Real danger is not having multiple sources to determine truth

Commuters looking at their phones on an MRT train.
Commuters looking at their phones on an MRT train.PHOTO: ST FILE

In the midst of the debate on the proposed fake news Bill, there are some commentators who point to the anti-vaccination movement as an example in support of the Bill.

This is a mistake.

The anti-vaccination movement, ironically, shows the danger of not having checks and balances in the determination of information.

Singapore should learn from it.

The anti-vaccination movement started because The Lancet - a high impact and supposedly peer-reviewed medical journal - allowed a fraudulent article by former doctor Andrew Wakefield to be published.

And because much faith was placed on medical journals being the "final arbiters" of truth, it led to many people believing that vaccinations are linked to autism.

This case demonstrates that having a single authority determine what is true is the actual dangerous thing.

Other scientists were not able to examine the data because journals then did not publish the data openly.

Test protocols were also not declared before experiments were conducted.

These practices are now deemed dangerous, and journals now require data to be openly accessible for scrutiny while test protocols have to be declared upfront.

In sum, the anti-vaccination movement has led to the scientific field embracing a more open structure, where more people have a say in determining what is true or not.

Kenny Ching Hwee Seong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Real danger is not having multiple sources to determine truth'. Print Edition | Subscribe