There’s been much talk in the Mainstream Media recently about how democracy is under threat from the increasing “Polarization” of society. This Polarization – so the story goes – is caused by Social Media, which creates “bubbles” of largely anonymous individuals who share the same opinions. Isolated in their virtual echo chambers, they have lost the ability to debate calmly and rationally with those who have different opinions, but can only hurl abuse and shout them down.
This threatens democracy, which is based on reasoned adversarial debate to reach a compromise both sides can accept. To save democracy – so the theory goes – governments need the power to control social media, stamp out disinformation and hate speech, and force anonymous individuals to reveal their identities and be held responsible for their crimes.
So far so good, except for one small fly in the ointment which the Mainstream wants to forget. The Polarization began many years before Social Media or the Internet were even a twinkle in their inventor’s eyes. It was government ministers who started it, and the Mainstream Media who have nurtured it ever since.
Back in the Good Old Days, TV and radio discussions were balanced like old-school debates, with speakers of equal standing arguing opposite sides of an issue. The only exceptions were government ministers, who could refuse to grace the programme with their lofty presence unless they were faced with only an interviewer asking pre-arranged questions, vetted in advance by the ever-growing band of ministerial minders.
This one-sided discussion format gradually extended from government ministers to lesser politicians and then to pundits, until it gradually became the norm. Broadcasters didn’t object because their discussion programmes were easier to manage and cheaper to produce. Presenters didn’t object because it pushed them further into the celebrity spotlight and gave their agents a reason to demand higher salaries. And viewers didn’t object because it happened so gradually that hardly anyone noticed.
The Polarization notched up a gear in 2011, extending from politicians to scientists with the publication of the ‘BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science.’
The review criticised the nation’s public broadcaster for bringing “dissident voices into what are in effect settled debates,” finding it “guilty of ‘false impartiality’ by presenting the views of tiny and unqualified minorities as if they have the same weight as the scientific consensus.”
As examples of the kind of scientific issues where dissident voices needed to be suppressed, the report cited MMR vaccines, GM crops, and man-made climate change.
The independent review was conducted by Prof Steve Jones, the former Head of Genetics at University College, London – not what most people would call “independent,” especially on the topic of GMO. As an outspoken critic of creationists who wanted to ban them from becoming medical doctors, he was not what many would call impartial and open-minded either.
Content research was provided by Imperial College London, which hit the headlines a decade later as the epicentre of the now infamous modelling, grossly exaggerating the effects of Covid and justifying compulsory social distancing, school closures and lockdowns, with grave consequences for the nation’s health, wealth and well-being.
The Polarization has now reached the point where much of BBC News is taken up by BBC News anchors interviewing BBC reporters, with voices from outside the BBC rarely heard. This sad state of affairs segued from the sublime to the downright ridiculous when the BBC covered stories about itself featuring BBC reporters standing outside BBC buildings telling BBC News anchors that no one from the BBC is available to comment! Talk about echo chambers.
So it was that, when the president’s chief medical advisor, Anthony Fauci, sat down for an uncompromisingly rigorous scientific grilling on Face The Nation with Margaret Brennan‘, at the beginning of the Omicron variant panic in November 2021, hardly anyone batted an eyelid!
The notion of balancing discussions with speakers with equal knowledge and qualifications on either side of an issue had disappeared decades ago. As an Arts graduate with a BA in Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern studies, Brennan was hardly in the position to challenge The Science™ of a man who had been Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the best part of 40 years. The interview, which started as an exercise in hero worship and idolatry, moved from bad to worse.
As I sat on the sofa, growing increasingly frustrated at having to sit helplessly watching Fauci get away unchallenged with the most appalling misrepresentations of science, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I ended up hurling not just abuse at the television. but the remote control and everything else I could grab as well.
As my anger subsided I found myself drifting off to imagine how the interview would have gone if it had been balanced by someone who could challenge Fauci on his own terms.
An Imaginary Interview with Dr Fauci and Dr Bacon
Imagine that, instead of a one-on-one interview, Brennan had chaired a properly balanced old-school debate between Dr Fauci and someone who knew as much about science but took the opposite point of view.
On the one hand we have Dr Fauci who claims to “represent science,” and on the other hand we have Dr Bacon who thinks Dr Fauci is talking bollocks. Fauci’s dialogue is abstracted from his interview with Margaret Brennan and his clashes with Sen. Rand Paul at the Senate hearings in 2021. Bacon’s dialogue is abstracted from his book on the scientific method.
BRENNAN: You’re America’s Doctor, Dr Fauci. So everyone looks to you to explain it all. I want to read you something you said back in 2019 when somebody asked you what keeps you up at night? You said, “The thing I’m most concerned about is the emergence of a new virus the body doesn’t have any background experience with, highly transmissible person to person, high degree of morbidity and mortality. The thing that worries most of us in the field of public health is a respiratory illness that can spread even before someone is so sick that you want to keep them in bed.”
DR FAUCI: Right.
BRENNAN: You were describing COVID.
DR FAUCI: I was. My worst nightmare that I’ve been asked about multiple times over the last 37 years that I’ve been directing the institute has come true. And that statement that you read, I must have said that 50 to 100 times to people in the media, people in the scientific community. When they ask me, what do you really worry about? I’ve said that. My worst nightmare is something you’ve just described, and unfortunately, it’s happened.
BRENNAN: I mean, it’s an incredible description of where we are. How do you grade America’s response to your nightmare scenario?
DR FAUCI: Yeah, I look at a response as a person who is fundamentally a scientist and a physician and a public health person. I look at preparedness and response in two pillars. One is scientific, and one is public health. I grade scientific A plus. I grade public health somewhere between B and C. It certainly is not A.
BRENNAN: (turning to Bacon) Dr Bacon, as an expert on the Scientific Method, would you agree with Dr Fauci’s grading?
DR BACON: I certainly would not.
BRENNAN: So how would you grade it?
DR BACON: I’d grade the scientific response as F minus, which is worse than a total failure. And I’d grade the public health response,- which was guided by the failed science – as an F triple minus, which is an unmitigated disaster.
BRENNAN looks shocked. FAUCI’S face drops. He adjusts position in his chair and starts to look angry.
BRENNAN: But isn’t that the kind of dangerous anti-vaxxer conspiracy theory spread by social media that Dr Fauci says should be banned?
DR BACON: (wry smile) Well, there’s no doubt Dr Fauci wants to ban it, but I’m not a theorist of any kind. It’s the so-called scientists who think their theories are laws of nature that can’t be questioned who need to be banned. It’s Dr Fauci and the so-called scientific ‘experts’ and ‘authorities’ that are the theorists, not me.
BRENNAN: (looking nonplussed, turns to Fauci). Dr Fauci, you’ve been talking about all the problems you have trying to convince these people who are really dug-in and anti-vaccine.
DR FAUCI: All I want to do is save people’s lives. That’s what I have done for the last 50 years, 37 of which was leading the institute. And when I see people who scattered around misinformation and lies that can actually endanger the lives of people, but also it is very easy to pick out an individual and make them a target because that’s what people can focus on.
(BACON attempts to interrupt but BRENNAN holds up her hand to stop him)
DR FAUCI: You’re talking about systems, you’re talking about the CDC, you’re talking about the FDA, you’re talking about science in general. I mean, anybody who’s looking at this carefully realizes that there’s a distinct anti-science flavor to this. So if they get up and criticize science, nobody’s going to know what they’re talking about. But if they get up and aim their bullets at Tony Fauci, well, people could recognize there’s a person there. There’s a face, there’s a voice you can recognize, you see him on television. So it’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science.
(BACON gasps in disbelief, sits forward on the edge of his chair and attempts to get a word in, but FAUCI ignores him and carries on regardless.)
DR FAUCI: What I’m concerned about is that if you put science aside and if you discredit science, you start to discredit the truth. When you do that, you are going to really disrupt society in very many respects. Lies become normalized and social media amplifies the normalisation of lies. Scientists try to say this is the truth, and it’s based on data. And then all of a sudden you have permeating in society that it’s OK to say anything you want that is patently and obviously wrong.
See, that’s what I worry about more than people throwing slings and arrows at me. Because my whole life has been as a scientist and I identify with the field of health and science. And if you’re attacking me, you’re really attacking science. I mean, everybody knows that.
BRENNAN: (turning to Bacon) So Dr Bacon, America’s Doctor says you’re discrediting science.
DR BACON: (laughs wryly) Well it’s kind of ironic really, but Dr Fauci has got it completely upside down. It’s not me who is discrediting science, it’s Dr Fauci and all the other so-called ‘experts’ and ‘authorities’ who have taken it on themselves to lay down the law of nature as something that has already been discovered and understood. Whether they’re speaking in simple confidence, or in a spirit of professional posturing, they’ve done great harm to philosophy and the sciences.
DR FAUCI: (interrupts angrily) I have a great deal of respect for CBS News and for you Margaret, and it makes me very uncomfortable to have to say something, but Dr Bacon is egregiously incorrect in what he says.
DR BACON: (taking a deep breath) Not only have they succeeded in producing false beliefs in people, they have been effective in squashing and stopping inquiry …
DR FAUCI: (interrupting angrily) I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating doctor.
DR BACON: (resolutely carrying on) … and the harm they have done by spoiling and putting an end to other men’s efforts outweighs any good their own efforts have brought.
DR FAUCI: Dr Bacon you do not know what you are talking about quite frankly. And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.
BRENNAN: (turning to Bacon) So Dr Bacon, the President’s Chief Medical Adviser says officially that you don’t know what you are talking about.
DR BACON: (smiling wryly) Well, of course Dr Fauci is entitled to his opinion, but I’d say this is a classic case of possession by what I call the Idols of the Mind. By his own admission, this has been his “worst nightmare” for the last 37 years. He has become so obsessed with this nightmare, so possessed by the Idols of the Mind, that he sees things that aren’t actually there.
These Idols have possessed his mind so completely the truth can’t get in, and, when it does leak in, the Idols push back against it. He hasn’t heeded my warnings to keep these Idols at bay, and this is exactly what happens.
You see all the perceptions of the senses, as well as of the mind, reflect the perceiver rather than the world. The human mind is like a distorting mirror, which mixes its own nature with the nature of things, which it distorts. I call these Idols of the Tribe, because they affect the tribe of all humanity.
On top of that, Dr Fauci is so obsessed with the idea that disease can be controlled by vaccines, there’s no room in his mind for anything else. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a man with a vaccine, everything looks like a disease that needs hammering with a vaccine. I call these Idols of the Cave, because everyone has his own personal cave that breaks up and corrupts the light of nature.
If that wasn’t enough, Dr Fauci is in the business of explaining science in a language that the lay public and politicians can understand. Words force and overrule the intellect, throwing everything into confusion and leading people astray. I call these Idols of the Marketplace, because that is where people come together to do business.
Last, but not least, are the theories, principles, and dogmas that are generally accepted as scientific facts that can’t be questioned. Once the human mind has adopted an opinion it draws everything else in to confirm and support it. Nowadays it’s called Confirmation Bias, but I call it Idols of the Theatre, because I see it as the acting out of a fable, making a fictitious staged world of its own.
Dr Fauci’s own personal 37 year-long nightmare is a self-fulfilling prophecy which has been projected through the mainstream media onto the whole planet, making it everybody’s nightmare!
The explanations Dr Fauci uses to protect himself from such accusations don’t at all set the matter right. As I said at the beginning, the harm he has done by spoiling and putting an end to other men’s efforts outweighs any good his own efforts have brought.
Of course a debate like this couldn’t happen on TV nowadays. If it did, the pharmaceutical industry, which accounts for 75 percent of total TV advertising spending, would be on the phone to CBS within minutes, demanding they shut it down.
Even if CBS was willing to risk upsetting the advertisers in the interests of grabbing the headlines they’d be breaking Emergency Regulations introduced at the start of the pandemic to prohibit statements that question or undermine the advice of public health bodies (i.e. Dr Fauci) or undermine trust in the mainstream media.
Facebook and Twitter have similar guidelines. Attempting to post it on a private website would be no better; Google’s algorithms would push it so far down the search pages that nobody would ever find it.
But what would the average Joe or Jane Public make of it? A small minority might agree with Dr Bacon, but most would agree with Dr Fauci when he says he represents science. As he says himself: “If you’re attacking me, you’re really attacking science. I mean, everybody knows that.”
Which would be an irony verging on tragedy, because the character of Dr Bacon is based on the former Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon’s dialogue is taken almost verbatim from a modern translation of his book on the Scientific Method. Bacon’s ‘Novum Organum’ isn’t just any old book; it’s the book that inspired the creation of the world’s first national scientific institution, The Royal Society, and kicked off The Scientific Revolution. If Bacon had been kept off the medieval equivalent of the airwaves, as Fauci would have demanded, there wouldn’t be any science for the good Dr Fauci to claim for himself.
As Socrates said at the very beginning of what we now call Western Civilisation two and a half thousand years ago: “True wisdom comes only from dialogue.”
Without dialogue there can be no wisdom, without wisdom there can be no Civilisation. and without Civilisation there can be no Science.
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