A California bill, AB 2098 (Low), appears to be moving towards passage in the next two weeks. The bill would make the spreading of misinformation, as defined, or disinformation related to COVID-19, including false or misleading information regarding the nature and risks of the virus, its prevention and treatment; and the development, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, by a physician and surgeon unprofessional conduct.
"Eppur si muove"
I find the bill's definition of "misinformation" to be particularly troubling:
“Misinformation” means false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus to an extent where its dissemination constitutes gross negligence by the licensee.
The problem with this definition is that it treats current scientific consensus as unchallengeable truth. On June 22, 1633, Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei was condemned for advocating a heliocentric theory of the solar system, a theory that was contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and yet the earth still moves. Similarly, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution contradicted centuries of scientific consensus with respect to the origin of species.
An unintended consequence of this bill will be to stifle the scientific process. Yet unsparing skepticism is fundamental to the scientific enterprise. Scientific knowledge is based on a continuing process of questioning, observation and experimentation.
Recently, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted as saying that the C.D.C. was "responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications" with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although I doubt that AB 2098 was directed at C.D.C. physicians, the bill's definition of "misinformation" certainly creates that possibility.