Ever since Elon Musk publicized Twitter’s “crown jewels”––the evidence for its various forms of censorship of conservatives, and its collusion with the FBI, Homeland Security, and the White House to damage Donald Trump and promote Joe Biden before the 2020 presidential election––he has been hysterically vilified by social and legacy media, and threatened by the White House for taking the First Amendment seriously and exposing the moral and professional bankruptcy of storied news outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, and CNN.
And now, in a poll of Twitter users Musk held Sunday in response to pushback on his ban on Twitter users promoting other social media sites, 55% voted that Musk should step down as CEO. Musk has pledged to abide by the results, tweeting, “The question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive.” Fortunately, Musk still own the company and can maintain Twitter’s role as the virtual town square that respects free speech.
Such flak is what one gets for defending the foundational rights of any government that empowers the masses to participate in politics and hold accountable their political rulers, and that protects the people from the tyranny of elites whether plutocratic or technocratic. But free speech is also critical to the proper practice of science, which relies on public debates over challenges to scientific claims.
Musk has gone beyond just standing up for our unalienable right to speak our minds, and for exposing the government’s unconstitutional assaults on the First Amendment. His brash and insulting defense has come at the expense of the cognitive elite who fancies themselves “brights” because they have college degrees and professional credentials––a class that needs to be humiliated for their overweening arrogance and toxic credentialism.
Moreover, Musk is one of the tech oligarchs who turned their highly technical and hard-science computer engineering skills into extraordinary wealth and influence. Then he took over their Twitter sandbox and fired 5,000 employees––a grievous affront that made him Woke Enemy No. 1. He punctures the pretensions of the credentialed class who believe they are entitled to tell everybody else what to do and how to live, even though pretty much every policy or idea they promote has little to do with critical thinking, rational argument, or established fact, and everything to do with aggrandizing their tyrannical political power.
The question that lies behind our cognitive elite’s assumption of superior intelligence is where it came from. The possession of college degrees, as they claim? Yet education from kindergarten to graduate school for decades has been failing to teach foundational knowledge and skills, and relentlessly lowering standards of performance for earning a degree. Most university degrees outside the STEM disciplines are various types of scientism or dubious “studies” that rely on postmodern epistemic and linguistic nihilism, and serve not truth or learning, but illiberal ideologies like identity politics or left-over leftism. Earning such degrees means only that a student has managed to show up and parrot dubious disciplinary and ideological shibboleths.
But failing schools raise a further, broader question of why they fail. The answer lies in the epochal changes in the West’s defining narrative since the late 18th century. In the following years the success of natural science and new technologies fostered the hope that the same methods could allow us to understand human nature and behavior as precisely, and develop new knowledge and technologies for endlessly improving human beings and societies.
Corollary to this belief was the gradual replacement of faith and tradition with science. Religion was banished to the realm of the private and the subjective. Tradition was dismissed as comprising stubborn ignorance and superstition. And most important, philosophical materialism was elevated to the only reality. As cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett asserts, “there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter––the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology––and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon.” Soul, spirit, transcendent reality are merely irrational myths.
Once these impediments to understanding and improving human nature and motivation were swept away, and, as historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin writes, “Once appropriate social laws were discovered, rational organization would take the place of blind improvisation, and men’s wishes, within the limits of the uniformities of nature, could in principle all be made to come true.”
But humans are radically different from the rest of nature. Only humans have rational minds, consciousness, self-awareness, imagination, concepts like beauty and evil, and free will, the power to act spontaneously and unpredictably––a whole reality beyond the material world. In short, they are, as Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin put it, “unfinalizable,” able “to render untrue any externalizing and finalizing definition of them. As long as a person is alive, he lives by the fact that he is not yet finalized, that he has not yet uttered his ultimate word.”
As such, we cannot be known and explained with the certitude and predictability required of science: “For,” as Berlin writes, “the particles are too minute, too heterogeneous, succeed each other too rapidly, occur in combinations of too great a complexity, are too much part and parcel of what we are and do, to be capable of submitting to the required degree of abstraction, that minimum of generalization and formalization––idealization––which any science must exact.”
This huge category error of treating human beings as susceptible through science to improvement beyond the tragic constants of human experience has informed the technocracy, the rule by credentialed experts, that defines leftism and its cousin progressivism. But as history catalogues, this technocratic progress has failed over and over during the last two blood-soaked centuries of industrialized warfare and genocide.
A less spectacular sign of the failure of the “human sciences” to improve humanity have been the violations, on the part of “brights” and “followers of science,” of the protocols of the scientific method. Appealing to authority, and silencing dissenters are two typical sins that have been particularly prevalent the last several decades. But as physicist Richard Feynman said, “It does not matter who you are, or how smart you are, or what title you have, or how many of you there are, and certainly not how many papers your side has published, if your prediction is wrong then your hypothesis is wrong. Period.”
For example, proponents of anthropogenic, catastrophic global warming have for decades been guilty of both these unscientific modes of argument. There are the rigged surveys and statistics like “80% of climate scientists” accept the human-created global warming hypothesis, an old trick of advertisers who claim “Three out of four dentists recommend Crest.” And warmists have smeared informed critics who follow the scientific method and challenge the hypothesis, by labelling them “deniers,” an obvious and despicable way to tar critics with the Holocaust brush, while social and other media censor and “cancel” them, and universities ban them from speaking engagements.
Ad hominem attacks and specious appeals to authority have long been the recourse of those who don’t have real science to back up their claims.
Even worse, sometimes, predictions of global warming’s apocalyptic effects violate the basic protocols and procedures of science. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported on a claim in the esteemed journal Lancet that ignored a fundamental protocol of comparative statistics:
The study offers a frightening statistic: Rapidly rising temperatures have increased annual global heat deaths among older people by 68% in less than two decades. That stark figure has been cited all over, from the BBC and Time to the Washington Post and the Times of India, the world’s largest-selling English-language daily. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres publicized the report, tweeting a link with a grave statement of his own, “The climate crisis is killing us. #COP27 must deliver a down-payment on climate solutions that match the scale of the problem.”
But as Bjorn Lomborg explains, the shocking claim that “Annual heat deaths have increased significantly among people 65 and older world-wide” by 68% between 2000 and 2010 ignores that the number of people in that age-group grew by 60%: “When the increase in heat mortality is adjusted for this population growth, the actual rise that can be attributed to rising temperatures is only 5%.”
As Lomborg observes, “It is hard not to see the Lancet study’s failure to adjust this figure as a deliberate act of deception”––especially since Lomborg a year earlier had informed Lancet of the same error in another article.
Numerous examples of similar ad hominem attacks, attempts to silence, and fundamental errors can be multiplied. Obviously, the last two years of disinformation about Covid’s origins, lethality, transmissibility, possible treatments, and mitigation policies like masks, social-distancing, and shutting down schools have all been exposed. Yet the critics who foresaw these failures were smeared and silenced.
For example, the Great Barrington Declaration, which in 2020 correctly argued against the CDC’s lock-down pronunciamentos, was met by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins’s email to Anthony Fauci advising that it should suffer “a quick and devastating published take down.” And of course the media both traditional and social eagerly publicized and enforced the threat. Meanwhile, evidence of lethal side-effects continues to grow, with little attention from government agencies and their media flacks.
From transgenderism to “systemic racism,” patently unscientific theories and practices have exposed the technocratic “brights’” serial failures that frequently worsen the problem. Elon Musk’s exposure of Twitter, one of the most enthusiastic enablers of the “bright” pretensions to be “followers of science,” is welcome pushback on behalf of the First Amendment and the legitimate practice of real science.