The primary problem with bullshit is that it’s free.
It costs nothing to manufacture plausible nonsense but disassembling nonsense is nonfree.
The solution is not just more speech; even airing ideas for the purpose of rebuttal can be a form of amplification.
Nor is the solution the suppression of speech. Speech is a tool for possibility, and often what once seemed crazy (or even dangerous) is now thought right.
Here we’ll explore a mechanism to preserve liberty of speech while making misinformation expensive. This mechanism incents sincerity and it provides targeted funding for independent research & journalism to resolve disagreement.
The mechanism, called a claim market, is understood best in the context of a health disaster we’re still battling: tobacco. However, as you read you may imagine how these mechanisms might apply to the sugar lobby, climate change misinformation, government corruption, and COVID-19.
Let’s set the stage with this excerpt from Robert N Proctor’s
In the mid-1950s, a scientific consensus arose that cigarettes were the leading cause of lung cancer [...]. The industry responded by launching a massive campaign of denial. Hundreds of scientists were paid to research “alternative causation”, especially maladies caused by constitutional predispositions, viral agents, psychological stress, air pollution, occupational poisons, or anything else that might distract from “the cigarette hypothesis”. From 1964 into the 1970s, cigarette manufacturers paid the American Medical Association (AMA) some US$20 million, in exchange for which the AMA refused to endorse the landmark 1964 Surgeon General's Report indicting cigarettes as a cause of cancer, or the warnings placed on cigarette packs, or the broadcast ban on advertising from 1971. Documents from this period in the industry's archives reveal the industry characterising its chief sponsored research arm—the Council for Tobacco Research—as “a successful defensive operation”.
What is astonishing is how effectively Big Tobacco managed to harness, influence, and sometimes even corrupt large segments of the scientific community. At least 26 Nobel Laureates are known to have taken money from the cigarette industry for research, honoraria, or consulting. In the USA, the industry wielded influence over Congress and the Presidency: Joseph Califano in 1965 urged President Lyndon Johnson to endorse the Surgeon General's Report, for example, but the President refused, explaining that a confrontation with Tobacco could result in [...] losing the Presidency.
Cigarettes are a useful case study because they contain common patterns of public deception: the capture of institutions, the flooding of lies, the threat of economic muscle, the pressure for “balanced” coverage of “both sides”, and above all, the use of dark money to craft a narrative.
The story of cigarettes would have played out differently had there been a claim market. This doc offers an explanation of the claim market’s mechanisms in the context of this narrative.