Public Health Scotland (PHS) is upset that critics are using its data to oppose Covid mandates and policies. PHS believes that the anti-vaxxers are seizing on the data to undermine its case for continued mandates. One official is quoted as saying that “[t]he case rates, hospitalization rates, the death rates are very simple statistics” and critics are misreading the data “inappropriately and sometimes willfully.” The solution? PHS will reportedly stop sharing the data with the public. It appears that it is not enough for companies like Twitter to ban critics from social media. Now, citizens will be protected not just from opposing views but information that will only confuse them.
According to papers like The Herald, the PHS will now withhold data after critics noted that, for the first time, the case rate among vaccinated (and boosted) individuals had overtaken the unvaccinated for Covid. The PHS notes that there are various reasons for this shift and that it does not support anti-vax theories.
These officials raise some interesting points to explain the differential, including what is viewed as a higher testing rate for the vaccinated and the overestimation of the size of the unvaxxed population. However, that is the point. I was able to read the interpretation of both sides and reach my own conclusions. These are not particularly complex explanations for the different rates. Free speech allows both sides to be heard by an informed electorate. These policies impact every aspect of our lives. Citizens should be allowed access to this data — as should experts who may have opposing views of their import.
Instead, the impulse of these officials is to bar access to information to protect the public from itself. It is reminiscent of the call by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) for Amazon and other companies to use algorithms to steer readers away from bad choices. There was also the letter from Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California to cable carriers like AT&T asking why they are still allowing people to watch Fox News. The problem is that citizens are reaching the wrong conclusions or reading the wrong sources and must be protected from their own proclivities or ignorance.
Even the W.H.O. has publicly supported calls for censorship to combat what it describes as the “infodemic.”
Public health policy is subject to democratic change and citizens should have access to data to make informed decisions. The PHS and its critics can then offer their own interpretations as part of a national debate. James Madison said “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.” Indeed, “knowledge will govern ignorance” unless the government controls what citizens can know.