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VICTOR JOECKS: COVID reversals show importance of free speech

Be deeply suspicious of people wanting to silence, not debate, those who disagree with them. Just look at what the supposed experts got wrong about the pandemic.

Major federal agencies now believe the coronavirus likely originated in a Chinese lab. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said his agency believes a lab leak is the “most likely” origin. The Wall Street Journal reported on a Department of Energy analysis that reached a similar conclusion, although with less certainty.

To call this a staggering reversal is an understatement. During the first year of the pandemic, powerful institutions declared this verboten. The national mainstream media heaped scorn on those who pointed out that it was a realistic possibility.

“Sen. Tom Cotton repeats fringe theory of coronavirus origins,” The New York Times wrote in February 2020. It continued, “The conspiracy theory lacks evidence and has been dismissed by scientists.” As of this writing, that “reporting” remains up without a correction.

This isn’t the only switch in the conventional wisdom.

In July 2021, Politifact evaluated this statement: “It makes no sense to require vaccinations for the previously infected.” It rated such a perspective as “false”

“Conservatives have developed a dangerous obsession with natural COVID immunity that defies logic and science,” Slate wrote in 2022.

But last month, a study in The Lancet found that natural immunity offers protection “equivalent to that provided by two-dose mRNA vaccines.” This “supports the idea that those with a documented infection should be treated similarly to those who have been fully vaccinated with high-quality vaccines,” the study found. Oh.

Then there are masks, which turned into little more than secular religious symbols. Dr. Anthony Fauci even once said it “just makes common sense” to double mask. “Republican faces may be unmasked, but their hands are covered in blood,” an L.A. Times columnist wrote in July 2020. In 2021, Nevada Democrats took away then-Assemblywoman Annie Black’s right to vote for not wearing a mask on the Assembly floor.

A new Cochrane Review, however, found masks “probably made little to no difference.” Lead author Tom Jefferson, who works at the University of Oxford, was more direct in a subsequent interview. “There is just no evidence that they (masks) make any difference. Full stop,” he said.

These examples show why open debate is so important. People are fallible. There is no one authority or group that has all the correct information. The self-proclaimed experts got it wrong again and again. Over the long haul, an unchecked and robust debate is the best path to useful information. Regardless, people have a right to speak freely, even when others think they’re saying wildly inaccurate things.

But that belief is far from universal. Social media companies routinely stopped users from making claims that turned out to be true. Even worse, the Biden administration attacked them for not censoring aggressively enough. President Joe Biden infamously accused them of “killing people.” The White House even flagged posts for Facebook to remove. One of the Twitter Files threads showed how government officials pressured Twitter to shape the debate to their liking.

In a just world, people would be resigning in disgrace for this. Or at least apologizing. In the real world, Democrats and their media allies will move on as quickly as possible.

Here’s a lesson from this debacle. Notice when the “experts” and media try to shut down debate over an issue rather than defend their contentions. You see it frequently with global warming and transgender policies. This is often a sign that someone can’t defend their position on the merits and must resort to stifling dissent. As with the coronavirus, that approach rarely ends well.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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