Controversial and divisive

Labeling someone as “controversial” and “divisive” have long been an easy way to signal that that person should be avoided. A subtle “don’t listen to him, he’s dangerous.”

And for a very long time it has worked. Until it doesn’t.

Some years ago I began to listen to those that was labeled so, just because I wanted to understand what on earth they were talking about and where they were wrong and/or dangerous. Again and again, I found heterodox thinkers saying interesting and thoughtful things about humanity and the world and, obviously, at some point I realised that it was the labelers that were wrong.

The labels have gotten worse. With the rise of Trump we got to “alt-right” and now people are accused of being racist left and right at the drop of a hat.

And every time, I try to listen to see if those people are saying something interesting. And they often are. I can’t even count how many newsletters I subscribe to and how many books I’ve bought from these supposedly dangerous people.

I first experienced this in the aftermath of the Danish national election in 2001 and ever since that I’ve noticed it more and more. Nowadays I mostly follow international trends and one of the first writers I found this way was Roger Pielke Jr.:

As someone who has experienced up close and personal long-standing efforts to silence my work, perhaps the best advice I can give to the would-be silencers is to stop wasting your time — it just doesn’t work. The fact that you are reading this proves that. I have no doubt that those pressing for a fuller investigation of a lab leak possibility are not going to be intimidated or shamed into silence either.

More importantly, both democracy and science are better served by open discussions among experts — especially among experts who disagree. It’s OK, the world not only will survive disagreement, but achieving disagreement is a key to reaching agreement and thus progress in science — that goes for discovering Covid-19 origins and pretty much everything else.

On highly politicized issues, there will always be legitimate science which is inconvenient to someone’s political aim. Tough beans. Science isn’t here to serve your or my agendas. Get used to it.
— Roger Pielke Jr., “Please Shut Up

Pielke mentions this tweet by a New York Times reporter covering COVID-19 and the lab-leak hypothesis:

To which I’d like to quote these two responses:

Can someone explain to me why it’s racist to wonder if a virus escaped from a Chinese lab, but it’s not racist to insist that it infected humans because of Chinese wet markets? If anything, isn’t the latter more racist?
Glenn Greenwald

an authoritarian government carelessly produced another chernobyl, this time at the scale of a planet, then insidiously lied about it: racist

a chinese person ate a bat i guess: not racist

got it
Mike Solana

Continuing on the thread where I too was in the wrong, the lab-leak hypothesis has now gained official approval by the American President and the American media is scrambling to get on the right side of history. So, I’ll end with this:

Maybe a lazy heuristic. But TBH, when the evidence is murky and there are plenty of experts lining up on both sides, but one side is excessively concerned with policing the discourse […], I tend to think that side is more likely than not to be wrong.
Nate Silver















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