Whether it's pesticides, genetically modified foods, AIDs, or COVID-19, the silencing of debate occurs regularly in scientific circles, particularly with big contentious issues, says Prof. Brian Martin of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong.
"With nuclear power, pesticides, or GMOs, there are people affected by those, but not to the scale of COVID-19," he told The Epoch Times.
"I've been studying suppression for decades and every time there's a highly controversial public issue there will be dominant experts on one side, and just a few dissidents on the other that come under attack because they change the nature of the debate," he said.
Martin said a few disagreeable voices could shift the dynamic from one between experts versus the uninformed public—to one with experts versus experts.
"That's quite a difference," he said. "I've seen that in debates on nuclear power, fluoridation, nuclear winter, pesticides, you name it."
The professor said the dominant side of a debate typically aligned with "powerful organisations" like corporations and governments, while dissidents faced a tougher time and risked being discredited altogether by stakeholders keen to prove there is no disagreement on contentious issues.
The only outlier to this trend was the tobacco and climate change debate, where organisations and scientists were largely in opposing camps rather than working together.
'Unprecedented' Levels of Suppression During PandemicMartin's recent study, “Censorship and Suppression of COVID-19 Heterodoxy: Tactics and Counter-Tactics,” co-authored with four other experts, found well-known scientists and doctors were forced to find ways to circumvent a broad array of censorship tactics used against them.
Some experts said media outlets stopped interviewing them for comment shortly after they were reported being defamed and slapped with labels such as “anti-vaxxer,” “COVID denier,” “misinformation spreaders,” or “conspiracy theorist.”
Further, some reported having their social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Google, and LinkedIn, taken down.
One expert says they even experienced censorship on Google Docs.
“Google Docs started restricting and censoring my ability to share documents … This is an organisation telling me that I cannot send a private communication to a colleague or to a friend, or to a family member,” the expert told researchers.
Medical experts also reported being suppressed by the academic and medical communities.
One doctor’s name appeared on the website of his country’s Ministry of Health—out of 55,000 physicians—saying he was distributing disinformation.
Science: Ideal vs. RealityMartin said the "storybook" ideal of science was that experts should be open to different kinds of evidence, yet it was often the case researchers get locked into particular ways of thinking.
"That's often very productive because you don't want to be distracted by a bunch of weird side ideas; just focus on the standard assumptions within the field and solve the puzzles," he said, but it was detrimental for dealing with contentious public issues.
"So scientists can get locked in, and most commonly on the side of powerful groups because they're the ones providing funding, legitimacy, and possible advancement of careers."
He prefaced that by saying scientists and institutions genuinely believed they were being objective and doing the "right thing." Yet he did point to the influence of funding bias.
"If a scientist receives funding from a corporation, let's say a pharmaceutical company, then their findings are much more likely to be supportive of the company."
"They, and teachers who question current orthodoxies, are harassed in person and online, ostracized, subjected to opaque university disciplinary procedures, fired, or cancelled by other means."