You’re way too generous to the “debunking” article. It’s absolute drivel. Science is playing the same game as Tucker here, lawyering it’s way towards a preconceived conclusion. There’s nothing at all objective about the “facts” asserted in the article. Saying for instance that the Great Barrington Declaration and Johns Hopkins lockdown analysis were heavily criticized in no way suggests Carlson said anything false or misleading by referencing them. He’s allowed to advocate for one side of a debate, and doing so isn’t false or misleading. The GBD in my mind has been vindicated, and it is forever to the public health agencies’ shame that they sought to attack the authors as “fringe epidemiologists” instead of engaging in a sincere debate about the costs and benefits of lockdown policies. Many of the other “fact checks” suffer from similar or worse deficiencies.

The public health agencies acted like political hacks, not scientists, and Science is doing the same here. In addition to the point that Science should not be in the business of “fact checking” cable news hosts, this particular attempt at debunking was utter garbage that brings discredit upon the entire institution.

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Aug 27, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

This is very thoughtful and hits close to home. Several people I care about aren’t vaccinated because of covid demagoguery. But I’d still argue Science needs to protect its political neutrality and not publish specific rebuttals. I’d be more open to Science hosting a page debunking widely circulating myths in a neutral style.

Part of the reason people at Science feel the need to speak out is that other institutions here are no longer able to deter false claims in broadcast media. Fauci is just a civil servant, yet he’d still have to show Fox intentionally defamed him (“actual malice”) in order to get any compensation for whatever he’ll pay for private security these next 10 years. “Shock jock” makes Carlson sound more like entertainment, but obviously people take him seriously. It shouldn’t be this profitable to delegitimize elections and incite rage at civil servants — at least not if we want liberal democracy to last.

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Aug 27, 2022Liked by Stuart Ritchie

My very basic thoughts are that journals should just not have news and opinion stuff at all - it's not their job and they are quite bad at it - but if they do it's mostly fine to do debunking? Like if the problem is public trust that ship has sailed with the proliferation of news and opinion sections in general. The problem is further upstream with journals trying to be brands (presumably as a way of justifying being monetized when the main product probably should be publicly-available) and that calling out discreete instances of the section being problematic lets the rest of the stuff under that banner fly under-the-radar as something we should be comfortable with. Frankly they are MORE qualified to do debunking than a lot of what they do under those banners.

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Universities have become increasingly biased, and increasingly distrusted, institutions. That spills over into science and it is something that science journals etc. should resist, not lean into.


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Hmm, I’m coming round to thinking that public life would be better if people embraced their chosen roles in The Discourse.

So journalism is best done by looking for the truth, not support for a political position. Equally, activists get more latitude in presenting a simplified case, because that’s necessary to persuade people.

And science journals should participate in the vaccine fight by publishing really great research on efficacy and safety. That research can then be used by journalists, or activists. But it’s not good to muddle the roles.

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The cost-benefit here clearly weighs in favor of not ever engaging in such ridiculous “debunking” exercises. No Tucker viewer will read the article and decide “oh, I guess Tucker was wrong,” whereas a non-trivial number of scientifically-minded people will read it and conclude “oh, there’s yet another datapoint supporting the hypothesis that institutional science is hopelessly politicized.” I’m one of those people in the latter category.

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I have never heard anything from Tucker Carlson that was provably false and I have seen him airing corrections more than once which is the hallmark of vetted accurate journalism. Just because you don't approve of someone's politics or his choice of topics, I've often wished Tucker would choose different topics, does not mandate that you smear and attempt to discredit them with the vapid flailing CNN grade weaksauce argument "most everything Tucker Carlson said… was misleading or false" without citing a single lie and your proof it was a lie.

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Stuart, all due respect but that piece in Science is an awful factcheck. That fact that you'd even partly defend it is kind of worrying.

-They interpret obvious satirical exaggerations Carlson made (the quotes in the 3rd factcheck) as if they were literal quotes.

-They invented claims he didn't even make (that Ukraine was working on bioweapons).

-Their description of the facts is pretty damn lazy in some places (e.g the paper regarding lockdowns was a meta-analysis that was conducted by economists, but the studies they relied upon were medical studies, not economics studies, so pointing out that they're economists in the first place is utterly irrelevant, just an obvious use of the genetic fallacy.

-They claim to debunk the idea that Fauci deliberately changed the definition of 'herd immunity' for political reasons, even though the New York Times also reported that Fauci had admitted to doing that: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/24/health/herd-immunity-covid-coronavirus.html

I could go on. Nearly every point they made had some fairly obvious "well actually" counter-point, as far as I could tell. I'm not even a republican and I'm looking at modern science and thinking I can't trust a word that comes out of it (at least the subsection of science that isn't testable by the public and requires just taking the words of 'experts'). You definitely have a big problem here. Especially when issues like climate change fall into that category.

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I’m with SA on this one - these articles are almost always bland and derivative, written because someone wants to be published in Science but can’t actually do, you know, any science…

I find myself annoyed by them even when I agree with the author!

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It just seems futile to me, debunking this or that. Everyone is pretty much preaching to their choir. There’s also something smug about most fact checking and debunking that I doubt will change anyone’s mind.

Not very eloquent, this, but - sigh - it just brings me down, the state of things...

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Very nice! :) I particularly like your implicit Socratic dialog as a rhetorical device. Excellent points on both sides. Unfortunately, arguing with oneself can be a lot like playing chess with oneself: you can't come up with a strategy that your opponent hasn't already thought of.

I wonder if a case could be made for *more* opinion in science journals. I'm always suspicious of claims of impartiality or objectivity. The more objective one becomes, the closer one gets to what Thomas Nagel famously called the "view from nowhere."

A fundamental problem in science is that there are almost always some kinds of implicit bias involved in the scientific methodology. Science as a whole can be thought of as an attempt to remove errors of subjectivity from knowledge claims, by prioritizing objective ways to assess accuracy. But science always relies on science for its methods and assumptions, so bias can almost always find a secret hiding-place. This is especially true in science that rests on solid paradigms of Kuhnian dimensions.

This problem of implicit bias invisibly coloring the conclusions is rendered more insidious by the pretext of pure objectivity. I always feel a bit more confident in research presented in a fashion that does not pretend to be without opinion.

Of course, opinionated science could certainly be taken too far. But we should at least be alert to the danger posed by relying too comfortably on the illusion of true objectivity.

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Everything Tucker Carlson said about Fauci is either true or has a kernel of truth exaggerated for rhetorical effect. You seem to think Carlson’s viewers blindly believe whatever he says. We (conservatives), believe it or not, are able to discern truth from exaggeration. We can also discern Fauci’s narcissistic, lying, and deceptive statements when we hear them. Conservatives are not “turned off from scientific institutions,” as you put it. Conservatives respect Science only as much as Science deserves it.

Maybe you know this, but I don’t think you realize that Carlson is not giving new ideas to his millions of viewers. He’s simply reflecting what his millions of viewers already believe, and they have legitimate reasons for their beliefs.

The more interesting question is WHY Nature published Cohen’s commentary. The purpose was not to set the record straight. Cohen had no hope of talking to people who might be persuaded. Cohen’s article is a harbinger. As you noted, science journals have become more political. Journals like Nature are strategically positioning the journal itself to become aligned with leftist beliefs and they are testing the waters for bigger political fights in the future. I think journals like Nature are accelerating the divisiveness in society and they welcome the coming conflicts. Please keep bringing them to our attention.

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The 'fact check' was so one-sided it could have been written by Fauci himself. They claimed the Wuhan Institute of Virology was "scrutinized" yet omitted the NIH just terminated their sub award for continued failure to provide records of their bat coronavirus studies before the pandemic. Also, Andersen, Holmes & Garry's reasons for going from saying the virus looked "inconsistent with expectations of evolutionary theory", to the extreme position lab origin wasn't plausible prior to any investigation were never convincing.


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StuartAlpha seems to have the best of the argument, judging by the comments. I think the editors at Science who thought publishing this article was a good idea are living in an epistemic bubble, where everybody agrees with them, and they disastrously underestimate the scale of the backlash about anything that sounds "woke." Tucker Carlson is not the problem – the ratio of the size of Carlson's audience to the audience of CNN is the problem. See, e.g., school board elections – not only Florida, but San Fransisco's recall election.

Blog posts like:


Heather Mac Donald:


When the magazine has so obviously chosen sides in this much broader contest, it reflects badly on the academic research article as well. Who among the non-woke will believe that the choice of research articles is free of political bias?

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The trend of politicization of institutions continues, descriptions of how this is occurring in law, medicine and the study of history have all been published in the last couple of weeks. Science and scientific publishing join the list. The loss of trust in these institutions that will develop will be very harmful.

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1. Is it an assumption that of the 3-4 million who tune in to Carlson every single one of them believes every single thing he says?

2. Perceived scientific bias (and a growing lack of political diversity in science) is an issue and there is a body of work (in the psychology field at least) about how this can undermine faith in Science. Perhaps there is an important distinction to be made between “scientists” and “science” - while all humans carry biases of some form, can “science” and its instruments of communication afford to if they wish to maintain the trust of all people, irrespective of their politics, prejudices etc?

In any case, isn’t this Science piece preaching to the converted? Communicating evidence-based, bias-free scientific research in the mainstream is vital, but in my opinion doing so via established academic journals that *should be* apolitical is not the way to do it.

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