The Difference Between Censorship And Curation: Taste

The Difference Between Censorship And Curation: Taste


Leonard Zwelling

In The New York Times on February 4, the podcaster and author Roxane Gay goes to great lengths explaining why she has removed her popular podcast from Spotify in solidarity with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. The great Canadian musicians removed their music from the world’s most popular streaming service in protest over Spotify’s continued support for “The Joe Rogan Experience,” another podcast that has promoted Covid misinformation through its giving a forum to vaccine deniers and others whose harmful ideas can lead to preventable illness and death. Spotify and Rogan have countered with pledges to make sure accurate information is posted prior to the airing of misinformed views and to include more varied opinions. The question is: is that enough? Young and Mitchell think not. Neither does Gay.

Neither do I. It’s like equal time for Donald Trump’s opponents. It doesn’t undo the damage that the Big Orange has done.

The social media “platforms” try to pass themselves off as nothing more than forums for ideas and entertainment, but, like newspapers and the broadcast media, they are now part of the media sphere. As such, they have responsibilities to try to adhere to the truth when it comes to the ideas and information conveyed on the platform. This goes for Facebook. Snapchat, TikTok and any other app I don’t use. The point is that they must act as curators of science and good information without becoming censors of some information. Fortunately, this is not that hard. Most sensible people can use their brains and distinguish between hogwash (mRNA vaccines are gene therapies and can harm unborn fetuses) and truth (two shots are beneficial; the booster for the young and healthy has not yet been proven to alter hospitalizations).

I was thinking of this when I listened to another podcast, this one by ZDoggMD, an ex-hospitalist with a show on Spotify. (I haven’t turned it off yet.) On January 25 he interviewed the famed vaccine and infectious disease expert Paul Offit of Penn. Offit tries to cut through all the bull and get to the truth about Covid and vaccines. In essence his position, which has been characterized by some as anti-vaxxer, is anything but that. He’s very pro-the two-shot regimen, but is skeptical about the across-the-board mandate for boosting promulgated by the federal government, because that extra shot may be of no benefit when it comes to preventing severe illness in the young and healthy. His point is that some vaccines simply do not do what the polio vaccines do and eliminate the disease. Some, like the Covid mRNA vaccines simply lessen the chances of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Those are worthy goals and Offit thinks they can be attained with the two-shot regimen in the young (under 50) and healthy. He thinks requiring college students to get the booster is silly and also thinks that contracting clinical Covid should count as one shot.

This podcast really got me thinking about what we really know and what the politicians on all sides want us to believe.

We know that the mRNA vaccines are effective in preventing bad outcomes. We do not know whether the booster is needed in anyone but the elderly, immunocompromised and infirm or those with chronic diseases. Offit’s point is the same as Gay’s. Responsible people—Spotify in Gay’s case, the CDC in Offit’s–need to curate information and get the good data out there. Offit was advocating that Rochelle Walensky (CDC Director) be on TV every other day giving the public updates on what we know and what we don’t. In fact, that would do exactly what the right insists upon—empower individuals to make their own good decisions rather than resort to unexplained mandates as many colleges, universities and one President of the United States have done.

By the way, this is true in any organization. Those being led by executives always deserve to hear the truth and make their own decisions about important issues rather than being told how things are going to be after the decision has been made as was the case at MD Anderson with the reorganization of the Physicians’ Referral Service and the relocation of the Smithville campus to Houston.

People want to hear the truth. Those delivering that message ought to be curators of information just as museum curators are arbiters of good taste. It’s true of media platforms. It’s true of government agencies. It’s true of leaders of academic medical centers.

2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Censorship And Curation: Taste”

  1. Leaders need be servants of accurate information and not provocateurs of dramatic misinformation or worse, hurtful propaganda. When I was Chief Medical Officer at our Hospital System, I occasionally had to remind my service-line leaders that we needed to focus on data and not on drama. But, human nature is so easily stirred up, especially when individuals in power are vying for territory, money, and prestige.
    All leaders need training, beginning in their collegiate and grad-school education. In the past, many honed their skills during the Armed Forces or in the Public Health Service.
    Those who monopolize the biggest social media stages unfortunately had seldom had any leadership or management training. Thus, we continue to face a rather disordered environment of irrational, hurtful decision making, regardless of the organization.
    My vote is for the Nation to embrace some type of national service for two years where young people will experience meaningful leadership training and collective responsibility.

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Totally agree. Always have. PHS was one of my best moves as a doc. Taught me better, more modern patient care and a ton about research.
      And I got to serve my country. Win-win.

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