The Volokh Conspiracy

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"The Media's Lab Leak Debacle Shows Why Banning 'Misinformation' Is a Terrible Idea"


From Reason's Robby Soave; an excerpt:

But many lab-leak foes had not merely called the theory unproven. They had lobbied for the theory's adherents to be effectively silenced. They asserted that anyone discussing it was a conspiracy theorist or even a racist. Indeed, some are still discouraging this conversation.

"I & other AAPIs are increasingly concerned that speculation over the lab leak theory will increase anti-Asian hate," tweeted Leana Wen, a professor of public health and CNN medical analyst, earlier this week. "As we embark on a full scientific investigation, we must take actions to prevent the next escalation of anti-Asian racism."

She did not explain why speculation about the lab leak theory would increase anti-Asian hate to a more appreciable degree than speculation about the wet market theory. The idea is counterintuitive: The lab leak theory indicts a handful of individual scientists and the Chinese government, whereas the wet market theory can be used to indict broader Asian cultural traditions that have often been criticized in the West. And while an apparent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes is at this point taken for granted among professional pundits and politicians, its extent and underlying causes are far from clear. For instance, the Atlanta spa killings are often cited as the prime example of the lethal nature of anti-Asian bias, but no definitive evidence has emerged thus far that racism was a conscious motivating factor in the shootings.

Yet it's clear that a certain segment of lab-leak critics believed two things: 1) the theory would fan the flames of racism, and 2) for that reason, it should be proactively censored. Such is the slipperiness of the misinformation label, which has come to include all sorts of claims that are not straightforwardly false.