Of Science and the Silent Media


Mike Stenhouse, the CEO of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, asked an important question on Twitter, yesterday:

Based on what data did the Governor just KILL our Ocean State’s summer tourist season? This cannot be constitutional.

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and her supporters have claimed their determination to make decisions based on science, but their use of that word seems mainly talismanic.  They can’t necessarily cite the science that leads them to their conclusions, but they take on faith that it must exist.

In contrary spirit, the central intent of my daily COVID-19 updates isn’t to test my simplistic model against those of the “experts,” but rather, to illustrate how science, as a process, is supposed to work.  The person lays out his or her methods and conclusions so that others can analyze and attempt to replicate them, making modifications that might test or improve the theory.

Another important tweet from yesterday proves the falsehood in the governor’s claims. From Brian Crandall of Channel 10:

@GovRaimondo: “I don’t think there’s a hard and fast” way to determine crowd number should be 10, or 50 or 60, but says public health experts say crowds are a problem and “better to be safe than sorry.”

If it isn’t “hard and fast” — meaning that it isn’t based on some rule that produces this and not that — it isn’t science.  This is where the phrase “more an art than a science” comes in.  The governor is expanding her power to unilaterally determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of people based on art, not science.  But science is a power-word in our society, so it’s good for propaganda purposes and to cover the preferred style of our governor and her fellow progressives.

Again we return to the question of where our watchdog media is.  The other day, Providence Journal Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg expressed surprise that he was hearing from readers who thought it was inappropriate of the Projo to release information about a school-closure decision before the governor had officially announced it:

“Although this is very likely to be true,” wrote a third [reader], “Gina made it very clear that she is the official news source.”

Well, no, she’s not. In America, we don’t have official news sources that no one dares to contradict. Or to get out ahead of.

As John DePetro and I discussed during our segment, this week, the local media is complicit in cultivating this understanding of the news in Rhode Island.  This has been true for Raimondo’s entire time in office, but it has been sharp and clear during this crisis.  For years, the journalists and their employers have gone along to get along with the governor — whose staff will use denial of access for leverage — so it was natural that they wouldn’t push back too hard on her fist-tight control of her message in a time of public unease.  It has also been natural that they would not challenge the governor on two of the most important questions surrounding a politician in a crisis:

  1. Where are you getting the power to do these things that you’re doing?
  2. Is what you’re doing really necessary?

The absence of that second question is truly profound… as profound as the effect of her actions on people’s lives.  Economic well-being, mental health, lifelong memories, and constitutional rights are all being strained, damaged, or destroyed.  This is not something we should accept on the grounds of “better to be safe than sorry.”  Every detail of Raimondo’s response to COVID-19 is not incontestably more “safe” than the alternative, and collectively, they will clearly make many Rhode Islanders “sorry.”

The news media (like all of us) should be demanding justification of the highest order every step of the way.  The fact that they are not is a flashing red light of danger for our society and raises disturbing questions about their value.


Featured image: New York Times photo showing an incidental crown or halo over Gina Raimondo’s head.

  • msteven

    I understand the doubt of whether all this (social distancing, shut down business) is effective. There is no way to know, and the doubt is reasonable. But to put all this at the feet of the Governor? She is not the only person in power who have made such a decision. It is across the world, transcending all political affiliations. Is your position that in lack of concrete data, leaders should make no changes? It is not 100% but many, many, many health and infection professionals believe there is value to shutting down things, such as sports. I don’t feel those decisions were made arbitrarily because ‘the press said so’.

    This is an impossible situation. There is no absolute right or wrong.I have doubts about whether social distance has been effective. But you are limiting your dissent to Governor Raimondo. Rhode Island does not live in a vacuum when it comes to Covid-19.

    • Justin Katz

      The governor of Rhode Island is the person in whom these new enhanced powers currently reside. My point in this essay is that the news media (all of us) have an obligation to make that person justify her actions in a degree commensurate with the effect that her decisions are having on the people within the scope of her office. That doesn’t necessarily mean her conclusions should be different. It only means that they have to be challenged, even if only as a matter of civic hygiene.

      • msteven

        For the State of Rhode Island, this is true. My point is that either decision (limiting contact or no limits) have some basis. My point is that, like a vast majority of decisions made by politicians, there are pros and cons or risk vs. reward. And neither position is irresponsible. But both are worthy of challenge.