it killed so many New Yorkers? 

Because of the geographical (spatial) and temporal changes in COVID, a national lockdown based on cases in New York made little sense to those in Florida, where there were so many fewer cases at the time. This schism between nationally promulgated policy and local conditions contributed to the distrust.

The public health system ultimately failed to explain the basis for their decision and were reluctant to say, “We don't know; this is our best advice.” They spoke only in absolutes.

In addition to providing information for amicus briefs, ACSH has testified before government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control. I have testified before the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. We have also testified before congressional committees, including the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. ACSH is doing everything we can to make a positive difference in health and science.