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RE: Strawman argument or proto-factual revisionism?
Response to Murdoch and Caulfield (2023) - full text:
In their essay, Blake Murdoch and Timothy Caulfield conflate two issues around the COVID-19 lockdowns: the substantial critique of restrictive public health measures, and the label used by critics to describe these measures. By disparaging dissenting viewpoints as misinformation and revisionism, the authors contribute to stifling the ongoing scientific debate that underpins public discourse.
Far from “perverted”, the term “lockdown” reflects the lived experiences of Canadians affected by different non-pharmaceutical interventions of the past three years. The authors take issue with individuals and groups that lump different restrictions together under this term, yet most of the public discourse has focused separately on the measure du jour, whether isolation protocols, mask mandates, or vaccination passports. With their approach, Murdoch & Caulfield construct a strawman argument similar to many news media fact-checks. They dispel the validity of the term “lockdown” and thereby insinuate that related concerns are invalid.
Indeed, Murdoch & Caulfield actively engage in their own form of revisionism. They present selected, often outdated, analyses of the “public health initiatives designed to keep people safer,” as if the final assessment of the pandemic response was already in. Unfortunately, it is all but certain that the measures, sugarcoated here as “initiatives”, achieved their “design” goals in practice. As a trained systems scientist, I am alarmed whenever we rush to unleash interventions onto a complex system, in particular if our actions contradict established approaches such as avoiding fear as a public health tool or keeping society running as normally as possible during an emergency.
I support Murdoch & Caulfield’s call for a “nuanced understanding of freedom in liberal democracies” and encourage them to apply the same nuance to the assessment of the pandemic response. The scientific debate is far from settled and indeed, “People everywhere should be armed with the critical thinking and media literacy skills” needed to examine the full range of facts.