March 20, 2018
Statement by NAS, NAE, and NAM Presidents on Effort to Counter Online Misinformation
We are pleased to announce that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are exploring ways to mobilize our expertise to counter misinformation on the web related to science, engineering, and health. Part of the mission of the National Academies has always been to help ensure that public discourse is informed by the best available evidence. To that end, we are convening Academy members to discuss ways by which we could help verify the integrity and accuracy of content in these fields in a manner that is consistent with our standards for objective, trustworthy, evidence-based information; this exploratory phase will be supported by a grant from Google. We are excited to pursue an effort that aligns with our fundamental principles and that we believe is critically important at a time when misinformation is a threat to sound decision-making and an informed citizenry.
President, National Academy of Sciences
C. D. (Dan) Mote, Jr.
President, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine
Source: Statement by NAS, NAE, and NAM Presidents on Effort to Counter Online Misinformation
In theory, this sounds good. On the other hand, we have been led down the path of nutrition science malpractice in the 1980s leading to the obesity and diabetes crises of probably two generations – this could also end up causing harm.
For those not around in the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government established nutritional guidelines for all of America. They decided all fat was evil and we should strive to eliminate all fat from our diets. We should also eliminate eggs, and at various times, coffee and salt. Sugar, interestingly, was not a problem. The government launched a major propaganda operation to promote the guidelines. This propaganda effort used media, employers and food corporations to promote it. Almost immediately, average weights in the U.S. began increasing, and the incidence of Type 2 diabetes began increasing.
This led to an ever expanding list of special-case hypotheses insuring us that the government’s guidelines were correct and something else was to blame.
In the early 1980s, my wife worked as a biochemist for a large pharmaceutical company. The company sponsored seminars to promote the new guidelines, and families were invited to attend. Here, professional nutritionists advised us we should get rid of as much fat as possible from our diets. The person behind me raised his hand and asked, “So what your saying is that fat is bad but sugar is okay?”. The response from the professional nutritionists was that we did not need to worry about sugar unless we were diabetic. Oh, and the majority of our diet should consist of grains, which for most people meant ground up wheat.
Face palm moment. Yet for decades, anyone who questioned the scientific establishment was considered a heretic. Today, we now know this advice was bunk. Read any number of books on the subject, or compare the DASH diet of the 1980s with the DASH diet of today – nearly a reversal of what they preached in the 1980s.
The question becomes: how do we avoid this scenario from repeating itself where experts are far too confident in their hypotheses and use their authority (“appeal to authority”) argument to shut down dissenting perspectives?