Ultraviolet Wrong Because Orange Man Bad

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This is an incredible story of science versus the political-media complex:

I ran an obscure pharmaceutical company until a few days ago. Then we got famous. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Aytu BioScience made a commitment to find ways to help. One of those ways came through our newly formed relationship with a prominent Los Angeles hospital.

On April 20 we put out a press release titled “Aytu BioScience Signs Exclusive Global License with Cedars-Sinai for Potential Coronavirus Treatment.” The treatment is called Healight, and it was developed by research physicians at the hospital’s Medically Associated Science and Technology Program. The technology, which has been in development since 2016, uses ultraviolet light as an antimicrobial and is a promising potential treatment for Covid-19.

Aytu and Cedars-Sinai have engaged with the Food and Drug Administration to pursue a rapid path to human use through an Emergency Use Authorization. But hardly anyone noticed—until Thursday, when President Trump mused, “. . . supposing you brought the light inside the body . . .”

My team and I knew the president’s comments could trigger a backlash against the idea of UV light as a treatment, which might hinder our ability to get the word out. We decided to create a YouTube account, upload a video animation we had created, and tweet it out. It received some 50,000 views in 24 hours.

Then YouTube took it down. So did Vimeo. Twitter suspended our account. The narrative changed from whether UV light can be used to treat Covid-19 to “Aytu is being censored.”

These days, politics seems to dictate that if one party says, “The sky is blue,” the other party is obligated to reply, “No, it’s not, and you’re a terrible human being for thinking that.” That leaves no room for science, in which the data speak for themselves, regardless of ideology, and only when they’re ready. Unfortunately, the visceral excitement of political conflict draws far more clicks and better ratings than the methodical world of science.

Technologies like Healight, which if borne out through clinical studies may represent a viable way to kill coronaviruses, aren’t provided the clear-headed consideration they deserve but are instead flushed into the political mosh-pit of “us vs. them.”

(Hat tip Instapundit)

Guess who brought the whole matter to YouTube’s attention?

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Davey Alba is “The New York Times” reporter “covering tech and disinformation”. Make that “covering up”.

There is of course no evidence that the video represents any disinformation. It relates to legitimate scientific research by a medical company conducted in association with a respected hospital to develop a novel treatment of possibly crucial importance in the current conditions and into the future. The only problem with the video is that is indirectly supports Trump’s flight of fancy speculation about using light and chemicals to “disinfect” the body. Ergo, according to a NYT journalist it represents a problem and YouTube agrees. YouTube now has a standing policy of removing COVID information that goes against the World Health Organisation’s guidelines. Putting aside the question of the WHO’s credibility in the wake of the pandemic, we are not talking here about some guy in a tinfoil hat talking about 5G towers spreading the virus; this is a video relating to ongoing, respectable scientific research. Will it work? Probably not. But perhaps neither will any of the 150 or so COVID-19 vaccines being currently developed around the world. We won’t know until we know. But in the meantime, scientific news should not be censored, period.

But it will be, and not just scientific. You do not expect to read semi-fascist sentiments in the venerable “Atlantic Monthly” (or maybe you do), but here is Jeff Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods, law professors at Harvard and Arizona U respectively, a couple of days ago:

In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong. Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values…

What is different about speech regulation related to COVID-19 is the context: The problem is huge and the stakes are very high. But when the crisis is gone, there is no unregulated “normal” to return to. We live—and for several years, we have been living—in a world of serious and growing harms resulting from digital speech. Governments will not stop worrying about these harms. And private platforms will continue to expand their definition of offensive content, and will use algorithms to regulate it ever more closely. The general trend toward more speech control will not abate.

Goldsmith and Woods are correct in pointing out not only the greater role that governments have been playing in regulating speech but more importantly how much of that effort has been embraced and driven by the big tech – and by the private individuals enabled and encouraged by the big tech – what I have previously called the “democratised censorship”.  The difference is that people like Goldsmith and Woods think that’s a good thing.

The dirty little secret is that a great number of leftists, progressives and even centrist technocrats and activists look at China, with its authoritarian government, social credit score system, ubiquitous surveillance, and the ability to “get things done” and done quickly and supposedly efficiently (in China, bullet trains run on time, I hear), and pine for such a system to be applied in their own countries – as long as, of course, they are the ones in power and decide what is right, important and valuable. The left’s objections are rarely against authoritarianism and its means and methods per se, just with the possibility that someone else – like Trump – is the one behind the wheel, implementing their, not the left’s, agenda.

The war on ultraviolet radiation because it might help Trump is an educational moment. One could say, first they came for crazy conspiracy theorists and I said nothing because I’m not an anti-vaxxer or anti-5G activist – and so on. The problem with censorship is that it keeps creeping up on everyone else. And those who do the censoring – who decide what the ignorant masses should and shouldn’t be allowed to read – are not some detached and impartial spiritual beings but people with political agendas. People who think that ideas and beliefs of one half of the society are harmful and offensive. People who will censor news that doesn’t fit the agenda and support the narrative.

And then they came for ultraviolet radiation… You have been warned.

Cover photo by Clyde He on Unsplash

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