MIT Admits Anti-Maskers are Right (& Complains About Independent-Minded & Rational Americans)!
Is This a Truth-Troll?
(See my video about this here.)
Sometimes the funniest stuff comes from people who are being serious. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell extremism from parody of it!
They say “trust the science” while wearing masks that do about as much to stop a virus as a chain-link fence does to stop dust in the wind. The commonly used N95 mask, says the manufacturer 3M, offers protection against sawdust, household dust and some protection against some molds but not against “contracting infection, illness, or disease”. So who actually follows the science?
We are going to look at a recent paper from alumni of the world-renown MIT that argues that we need less media literacy (not more, less) because anti-maskers are able to read graphs concerning the epidemic and come to their own rational fact-based conclusions. In other words, they are mad that antimaskers can justify their position because they are media literate; they can understand the visual data better than pro-maskers!
…or it’s a parody!
Some time I would like to tell you all about the Sokal hoax (AKA the Sokal affair) that was pulled off by Alan Sokal in 1996, wherein Sokal, wanting to demonstrate how full of bull dunky some of the social sciences are, submitted a hoax paper to a peer-reviewed social “science” journal. They printed his absurd paper filled with bold-faced nonsense that nonetheless was indistinguishable from the sort of postmodern babble one expects from these sorts of “scientific” journals.
Their vainglorious verbosity and wearisome wordiness seems schemed as pontifical puffery; to serve as a smokescreen to obscure by clouds a lack of a certain quality that a certain bard said brevity was the soul of.
Those who, like the editors of that social “science” journal, say they see rational meaning in Sokal’s hoax paper (let alone see the scientific rigor and validity that they were supposed to see before publishing it), are like the people who said they could see the emperor’s new clothes.
They are liars.
Now, about that MIT paper - when I read it I ask myself if it too was a hoax meant to expose bull dunky through it's publication. Sokal was sure to include certain key words and phrases to work the algorithm, so to speak, to illicit certain responses in the editors of the paper in 1995. These are like passwords that upon utterance signal sentries to allow you entry into their territory. This paper by MIT alumni that we will look at has it’s own key words and phrases to work the algorithm, so to speak, to illicit certain responses in certain people in 2021.
The attempted coup on January 6, 2021 has similarly illustrated how dangerous well-calibrated, well-funded systems of coordinated disinformation can be particularly dangerous when they are designed to appeal to skeptical people.
That seems to be coming from a left wing perspective, doesn’t it? Here’s more…
Calls for media literacy—especially as an ethics smokescreen to avoid talking about larger structural problems like white supremacy— are especially problematic when these approaches can deficit-focused and trained primarily on individual responsibility.
It’s the old America is an institutionally racist nation narrative.
Not exactly a right wing view either.
…For Tea Party activists, this deep story revolved around anger towards a federal system ruled by liberal elites who pander to the interests of ethnic and religious minorities, while curtailing the advantages that White, Christian traditionalists view as their American birthright. We argue that the anti-maskers’ deep story draws from similar wells of resentment, but adds a particular emphasis on the usurpation of scientific knowledge by a paternalistic, condescending elite that expects intellectual subservience rather than critical thinking from the lay public.
To be clear, we are not promoting these views.
Antimaskers are white racist Christians, they imply. Pardon me while I roll my eyes.
The paper is Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online apparently by MIT alumni, January 20th, 2021 (which can be found on the websites of the likes of Harvard and Cornel and which was to be read at a tech conference in Japan in May of 2021). It's abstract reads...
Controversial understandings of the coronavirus pandemic have turned data visualizations into a battleground. Defying public health officials, coronavirus skeptics on US social media spent much of 2020 creating data visualizations showing that the government’s pandemic response was excessive and that the crisis was over. This paper investigates how pandemic visualizations circulated on social media, and shows that people who mistrust the scientific establishment often deploy the same rhetorics of data-driven decision-making used by experts, but to advocate for radical policy changes...
Yes, “radical policy changes”, like returning to sanity.
Note their use of the terms “masker” and “anti-masker”. At 11:41 in a video about this paper for MIT Libraries, one of the authors of the research paper, Crystal Lee, indicates that she and whoever she means by “us” are mask wearers and are called “maskers” and “sheep” by people who identify as “antimaskers”.
...Using a quantitative analysis of how visualizations spread on Twitter and an ethnographic approach to analyzing conversations about COVID data on Facebook, we document an epistemological gap that leads pro- and anti-mask groups to draw drastically different inferences from similar data. Ultimately, we argue that the deployment of COVID data visualizations reflect a deeper sociopolitical rift regarding the place of science in public life.
Later in the paper they write that…
…almost every US state now hosts a data dashboard on their health department website to show how the pandemic is unfolding. However, despite a preponderance of evidence that masks are crucial to reducing viral transmission [25, 29, 105],...
Well, IF this is true, why, then has Dr. Fauci said that wearing masks does not help? Is he not in agreement with the CDC? If so, then are the authors wrong? If not, then are we to listen to Dr. Fauci or the CDC? Meanwhile, we have seen that the WHO, the CDC and Dr. Fauci flip-flop for reasons that are political which means that their reasons are not scientific. The WHO, for example, that is apparently lead by a Marxist-Leninist, tweeted (on January 14, 2020) there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” according to the Chinese authorities without further comment, as if it were true that there were “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”.
...protestors across the United States have argued for local governments to overturn their mask mandates and begin reopening schools and businesses. A pandemic that affects a few, they reason, should not impinge on the liberties of a majority to go about life as usual. To support their arguments, these protestors and activists have created thousands of their own visualizations, often using the same datasets as health officials.
This paper investigates how these activist networks use rhetorics of scientific rigor to oppose these public health measures…
It's amusing how they write, “these activist networks use rhetorics of scientific rigor to oppose these public health measures” rather than something like, “these activist networks use rational science-based reasons to oppose these public health measures”.
…Far from ignoring scientific evidence to argue for individual freedom, antimaskers often engage deeply with public datasets and make what we call “counter-visualizations”—visualizations using orthodox methods to make unorthodox arguments—to challenge mainstream narratives that the pandemic is urgent and ongoing. By asking community members to “follow the data,” these groups mobilize data visualizations to support significant local changes.
They then explain their methodology which involves first looking at, “close to half a million tweets” with charts, “to talk about the pandemic” with “quantitative and qualitative methods” (meaning that they looked at it objectively and subjectively) and they looked at how people used those charts when discussing/debating with maskers and anti-maskers. They claim to have processed, “over 41,000 images through a computer vision model trained by Poco and Heer”. Secondly, they explain, they, “supplement this quantitative work with a six month-long observational study of anti-mask groups on Facebook” from March to September 2020. They note that, “Facebook has banned some of the groups we studied, who have since moved to more unregulated platforms (Parler and MeWe).”
They also explain their methodology at this point in this video about their paper…
Backing up a bit, they write…
The academic visualization research community has traditionally focused on mitigating chartjunk and creating more intuitive visualization tools for use by non-experts; better visualizations, researchers argue, would aid public understanding of data-driven phenomena. However, we find that anti-mask groups on Twitter often create polished counter-visualizations that would not be out of place in scientific papers, health department reports, and publications like the Financial Times.
Thou doth protest too much, methinks! “Whoa! Oh, whoa! We in our ivory tower should have exclusive control of and authority over such things!,” I imagine them shriek, “Now, the unwashed masses can make professional looking charts that convince people of the truth and sensible responses to the facts!”
This is an effect of what pariah philosopher Dr. Timothy Leary was cheerleading in the 1980s and 1990s; the use of computers to empower yourself as an individual despite inevitable efforts by the system to control you.
A bit further down they write…
While previous literature in visualization and science communication has emphasized the need for data and media literacy as a way to combat misinformation [43, 47, 89], this study finds that anti-mask groups practice a form of data literacy in spades. Within this constituency, unorthodox viewpoints do not result from a deficiency of data literacy; sophisticated practices of data literacy are a means of consolidating and promulgating views that fly in the face of scientific orthodoxy. Not only are these groups prolific in their creation of counter-visualizations, but they leverage data and their visual representations to advocate for and enact policy changes on the city, county, and state levels.
Methinks thou doth protest quite clearly indeed! Further on they whine…
Among other initiatives, these groups argue for open access to government data (claiming that CDC and local health departments are not releasing enough data for citizens to make informed decisions)…
How dare those ungrateful serfs! They are like peasants who want the Bible translated into a language they speak! Why can’t they just trust their masters to translate for them?
..and they use the language of data-driven decision-making to show that social distancing mandates are both ill-advised and unnecessary. In these discussions, we find that anti-maskers think carefully about the grammar of graphics by decomposing visualizations into layered components (e.g., raw data, statistical transformations, mappings, marks, colors). Additionally, they debate how each component changes the narrative that the visualization tells, and they brainstorm alternate visualizations that would better enhance public understanding of the data. This paper empirically shows how COVID anti-mask groups use data visualizations to argue that the US government’s response (broadly construed) to the pandemic is overblown, and that the crisis has long been over.
These findings suggest that the ability for the scientific community and public health departments to better convey the urgency of the US coronavirus pandemic may not be strengthened by introducing more downloadable datasets, by producing “better visualizations” (e.g., graphics that are more intuitive or efficient), or by educating people on how to better interpret them. This study shows that there is a fundamental epistemological conflict between maskers and anti-maskers, who use the same data but come to such different conclusions…
In other words, they aren’t convincing people to simply accept their bullshit and putting out “better visualizations” or trying to train people to interpret these visualizations the way they want people to isn’t working out in their favor.
…Indeed, anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the “objective” truth of public health data…
Again, is this a joke? Are they really all but admitting that they are wrong and we are right? Weird. Really weird. If this is not a hoax then one can easily imagine that since they are more-or-less openly politically partisan, they are downplaying just how wrong they are and how right antimaskers are and this apparently causes them distress. Lee, at least, displays tension in her video presentation about this paper. Here’s two examples; she places her hand to her head and shakes her head as she gives an example of a chart shared by antimaskers that she thinks is, “really, really compelling” and she groans before saying that, “There’s an appeal to using data and science in order to show how the response is completely overblown.”
Further down in a section on visualization literacy (the ability to understand graphs) they openly write…
…calls for increased literacy have often become a form of wrong-headed solutionism that posits education as the fix to all media-related problems. Danah Boyd  has documented, too, that calling for increased media literacy can often backfire: the instruction to “question more” can lead to a weaponization of critical thinking and increased distrust of media and government institutions. She argues that calls for media literacy can often frame problems like fake news as ones of personal responsibility rather than a crisis of collective action.
…* spits out drink *… Wait! WHAT!?! They want collective action rather than personal responsibility?!? Are they really oblivious to how wrongheaded they come across? This has to be mockery! Right? I looked into this Danah Boyd (who apparently is “researcher of technology & society, Microsoft Research, Data & Society, NYU”) and found that she does indeed argue against personal responsibility and against trusting one’s own experience rather than trusting the official recommendations of “experts”!
In “Did Media Literacy Backfire?”, Danah Boyd argues that the USA is “moving towards tribalism” and that…
…our culture of doubt and critique, experience over expertise, and personal responsibility is pushing us further down this path.
Media literacy asks people to raise questions and be wary of information that they’re receiving. People are. Unfortunately, that’s exactly why we’re talking past one another.
No, we disagree with each other because some people “raise questions” and are “wary of information that they’re receiving” are others accept the information they are receiving from so-called authorities without question, collectively, as in groupthink. In other words, they are authoritarian collectivists as opposed to libertarian individualists.
It’s distasteful but deserved when I point out that the quintessential authoritarian collectivist systems are those of nazism, fascism and communism - all are forms of totalitarian groupthink. Directly opposite to these is libertarian individualism - thinking for yourself and questioning authority (to paraphrase Tim Leary). Thinking things out on your own independently with reason and intelligence rather than accepting what the group and authority wants you to accept is libertarian individualism. That is what these people hate. They prefer what Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler dreamed of - obedient, uniform, masses of comrades collectively marching in lock-step, all thinking what they are told to think, all subservient to authority.
But that wasn’t the paper by Danah Boyd that the MIT paper cited. It was “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” wherein she writes…
…the narrow version of media literacy that I hear as the “solution” is supposed to magically solve our political divide. It won’t. More importantly, as I’m watching social media and news media get weaponized, I’m deeply concerned that the well-intended interventions I hear people propose will backfire, because I’m fairly certain that the crass versions of critical thinking already have.
Ah, the unwashed masses and their crass critical thinking, their disobedient independent thinking, their free-market crass capitalist critical thinking. Yes, well, according to these MIT people, that “crass” critical thinking is more effective than your obedient groupthink, Danah. She then complains that some people would prefer to learn more about climate change and to what degree human activity is a factor than to believe what they are told in conformity with the rest of the herd! She complains about a lack of editorial control of information and about those who “self-investigate”.
Cry, cunt, cry.
Relish her exasperation over the appeal of redpilling…
In the 1999 film The Matrix, Morpheus says to Neo: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Most youth aren’t interested in having the wool pulled over their head, even if blind faith might be a very calming way of living. Restricted in mobility and stressed to holy hell, they want to have access to what’s inaccessible, know what’s taboo, and say what’s politically incorrect. So who wouldn’t want to take the red pill?
In some online communities, taking the red pill refers to the idea of waking up to how education and media are designed to deceive you into progressive propaganda. In these environments, visitors are asked to question more. They’re invited to rid themselves of their politically correct shackles. There’s an entire online university designed to undo accepted ideas about diversity, climate, and history. Some communities are even more extreme in their agenda. These are all meant to fill in the gaps for those who are opening to questioning what they’ve been taught.
Near the end of this piece she makes clear that her call for less media literacy, less reason, knowledge and independent thinking is all about her side, the (left wing) collectivists and authoritarians, winning the culture war.
Let’s return to the MIT paper. In section 2.2 they complain that antimaskers…
…identify problems of political power within datasets that are released (or otherwise withheld) by the US government. Indeed, they contend that the way COVID data is currently being collected is non-neutral, and they seek liberation from what they see as an increasingly authoritarian state that weaponizes science to exacerbate persistent and asymmetric power relations.
At 20:31 in her video about this paper, Lee says that antimaskers pervert humanism when they use the same approaches to this sort of data that humanists use - they apply logic and critical thinking to question the validity of sources and are “attuned to the ways that data and science are political…” by, for example, pointing out when science was used to lie to people to sell more tobacco products and how pharmaceutical companies have profit motives to misrepresent scientific data. She then says she thinks it’s “really, really horrifying” and “exciting” that antimaskers talk about the difference between what counts as scientific expertise and what counts as trustworthy sources.
In section 4.2.1 they write in bold…
…anti-maskers value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over “expert” interpretations.
In section 5 they write…
Anti-maskers have deftly used social media to constitute a cultural and discursive arena devoted to addressing the pandemic and its fallout through practices of data literacy. Data literacy is a quintessential criterion for membership within the community they have created. The prestige of both individual anti-maskers and the larger Facebook groups to which they belong is tied to displays of skill in accessing, interpreting, critiquing, and visualizing data, as well as the pro-social willingness to share those skills with other interested parties.
Are they trying to complain or sing praises?
This is a community of practice [63, 101] focused on acquiring and transmitting expertise, and on translating that expertise into concrete political action. Moreover, this is a subculture shaped by mistrust of established authorities and orthodox scientific viewpoints. Its members value individual initiative and ingenuity, trusting scientific analysis only insofar as they can replicate it themselves by accessing and manipulating the data firsthand. They are highly reflexive about the inherently biased nature of any analysis, and resent what they view as the arrogant self-righteousness of scientific elites.
It sounds to me like they are singing praises!
As a subculture, anti-masking amplifies anti-establishment currents pervasive in U.S. political culture. Data literacy, for antimaskers, exemplifies distinctly American ideals of intellectual self-reliance, which historically takes the form of rejecting experts and other elites .
This to me sounds like an echo of Dr. Fauci when he implored Americans to “do what they’re told” despite a natural independent American spirit.
The counter-visualizations that they produce and circulate not only challenge scientific consensus, but they also assert the value of independence in a society that they believe promotes an overall de-skilling and dumbing-down of the population for the sake of more effective social control [39, 52, 97].
You may be asking if these researchers offer any serious criticisms of antimaskers. Well, I can’t honestly call their ultimate criticisms serious but of course it’s up to you to decide. For what it’s worth, they offer the following 3;
FIRSTLY, these researchers say that antimaskers, “argue that there is an outsized emphasis on deaths versus cases: if the current datasets are fundamentally subjective and prone to manipulation (e.g., increased levels of faulty testing, asymptomatic vs. symptomatic cases), then deaths are the only reliable markers of the pandemic’s severity.”
This is echoed by Lee in her video starting at about 24:34. Notice, however, that this ‘criticism’ is actually a compliment. As they elaborate on this first ‘criticism’ they write that antimaskers…
…believe that deaths are an additionally problematic category because doctors are using a COVID diagnosis as the main cause of death (i.e., people who die because of COVID) when in reality there are other factors at play (i.e., dying with but not because of COVID).
So doctors are saying people died from covid when there are other factors present, such as those people not dying from covid. Got it. Indeed, at 22:34 in that video, Lee mentions how antimaskers are wary of how governors have a their own motive to inflate the death counts and how hospitals have a profit motive to inflate the death counts.
Since these categories are fundamentally subject to human interpretation, especially by those who have a vested interest in reporting as many COVID deaths as possible, these numbers are vastly over-reported, unreliable, and no more significant than the flu.
This is what I have been saying ever since the CDC said that doctors can say that a person who has not died from covid did die from covid and that there is a profit motive for these doctors to do so which means that the death toll is inflated.
In other words hospitals are profiting off of death, profiting by providing death certificates that say patients died of covid (without testing testing for covid). Those hospitals that process higher numbers of deaths with such death certificates profit more.
Think about that for a while.
SECONDLY, they argue that antimaskers put more stock in personal experience than in trusting the mainstream narrative.
THIRDLY, they compliment, I mean ‘criticize’…
Most fundamentally, the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution. As we have outlined in the case study, these groups mistrust the scientific establishment (“Science”) because they believe that the institution has been corrupted by profit motives and politics.
Don’t be so silly! Of course it is! Normally, research is funded by outside sources. These outside sources must have a motives for giving their money to researchers. This, there’s the money motive. .
Science and scientists can be corrupted by ideology. To quote a bit from The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politic and Religion, Jonathan Haidt, a P.hD in social psychology…
The cognitive scientist Steven pinker was a graduate student at Harvard in the 1970s. In his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Pinker describes the ways scientists betrayed the values of science to maintain loyalty to the progressive movement. Scientists became “moral exhibitionists” in the lecture hall as they demonized fellow scientists and urged their students to evaluate ideas not for their truth but for their consistency with progressive ideals such as racial and gender equality.
Then there are scientists (and Bill Gates) who seem to share the motivations of evil masterminds like Lex Luther or Dr. Evil, Bond movie villains and Bill gates if he were a scientist or a doctor which he is not. He is not a scientist or a doctor. No one should ever take medical advice from a person who is not a doctor. Bill Gates is not one. He is not a doctor. He’s just a maldeveloped malignant goblin, a nerd who was bullied as a child (unfortunately) and who now wants revenge upon the world. I digress. Back to scientists and doctors. Since I published the first edition of this article, Dr. Fauci’s incriminating emails have been released. Despite what much of the media would have you believe, these emails can’t be ignored. Obviously, it’s unwise to have faith in the scientific and political establishment surrounding this issue.
So I ask myself if these are sincere but impotent criticisms or a sly way of supporting the antimasker argument?
More gems from the MIT paper…
For anti-maskers, valid science must be a process they can critically engage for themselves in an unmediated way. Increased doubt, not consensus, is the marker of scientific certitude.
…anti-mask users in particular were predisposed to digging through the scientific literature and highlighting the uncertainty in academic publications that media organizations elide.
While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist. This study forces us to see that coronavirus skeptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.
For members of this social movement, counter-visualization and anti-masking are complementary aspects of resisting the tyranny of institutions that threaten to usurp individual liberties to think freely and act accordingly.
Yes! HELL YES!
∴ Mockery is the Best Weapon Against Them ∴
POSCTSCRIPT: Regarding the question of whether or not this paper was a prank, again, this paper was accepted by Harvard and Cornel (see their arXiv (pronounced “archive”) here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.07993) but that doesn’t mean they were not fooled. Sokal fooled a bunch of academics, remember. But apparently this paper was to be read at a conference in Yokohama Japan in May 2021 at CHI ‘21: Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Consider this video from an organization called the Association for Computing Machinery or ACM. I have not been able to find a video of the paper being presented at the conference, unfortunately, but then again I write these words not long after the conference was held. Perhaps the future will provide.
My point is that if it is a prank, it is being taken seriously by respected institutions.
ACM SIGCHI “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox ...” Youtube - April 23, 2021
ACM SIGCHI “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox ...” Youtube - May 7, 2021
Beaumont, Peter “WHO warned of transmission risk in January, despite Trump claims” the Guardian - April 9, 2020
Borger, Julian “Caught in a superpower struggle: the inside story of the WHO's response to coronavirus” the Guardian - April 18, 2020
Boyd, Danah “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” Apophenia - Jan 9, 2017
Boyd, Danah “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” Data & Society: Points - March 9, 2018
CDC “New ICD code introduced for COVID-19 deaths” National Vital Statistics System - May 24, 2020
Colton, Emma “Here are Fauci's biggest flip-flops and backtracks amid the coronavirus pandemic” Washington Examiner - Dec 1, 2020
Corcoran, Kieran “An infamous WHO tweet saying there was 'no clear evidence' COVID-19 could spread between humans was posted for 'balance' to reflect findings from China” Insider - April 18,2020
Guarino, Ben, Chris Mooney and Tim Elfrink “No matter what the CDC says, here’s why many scientists think the coronavirus is airborne.” Washington Post - Sep 21, 2020
Lee, Yang, Inchoco, Jones & Satyanarayan “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online” CHI '21: Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Article No.: 607 Pages 1–18 https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445211 - May 2021
MITLibraries “Crystal Lee: Visualizing Misinformation” Youtube - April 6, 2021
Rogers, Michelle “Fact check: Hospitals get paid more if patients listed as COVID-19, on ventilators” USA Today - April 24, 2020
Sokal, Alan D “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Social Text #46/47, pp. 217-252 - spring/summer 1996
Trouble, Justin “Why You Must Not Obey!” Bitchute - April 24, 2021
World Health Organization (WHO) @WHO (tweet) “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China” Twitter - Jan 14, 2020