Oops: MIT researchers infiltrate ‘anti-maskers,’ but find they ‘practice a form of data literacy in spades’

A group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has released a research paper examining the scientific justification behind groups which challenge the purportedly scientific basis of restrictions introduced on the back of COVID-19, admitting that such groups “value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over ‘expert’ interpretations.”

The paper, published in January and titled “How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online,” aimed to show how “activist networks of anti-mask users [a term used to describe lockdown protestors generally] leverage the rhetoric of scientific rigor in order to oppose public health measures like mask mandates or indoor dining bans.”

A team of five researchers, comprised of four MIT academics as well as a mathematician from Wellesley College, observed online communities of “COVID skeptics” over a six month period by joining groups on Facebook and Twitter, where they collected data by “deep lurking,” a method described by the team as “a mode of participating by observing specific to digital platforms.”

The group reportedly analyzed “close to half a million tweets that use data visualizations to talk about the pandemic,” as well as “over 41,000 images” of graphs and charts used by “anti-mask groups” to demonstrate the myriad statistics from COVID-related studies.

Although the paper is permeated with an undercurrent of ridicule towards any lockdown skepticism, the authors frequently were forced to admit a high level of scientific competency and literacy among critics of non-medical interventions against the Wuhan coronavirus.

In order to further downplay the importance of critical thinking, the group asserted that “calling for increased media literacy can often backfire: the instruction to ‘question more’ can lead to a weaponization of critical thinking and increased distrust of media and government institutions.” According to the authors, skeptical groups have capitalized “on the skeptical impulse that the ‘science simply isn’t settled,’ prompting people to simply ‘think for themselves,’” a danger that they say has already led “to horrifying ends.”

For example, the authors at one point claim that their study “finds that anti-mask groups practice a form of data literacy in spades.” They went on to say that “[w]ithin this constituency, unorthodox viewpoints do not result from a deficiency of data literacy” but that, in fact, “sophisticated practices of data literacy are a means of consolidating and promulgating views that fly in the face of scientific orthodoxy.”

In addition, the study found that “anti-mask groups on Twitter often create polished counter-visualizations that would not be out of place in scientific papers, health department reports, and publications like the Financial Times.” Counter-visualizations is a term used to describe graphical representations of COVID-related statistics which refute or otherwise challenge the data used by public health officials to justify civil restrictions.

In essence, the research team admitted that skeptical groups have relied on robust datasets in order to challenge the opposing assertions of medical elites, like the radically pro-mask Dr. Anthony Fauci. However, the researchers framed their paper in such a way as to discredit or cast doubt on the skeptics’ conclusions, insisting government-backed views are “scientific orthodoxy.”

The team expressed their clear disagreement with the positions of so-called COVID skeptics, describing their temptation “to characterize COVID skeptics as simply ‘anti-science,’” as Fauci and many other elites have. However, the researchers ultimately commended skeptics as acknowledging “the subjectivity of how datasets are constructed” and their subsequent effort “to reconcile the data with lived experience,” thus ruling out Fauci’s blanket tarring.

“Far from ignoring scientific evidence to argue for individual freedom,” the researchers conceded, “anti-maskers often engage deeply with public datasets.”

“[T]hese groups seek to make the process of understanding data as transparent as possible in order to challenge the powers that be.”

The study found that both pro-lockdown and anti-lockdown groups utilize public health data to bolster their claims for and against public health mandates, though drawing different conclusions. The researchers noted that lockdown skeptics in particular “are critical about the data sources used to make visualizations in data-driven stories.” This leads more skeptical groups to “engage in lengthy conversation about the limitations of imperfect data,” according to the study.

“These anti-mask activists therefore conclude that unreliable statistics cannot be the basis of policies that actively harm people by isolating them and leaving businesses to collapse en masse,” the authors wrote. Furthermore, “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the ‘objective’ truth of public health data.”

MIT RESEARCHERS FRET ABOUT ‘WEAPONIZATION OF CRITICAL THINKING’ MAKING MORE PEOPLE DISTRUST MEDIA, GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS

Failing any statistical or scientific refutation of the logic behind lockdown skepticism, the researchers then offered an alternative prism through which skeptical groups can be seen to be erring in their analyses.

The team compared lockdown skeptics to rioters at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, an event that they said has “similarly illustrated that well-calibrated, well-funded systems of coordinated disinformation can be particularly dangerous when they are designed to appeal to skeptical people.” The researchers unqualifiedly claim that “the coup relied on a collective effort fanned by people questioning, interacting, and sharing these ideas with other people,” placing any person or group questioning of common assumptions into the category of criminal instigators.

“Anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the ‘objective’ truth of public health data.”

In order to further downplay the importance of critical thinking, the group asserted that “calling for increased media literacy can often backfire: the instruction to ‘question more’ can lead to a weaponization of critical thinking and increased distrust of media and government institutions.” According to the authors, skeptical groups have capitalized “on the skeptical impulse that the ‘science simply isn’t settled,’ prompting people to simply ‘think for themselves,’” a danger that they say has already led “to horrifying ends.”

The study characterized the skepticism of mainstream media-touted COVID data as “an act of resistance against the stifling influence of central government, big business, and liberal academia.” Such groups, they said, are “highly reflexive about the inherently biased nature of any analysis, and resent what they view as the arrogant self-righteousness of scientific elites.”

Most fundamentally,” they wrote, “the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution.”

So convincing is their painting of the lockdown-skeptical rationale that the authors made direct clarifications that they are “not promoting these views,” but are seeking to “better understand how ‘analyzing data’ can take on different meanings during a time of crisis.” Expanding, they wrote that “simply increasing access to raw data or improving the quality of data visualizations will not bolster public consensus about scientific findings,” but they did not offer a reason why more access to information appears to divide opinion.

Accordingly, “[c]onvincing anti-maskers to support public health measures in the age of COVID-19 will require more than ‘better’ visualizations, data literacy campaigns, or increased public access to data,” the researchers concluded.

“For these anti-mask users, their approach to the pandemic is grounded in more scientific rigor, not less.”

Via Lifesite News