CENSORSHIP IN THE MEDICAL FIELD ⎟WHO DECIDES WHAT MISINFORMATION IS?

Andrea Kane - January 10, 2022


Frankly speaking, when it comes to medical censorship, I have no idea where to start.

Being at the core of the medical field as an aspiring doctor, I feel conflicted between two sides. Will it be freedom of expression or medical accuracy? 

This philosophical debate on processes of contagion and the matter of free expression has overlapped since Covid arose. 

Till today, I have heated discussions with my mom about governmental regulations, the masks, the vaccines, and all these new variants. And I am most certain, that you have had these debates too with your friends and family. Funny enough, some of her arguments proved themselves correct.  And it is not only me who is being refuted, it is also the WHO, governments, and tech giants.

Youtube’s crackdown on Vaccine Misinformation

On September 29, 2021, Youtube has announced that it will ban any content containing misinformation about vaccines approved by the health authorities. 

This policy is not, per se, bad.  Limits on free speech are sometimes essential like the limits on violent threats and catcalling. “A person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” 

In the case of covid, some celebrities have exploited a nationwide misery for their personal financial advantages. French Youtuber Leo Grasset, who has 1.2 million followers, was contacted by a mysterious advertising agency that offered to pay him a lucrative sum of money to say that “the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine is 3 times greater than the mortality rate of AstraZeneca.” 

It is not surprising that you are wondering now “who the hell is behind this monopoly?!” 

The new policy that bans any vaccine misinformation was taken into full action, Youtube said it had removed over 800,000 videos since last year. Just recently, Youtube banned Russian broadcaster RT in the German language for violating their community guidelines about the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last 3 months of 2020, Facebook and Instagram have also removed more than 1 million posts on covid misinformation. 

The problem with this policy is that it is too vague. Even discussions on scientific peer published studies could get you demonised and banned. 

Multiple doctors got banned for speculating the vaccine’s long-term efficacy. Ironically the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now advises all Americans to get an additional booster vaccine to fight the new Omicron variant. 

When politics enforces academic censorship

Rania Muhareb, a Ph.D. scholar at the National University of Ireland, has published on The Lancet with her colleagues a letter alerting the medical community about the dangers of Covid-19 in the Gaza Strip. They have highlighted that “the structural violence and illegal blockade of Gaza will lead to a shortage of Covid-19 testing supplies and vaccinations.” 

Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, has informed Muhareb that “certain physicians from the US and elsewhere threatened them with a boycott and demanded the letter’s removal.” Horton also said that “the threat was traumatic on personal levels to certain employees.” He eventually had to remove the letter from the journal’s website.

Formal retraction of academic articles only happens to published papers with “pervasive error, non-reproducible research, scientific misconduct, or duplicate publication.” Muhareb’s paper included none of these conditions and still got removed due to external political interests. 

Such a dangerous precedent imposes a massive threat to academic freedom.

Is there a correct approach to address medical censorship? 

Obviously, the modern world faces a pandemic on this scale for the first time.

Did WHO’s curfews and restrictions help limit the disease? Most definitely.  Are governments always taking the right decision? Not quite.

Doctors and nurses got silenced after talking about their hospital’s shortages. 

People who are skeptical about the Covid vaccine’s safety are not necessarily doubtful about its medical background.  The skepticism rather comes from a deeply rooted distrust of governmental institutions. This issue arose from the absence of transparent communication. And the hush-hush approach around their mishaps majorly discredited health organisations.

Sharing information is indispensable for scientific optimisation. 

PONSIST: a healthcare professional safe haven

Healthcare professionals need a place to safely express their own mental health and the impact of saddening cases. PONSIST offers an exclusive environment that can only be accessed by certified healthcare professionals to have levelled discussions with other medical professionals anywhere in the world.

Alinda Jansen, the founder of PONSIST, prides her initiative for being autonomous. PONSIST is not sponsored meaning that no powerful company will dictate what should be published and what should be deleted. She recently expressed her infuriation about 3rd parties trying to sell her personal information of nurses and doctors around the world, including their phone numbers and specialisations. PONSIST does not collect any data and as Jansen says: “We will never sell off your trust.” 

On PONSIST, you will find other professionals in your field and be able to affiliate with them based on your mutual research and specialisation. You can also message international colleagues through end-to-end encrypted messaging and find potential fellowships and research opportunities. 

 

There is a thin line between managing medical misinformation and attacking the freedom of expression.
Which side is correct here? Well, I believe we are not evolved enough to answer this ethical question yet. 

 

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