A subtle form of opinion making within a news report

A subtle form of opinion making within a news report

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Victor Davis Hanson wrote an article for the conservative publication National Review suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating in California since last fall and that silent cases supposedly created more immunity in the population. From what I have read from many sources, including published papers and the social media of virologists and epidemiologists discussing their work in real-time, his theory is not credible.

The WSJ pokes  large holes in his theory too but I point out a subtle technique they’ve used in their article. But first:

Scientists are poking holes in a theory that says the coronavirus has infected relatively few in California because of supposed herd immunity resulting from a silent outbreak last year.

Source: Has Coronavirus Been in California Since the Fall? Researchers Investigate – WSJ

Hanson is referred to as “Mr. Hanson” in the article, where the expert that contradicts “Mr. Hanson” is identified as “Dr. Charles Chiu”, who then is referred to repeatedly in the article as “Dr. Chiu” (he has M.D. and PhD degrees).

Further, the WSJ includes a quote from “Mr. Hanson” that further’s the story line

he didn’t claim to be a “doctor, much less an epidemiologist or a conductor of any such study,” and that he wasn’t affiliated with Stanford’s medical school.

Do you believe Mr. Hanson or Dr. Chiu?

The U.S. has a knighted aristocracy like some other countries – but here it tends to focus on college degrees, the college attended, and executive level titles. Anyone with a doctorate out ranks those without doctorates. And doctorates from a prestigious school tend to outrank doctorates from non-prestigious schools. There is also prestige associated with whether the doctorate holder works at a prestigious university – or a little known state college or perhaps in private industry.

The WSJ report omits that “Mr. Hanson” has a PhD degree, albeit in classics, and is a former professor or visiting professor at many universities including Stanford University and has an impressive background of his own. From Wikepedia:

He has been a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991–92), a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992–93), an Alexander Onassis traveling fellowship to Greece (1999), as well as Nimitz Fellow at UC Berkeley (2006) and held the visiting Shifrin Chair of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002–03), and often the William Simon visiting professorship at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University (2009–15), and was awarded in 2015 an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the graduate school at Pepperdine. He gave the Wriston Lecture in 2004 for the Manhattan Institute. He has been a board member of the Bradley Foundation since 2015, and served on the HF Guggenheim Foundation board for over a decade.[citation needed]

He is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno,[3] where he began teaching in 1984, having created the classical studies program at that institution.

The WSJ reporter has used the “appeal to authority” method of making an argument, and emphasizes that by censoring facts from the reader that might skew the goal of the report. This is a technique of diminishing – or skewing your view – of persons in a new story. It is surprisingly common – and very subtle.

I disagree with Dr. Hanson’s thesis. But people are asking these questions because the public health messaging around all things coronavirus has been inconsistent, contradictory, incoherent and sometimes untrue (just think about the mixed messages on use of non medical face masks).

The fault does not necessarily lie with Dr. Hanson – but that the messaging has left many people confused – or no longer having confidence in what they are told (think of epidemiological models that were off by a factor of ten or more – such as the ICL or the UW IHME models – so far off target they should have been identified as “For Entertainment Purposes Only”).

Don’t blame the public for being confused. The fault likes with inept public health messaging.

UPDATE MAY 12 2020

The fake news folks did it again, this time in “Dr. Fauci patiently shuts down Rand Paul for minimizing virus fears“. The article, at the time I read it, left out some key items about Sen. Paul:

Those elements are important to the story but the fake news report left all of that out, consistently referring to Dr. Fauci but never referring to Dr. Paul or his experience with corona virus. It would also be appropriate to note that Paul had not quarantined himself after getting a Covid-19 test but before receiving a positive confirmation – he should have been in quarantine if he thought he had Covid-19.

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