Censoring Luboš Motl

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Censorship is going at a speed never seen before in any society that qualifies itself of democratic and remotely believes to hold some amount of freedom and liberties. Some of the recent highlights include censorship of the president of the United States and then in its wake, of a series of other officials, politicians, intellectuals, scientists, artists, etc., in addition to many less known activists. All this happens chiefly on YouTube and Twitter, with a worrying silence from the big majority of people, not to say consent and approval. It went one step further today with direct censorship of someone's private blog. This is not anecdotical because it's one thing to monitor a wide-audience platform, with the invalid but at least plausible excuse that you have to play by their rules, and to go after someone's personal property.

Luboš Motl is a theoretical physicist, well-known for his freedom of opinion, which he often formulates strongly, not always avoiding expletives, insults, etc., especially when it comes to some of his most extreme viewpoints, on a large variety of topics. One can find rough encounters he had with others [1] and the little opinion they kept of him as a result [2] (despite the fact that one is used to meeting all sorts of eccentric and extreme people in Science.) He retired from academia like many others whose particular intellectual inclinations led to an irreconcilable clash with what they perceive as a suffocating consensus and hypocrisy (like Grothendiek, Perelman...) He is also a familiar name to those who wander through the places on the web linked to knowledge and exchanges, such as StackExchange or the Wikipedia. His main channel of expression, at least as far as it reaches me from time to time, is his personal blog, the Reference Frame, which is, whatever degree of agreement one has with the actual material, a treasure trove of personal expression. It is always interesting to see once in a while what extreme people in general, and iconoclasts in particular—those most detached from political correctness, conventions and formalities—think of the evolution of the rest of the world. He's obviously very smart, at the same time, he's also this type of controversial figures who seem to feel they wouldn't be admirable if they were not offensive or disagreeable (many people are actually like that, Taleb, for instance). His support of the Bogdanov brothers, a case with at least a good dose of crankiness, seems to be motivated more by attacking the scientific establishment than to defend the Bogdanov. I won't express a statement on whether he is a loony or a genius because this is, anyway, irrelevant to the main point here.

Motl writes about the covid pandemic as he does on so many topics. The following text, on his personal blog, has just been censored! A cached version is still available at the time of writing, of which I took a screenshot. As every censored material, this becomes an urgent and must-read material, as well as something to preserve to later understand how things started:

Screencapture-webcache-googleusercontent-search-2021-09-16-15 58 08.png

I would have posted it whatever the actual content was, because the point at stake is freedom of speech and to which extent censors can now go to repress it. But on top of that, there is nothing whatsoever that is to recriminate in the above. Even in the comments, you can even see how the discussion shifts at some point to some problem of interpretation of wave-particle duality! Here we really have nothing more than a scientist summarizing and distilling his understanding of another, and prominent, scientist (I haven't watched the video itself yet). All the statements read like scientific hypotheses formulated by an expert in the field. Maybe a blind automatic algorithm could have spotted the following:

Meanwhile, as he also discusses, billions of people are fed with misleading statements and/or outright lies ("the vaccines are completely safe" is probably the most important one from his viewpoint)

There is at most here tacit support from the commentator of a view that is reported and in such a general way as to be noncommittal:

"the vaccines are completely safe" is a misleading statement

is the strongest claim that could be agreed upon by all parties. Maybe something stronger was intended or is implied, but this all could be argued and be reduced through grammar, logic and context, to the previous statement. Well, isn't this one however a factual truth? Isn't there, even in the most universally accepted vaccines, a factor of risk? Therefore, one cannot anymore write a factual statement on one's personal webspace.

This is such a disturbing event, one that will go unnoticed, certainly, but to me, one in the direct chilling continuation and with a commensurable magnitude with the unbelievable censoring of the running United State presidency.

One can imagine what will happen from there onward: first, Motl and others like him will be systematically censored, and everywhere, so that we won't be able to know what they have to say, because they will have been evacuated. Their presence on Wikipedia as well as their past traces will also be removed, so that to someone with no prior knowledge of their existence, they will be like fossils, with only occasional and arcane references in obscure texts... although an AI could also eradicate that completely. It seems from the comments they already made, that many colleagues, although scientists, would actually welcome such an outcome (see the comments in [3]).

Then, after that, even some of the people who are fully abiding, completely supporting the official or accepted narrative, will be censored, either by mistake, or because one interpretation was borderline, or because they were not sufficiently earnest in their convictions. I'm pretty sure that following the removal of the outrages of Motl, the much softer irreverences of Hossenfelder will follow and be also eventually banned, then their author removed and forgotten, with nobody raising an eyebrow. The former, who is precisely the type who might have denounced the fact, even if decorated with copious bashing going after the victim along with everything else, won't be in a position to do anything about it... The others, if they don't voice a concern now, will never do it, not even for themselves. The more Motl and likewise people are censored, the more they must be supported. They are our first line of defense for everybody else's freedom of speech. This is actually a well-known idea. That's why censorship should be futile: in a healthy democracy, it would only strengthen the voices it attempts to silence. The fact that we let people be silenced one after the other, either by fear, cowardice or approval (thus, by stupidity) shows that we are already in a totalitarian world.

And still after that, one will not be able to utter anything, not even privately, to a friend, for an AI will wake up from a cell phone or some hidden mike somewhere, and report it to the authority, the same authority that at this point hunts down people's personal blogs. Then we will have reached the 1984 point, we will all be soliloquizing in our own solitude, and that of the Sirens of Titan, with physical pain for the slightest mental departure. These sorts of things, they can start from banning a blog post from a colourful character.