The Dearth of Actionable Intelligence Amid a Glut of Data
CAVEAT – Before I get started, let me state emphatically up-front that the purpose of this BriRant isn’t to argue either in favor of or against any of the positions held by any of the people I will mention. God forbid that I would offer any opinion of my own, since I am almost totally ignorant of the facts. Actually, this BriRant isn’t so much a rant as a whine. I fully recognize my ignorance regarding epidemiology, virology, and practically any other -ology one might care to name. My problem is that despite the availability of an overwhelming amount of data on practically any subject via the Internet, I find no objective means of discerning “the pooh from the punkin” as my dear wife is fond of saying.
Judy Mikovits and Plandemic
A few days ago, a friend on social media posted a link to a video of an interview with one Judy Mikovits. Like most people outside the field of microbiology, I had never before heard of this person. The interview was about her recently-published book – Plague of Corruption. I have not read this book, nor is it likely that I ever will – not because I’m prejudiced against it, but because reading it just isn’t a priority with me in allocating my precious time. In the interview, the author and the interviewer agreed that the book, makes very serious accusations – e.g. falsification of data, suppression of research, intimidation, and malfeasance – against highly-placed officials from various governmental health organizations, most notably Dr. Anthony Fauci – head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and advisor to President Trump regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic. Judy Mikovits is also apparently the central figure in a viral Internet video which I have not seen called Plandemic. Apparently, in that video she makes similar accusations. My phone’s news feed today is full of counter-accusations against Judy Mikovits, discrediting her and her work. YouTube, Facebook, and other social media organizations have removed Plandemic for “violation of their policy against COVID-19 disinformation.” The “mainstream” media is attacking her en masse as a purveyor of misinformation, and so-called “conspiracy theories.” The Wikipedia article on her introduces her as “a discredited American ex-research scientist who is known for her anti-vaccination activism, promotion of conspiracy theories, and scientific misconduct.”
Of course, none of this would make news at all in our celebrity-obsessed world more interested in the feud inside the British royal family, and the latest outrageous behavior of Hollywood royalty, except that the world is currently in the midst of a full-blown panic over the outbreak of the COVID-19 viral infection around the globe. If history teaches anything, it is that widespread fear among the people provides a golden opportunity for power-hungry demagogues of every ilk to seize control which under ordinary circumstances would be out of their reach, and for governments to implement “temporary” abridgments of liberty which would normally be intolerable to their citizens. Of course, this is exactly what we are experiencing in the midst of the current crisis. Consequently, I am very reticent to accept at face value anything anyone has to say about the purported root cause of this panic.
That’s not to say there’s a lack of data on the subject. Quite the contrary. The Internet has made it possible for practically everyone in the world to share staggeringly vast volumes of data on every subject one might imagine. In the case of the COVID-19 panic, we can access the total number of reported cases, new cases reported daily, etc. with just the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger. But these statistics themselves are the proof of my point. These numbers are practically useless for two reasons –
- In many – perhaps most – cases people who are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic or exhibit only mild symptoms which they treat themselves. In fact governments and the medical establishment encourage people who do not have severe symptoms to stay away from medical facilities. Because of this, we can rightly assume that the actual infection numbers are vastly under-reported. The corollary valid assumption is that the number of people who have survived COVID-19 infection is also vastly under-reported.
- In some places – e.g. The People’s Republic of China – the numbers may have been purposely misreported. In the case of China, many people assume that the number of new cases is being purposely under-reported to prove that the government’s efforts against the infection have been successful. In some places, the opposite may be true. Governments and health care organizations my inflate their reported case numbers in hope of receiving more financial aid from elsewhere.
Someone may ask, “Brian, can you prove these contentions?” Obviously, the answer is “No.” But that’s exactly the point. In many areas – not just with the COVID-19 crisis/panic – the data themselves are suspect simply because there is money to be made by “cooking the books.” But that’s just part of the problem. Raw data is rarely very useful in making informed decisions for a couple of reasons. First, there’s just way too much of it. The sheer quantity of raw data available on any given subject – once again thanks to the Internet – is so vast as to render it virtually impossible to put to use. Second, such data is often completely indecipherable for people not already familiar with the jargon and theoretical underpinnings of the particular discipline to which a given data set pertains. But the inaccessibility and sheer amount of the available raw data isn’t the most worrying aspect of the problem.
The Glut of Data and the Dearth of Information
In order for us to make informed decisions, the raw data must first be distilled into information – data transformed and summarized into a usable form. Therein lies the rub. It is virtually impossible to find honest brokers technically and/or scientifically qualified to carry out such distillation, and willing to do so without interjecting their own prejudices and goals into the process. The so-called “mainstream” news sources which could once be trusted to simply report the events of the day no longer do. The once-inviolable separation between factual reporting and editorial opinion has become so blurred as to be completely indiscernible. So-called “investigative” reporting is driven inexorably toward the conclusions predetermined from the outset by the reporting organization in all but the very rarest cases. Nowhere is this more blatant than in the art and science of political opinion polling. The BBC Sitcom “Yes Prime Minister” ran a sketch nearly thirty-five years ago about designing opinion poll questions that will generate desired results that rings as true today as it did when it was first broadcast. Due to the prevalence of foregone conclusions and hidden agendas, for most consumers, television, radio, and even newspaper journalism is wholly without value for forming opinions, making decisions, or even staying informed simply for its own sake.
One can hardly blame the large news organizations for this. They are after all for-profit corporations whose revenue comes almost entirely from other corporations. The “information” provider corporations sell one product to their corporate sponsors. That product is the attention of the “news” consumers, not only (or even primarily) to their “news stories” but most importantly to the advertisements with which their “reporting” is generously interspersed. News organizations are in business to make money, and their profits are maximized when their “news” matches the agenda of their corporate sponsors, if the information happens to meet the needs of their consumers all the better, but that is not the primary focus. The whole business is what one of my dear friends calls “a self-eating watermelon.” In fact, when all is said and done, we find that news organizations are not so much information providers as disinformation providers, putting the proof to the time-honored aphorism frequently misattributed to Mark Twain – If you don’t read a newspaper you are uninformed. If you do, you are misinformed. The problem is so prevalent that our society has coined the phrase “fake news” to describe it. Ironically, practically every news organization regularly accuses every other news organization of being a purveyor of fake news, and claims to be the only reliable source of news that isn’t ever fake. But of course, everyone knows that every single one of them continually shovels the stuff out like there’s no tomorrow.
But disinformation is only one aspect of the issue. The more insipid factor is that “news” organizations continually decide en behalf of their consumers just what they need to know and what they do not. Furthermore, their continual competition with each other for viewership (and the sweet advertising money they obtain through it) most often causes them all to “report” on exactly the same event that one or another of them has chosen as “top story,” often using exactly the same words, regardless of what else may be happening on any given day that might interest a limited proportion of their consumers. Consequently, weighty issues of the day like murderous sectarian violence in India frequently simply fall by the wayside in favor of more sensational but inconsequential “news” like the arrival of a giant new insect with the really scary name “Murder Hornet” on the shores of the good ol’ USA. Frequently, the rush to be the first ones to report something new leads “news” organizations to report unverified information that turns out later to be incorrect. What’s really laughable is that since they often simply parrot what the first one said, they all sometimes have to issue retractions in which they all point at each other as the original source of the error just like The Three Stooges in a classic still photo.
Sadly, the Internet which once held the promise of democratizing information dissemination is perhaps even worse. Sure, Tim Berners-Lee’s marvelous invention makes it possible for anyone with a computer and a connection to publish whatever his heart may desire, as often as he likes. Information consumers can instantaneously access information on almost any subject. But this has merely added to the glut of data while contributing practically nothing to fill the dearth of useful information. Within the Internet infosphere there is virtually no punkin available to separate from the pooh. Furthermore, the huge corporations that provide the platforms on which all the Internet pooh is stored, and the mechanisms by which it is flung around the globe all have policies for what they will allow on their facilities, and what they will not. For the most part, the pooh that’s allowed is that which is in agreement with the service providers’ own agendas. Dissenting opinion is suppressed as “hate speech,” or not being in conformance with the providers’ policies.
Furthermore, the monetization of content has tainted the Internet with the same hidden agendas and foregone conclusions that plague traditional media. For example, I recently searched for reviews of software plugins to add some new functionality to my website. I watched a review of the ten “best” examples of such a plugin from a website whose video tutorials I had previously found quite helpful. I decided to try out the free version of the plugin recommended in the review, but got annoyed at its almost continual popup windows encouraging me to upgrade to the subscription version. I decided to scout around for other options, and learned from another similar review that the plugin recommended by the first reviewer was his own product. To my knowledge there are no laws or regulations mandating disclosure of such a blatant conflict of interest. In many ways, the Internet is still largely unregulated, and consequently the consumer must be particularly vigilant against Internet fraud and deception.
So the mainstream media and Internet service providers and content creators are ruled out as honest brokers for distilling raw data into the information we need. What about governmental entities and institutions of higher learning? In theory, they should be trustworthy sources, having no financial axe to grind. In practice, not so much. In the case of the institutions of higher learning, we find that their budgets are largely driven by research grant money. The governmental organizations and private donors who provide that money usully have a vested interest in the research results. In some cases the institutions themselves have an agenda of their own driving research in a particular direction, promoting results which match the institution’s predetermined expectations, and suppressing results which do not. Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed” is all about people who claim to have had their research suppressed, their research funding eliminated, or lost their academic positions for espousing opinions in support of intelligent design rather than Darwinian evolution. To be fair, most of the institutions involved deny wrong-doing, but the very fact that there is a controversy is proof that the free exchange of ideas in our institutions of higher learning is anything but free. Thus, these institutions’ trustworthiness in the distillation and dissemination of information becomes suspect.
It almost goes without saying that governmental organizations can’t be trusted as information sources either. If there’s anything more powerful than financial incentives in motivating someone to distort, promote, or suppress information it is the acquisition and preservation of political power. In the United States, we pride ourselves on having freedom of information enshrined in our Constitution and laws. But of course in the offices of governmental power from the local to the national level the spin doctors are very busy indeed each and every day. The free exchange of ideas is considered a God-given right by most people, but in practice it turns out that only those ideas which happen to conform with those of the people currently in power may actually be freely expressed – particularly by those who work as underlings in our vast governmental bureaucracy. Certainly we have no “Ministry of Propaganda” in the USA, but the spirit of Josef Goebbels is alive and working busily in the hallowed halls of our government. In the US government, the duties and privileges of the Ministry of Propaganda are simply distributed among all of the government departments. In point of fact, it would be more honest to create a Ministry of Propaganda, and call it what it is rather than administering propaganda from behind a curtain.
The government has a number of effective tools for ensuring that only its selected narrative is promulgated – regulation, “hate speech” legislation, anti-discrimination legislation, the unwritten principle of “separation of church and state,” and most importantly control of the money needed for research and dissemination of information. The only saving grace in all of this is that our government is so fractured that there is continual infighting to decide just exactly what the government’s narrative ought to be. Consequently (and quite accidentally), on occasion some tidbits of the unvarnished truth leak out.
A Conspiracy Theory Can Be a Good Thing
All of which, brings us back to the case of Judy Mikovits. As stated above, Wikipedia calls her “discredited.” That begs the questions – By whom? and Why? I have no clue whatsoever whether her theories are valid or not. What I see in action, though is a concerted effort by those in government, in academia, at the big Internet content providers, and in the news media to silence her. That in itself smacks of just the sort of information suppression and distortion against which I have been BriRanting. If our society truly had the free exchange of ideas, her publications would be available for all to consider. But all the players I have mentioned in the disinformation distribution game have already decided for us that we don’t need to know what Judy Mikovits has to say. We can’t be trusted to intelligently form our own opinions from just the facts. We must be protected from dangerous ideas that don’t conform to the approved narrative.
It’s been said that if you have no fact-based, cogent argument against someone, an effective distraction and delaying tactic is to simply compare them with Adolph Hitler. At the very least that will distract the opponent and everyone listening from the actual issue at hand. Similarly, if you have no logical means of defeating an idea with which you disagree, simply call it a conspiracy theory. Doing so will solidify people’s opinions on the subject quite independent of the relevant facts. With any luck the majority of those completely baseless opinions may come down on your side. Judy Mikovits has been called a promoter of conspiracy theories, and condemned for it. But that begs the question – If there really is a conspiracy, or even if it’s only a possibility, isn’t exposition of that conspiracy not only to be allowed, but applauded? In fact, isn’t warning of such a conspiracy a person’s civic duty. Remember just because you might happen to be paranoid doesn’t preclude the possibility that everyone actually is out to get you.
What is Truth?
33Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.John 18:33-38 – NKJV