Elite misinformation is an underrated problem: Important institutions are too eager to mislead people

Matthew Ygelsias:

And I think erroneous ideas that are perpetrated by mainstream institutions — what I’m going to call “elite misinformation” — are a really big deal in an underrated way. 

I don’t want to rehash this in detail, because it’s been well covered recently, but a good example of this sort of misinformation is the narrative about a huge rise in maternal mortality in the United States. Because as a growing chorus of critics has been pointing out, this increase was largely the mechanical result of a change in counting methods, not in the public health situation. That’s bad, but what’s really shocking, as I learned from Jerusalem Demsas, is that key actors are totally unapologetic about sowing confusion:

Christopher M. Zahn, the interim CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, wrote a lengthy statement in response, arguing that “reducing the U.S. maternal mortality crisis to ‘overestimation’” is “irresponsible and minimizes the many lives lost and the families that have been deeply affected.” Why? Because it “would be an unfortunate setback to see all the hard work of health care professionals, policy makers, patient advocates, and other stakeholders be undermined.” Rather than pointing out any major methodological flaw in the paper, Zahn’s statement expresses the concern that it could undermine the laudable goal of improving maternal health.

This strikes me as a shortsighted and pernicious way to think about the purpose of communicating with the public. And yet, people are out here saying it in public! 

The case of the mystery fossil fuel subsidy

Years ago, when I didn’t cover climate and energy topics at all, I floated the idea of a piece making the point that not only were carbon tax proposals politically toxic, but all these various schemes to subsidize clean energy seemed like a relatively inefficient way to reduce fossil fuel use. Wouldn’t it be better to just get global governments to cut their massive subsidies for fossil fuel use first?

After all, I’d seen lots of stories with headlines like this: