Shifts in social interaction with the rise of social media have affected decision-making processes not only at the personal level but also with public policies and authority legitimacy. While the shifts are monumental and revolutionary, the consequences, by and large, have been catastrophic for the role of science and evidence in the policymaking process.
In 2017-18, I expressed my concern about these shifts in two different but intertwined series. These six lengthy blogs are essentially a book on how social media has changed our ability to trust, engage in dialogue, acquire knowledge and interact. As social media gurus and activist zealots take over the policy process in Brussels and impose their ideology of ignorance and intolerance on the media, academe and public discourse, let this series be my warning of a disaster in the making for science and rationality.
The Insignificant Trilogy
Social media is all about “me” – my life and what is important to me. Algorithms focus information choices on what I want to see and build expectations that everyone thinks like me. So when the Risk-Monger counters that with the declaration: “I’m insignificant”, I am reminding people that such narcissism is a ticket to unhappiness. With tribes of expectation and entitlement forming around online communities, it doesn’t take long for opportunists to enter and take advantage of these vulnerabilities. The activist gurus and snake-oil salesmen (from supplements to organic food) tell their followers what they want to hear, offer solutions and, unsurprisingly, profit quite nicely.
Naturopaths are defined as the those blindly favouring natural methods, substances and treatments over conventional scientific ones. They operate across a wide range of disciplines from homeopathy to alternative medicine, organic food and supplements. Naturopathic zealots have driven fear of anything synthetic into a form of political populism that is rapidly increasing public health risks (with the decline in vaccination rates), creating food security issues (with public pressure on agritech policies) and hindering scientists’ capacity to innovate. This blog shows how intolerant the naturopaths are and compares this populist wave to others in history (all of which ended badly).
This blog looks at how a small group of naturopaths are imposing a righteous “reign of terror” on science and humanity by denying dialogue or engagement in environmental-health risk policy debates. It includes a personal history of how stakeholder dialogue developed in the 1990s as part of CSR and then demonstrates how the activists, once invited to the table, demanded that other stakeholders be excluded. By killing dialogue, silencing experts, academics and scientists, these intolerant fear-mongers can impose ideologies on publics with dangerous populist precision (as seen post 1789, 1848 and 1933).
The Evolutions in Trust Trilogy
Public trust in authorities, expertise and science has rapidly diminished. But we cannot make decisions without trust, so how do people trust in a post-dialogue world. This blog shows how trust has evolved into a community interaction within social media tribes. In particular our decisions are being influenced more and more by the algorithms and search-history knowledge pre-selections that are defining what narratives frame our stories. Trust is now determined by a blockchain of shared assessments and peer evaluations (think hotel reviews or Uber ratings). This trust is built on transparency and consensus, not on expert views, facts or evidence.
The second part looks at how the blockchain trust model is extended to research and policy. Activists have succeeded in raising fear and mistrust of industry collusion in the risk assessment process. They have offered an alternative source of evidence for policy decisions: a blockchain of citizen science observations. I refer to this as “church volunteer science” disguising a zealot activism that will lead to widespread ignorance and a lowering of evidence standards. Science is not a democratic process or the result of a political consensus, and the blockchain approach risks delegitimising scientific methodology.
In order to achieve policy success, naturopath activists empower themselves by disempowering others. This is in keeping with neo-Marxist revolutionary strategy. This blog highlights certain disempowerment games like ad hominem attacks on scientists, shutting down dialogue and refusing to compromise. Many green campaigns demand the complete abandonment of conventional practices (in energy, agriculture and trade) in order to allow their ideology to be properly implemented. My view is simple: disempowerment is an unethical, cheap substitute for rational thought.