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Brownstone Institute

Who Ultimately Wins in a Society of Flash Mob Moralists?


16 minute read

From  the Brownstone Institute


A big story in the hockey world in recent days centers on the Boston Bruins’ decision to offer, and then rescind, a contract to promising 20-year-old defenseman Matthew Miller.

Miller was drafted in the 4th round of the 2020 NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes, who subsequently renounced their rights to the player when two journalists from the Arizona Republic reported the player had been convicted at age 14 in an Ohio juvenile court of serially abusing a developmentally disabled fellow student of color.

As a result of the same stories, apparently spurred by testimony given by the victim and his family, Miller was stripped of his hockey scholarship at the University of North Dakota.

Two years later, after talking with Miller and his agent the Bruins management decided that Miller was worthy of a second chance.

However, after a fierce media/social media storm ensued—in the midst of which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that he would have the last word on deciding who would be eligible to play in the NHL—the Bruins rescinded the recently signed contract, saying they had discovered unspecified “new information” about Miller in recent days.

And thus ended yet another of our era’s online morality plays, dramas wherein the social capital of personal aggrievement, magnified by the vicarious expressions of outrage emanating from largely anonymous online mobs, invariably rules the day.

I’ve got nothing against morally-infused personal outrage. Indeed, I’ve got plenty of it. Moreover, I am well aware of the role it has played in regulating behavior in social collectives throughout history.

But I also know that one of the things that made the emergence of modern democracies possible was the subordination of mob-style moral outrage, and its twin brother personal vengeance, to the rule of law.

Is the application of the law often imperfect? Absolutely. Does the restitution it offers, when it indeed does offer restitution at all, almost always fall well short of what the victims of the injustice believe is owed to them? No doubt.

The founders of our institutions were not unaware of these limitations. But they believed that flawed justice such as this was infinitely superior to the alternative, which they correctly understood to be a society “regulated” by some mixture or another of personal vendettas and mob rule.

I have read the news reports about what Matthew Miller did to Isaiah Meyer-Crothers during the course of what is said to be several years of bullying, allegedly starting when both were 7 years old. The incident most commonly adduced by the press to exemplify this sad period of harassment—Miller’s getting Meyer-Crothers to lick a push-pop that had been dipped in urine—is repellent beyond belief. And I know that if I were Isaiah and/or his family I’d have a very hard time ever forgiving him for these aggressions and for the way it no doubt damaged the disabled youngster’s psychological well-being.

But does it mean that Miller, himself a probable victim of some sort of abuse or neglect to engage in such sadism at such a young age, has to be a social pariah for life, unable to exercise his skills in the workplace? This, when a veritable host of professional athletes who have done far worse things as adults (e.g. Ray Lewis, Craig MacTavish) have been breezily pardoned and welcomed back into the playing and/or management ranks. Apparently it’s much easier to go after a 20-year-old kid than an established star whose jersey you bought for yourself or your kids.

To pose the above question is not, as so many eager and zealous moralists in the comments section of the oh-so-liberal Boston Globe sports section and other places would have us believe, the same as “excusing what Miller did” or being in any way heedless of the serious damage that his childhood/adolescent actions had on Meyer-Crothers. Nor does it imply that Matthew Miller’s transgressions were just a case of “boys being boys” or that you believe he has been reborn as a moral angel.

As is usually the case, things are far more complex than that.

It is my understanding that Matthew Miller was remitted to the existing system of juvenile justice, did whatever putatively proportional penance was levied on him by the system, discharged, and allowed to get on with his life.

And in keeping with the fundamental precepts of juvenile justice, rooted in the belief that no one should be condemned in perpetuity for acts committed before the onset of full adult moral reasoning, the records were sealed. And as far as I’ve been able to tell, he has not been remitted to the justice system since that time.

When he was drafted in 2020, someone, however, violated the spirit of this principle and brought up Miller’s juvenile transgressions and contacted the victim who expressed his dismay at the possibility that Miller might be afforded the possibility of going on to a life of wealth and fame. “Everyone thinks he’s so cool that he gets to go to the NHL, but I don’t see how anyone can be cool when you pick on someone and bully someone your entire life.”

This is a perfectly understandable sentiment, one that is expressed a lot more tamely than what I might have said were I in his same position.

However, the bigger question is if, in a supposed society of laws, these more than legitimate feelings about seeing your one-time tormentor experience recognition and the possibility for success can and should be used as a means of imposing—through media-social media-business collusion—a de facto form of double jeopardy on someone who has theoretically paid his debt to society?

Do we really want to live in a society where, if you can recruit a posse of infuriated and media-savvy moralists you can supersede not only the intended effects of the law, but perhaps more importantly in the long run, the possibilities of healing in both the aggressor and his victim? Do we really want to effectively lock two young people into the tormentor-victim dynamic for the rest of their lives?

According to this logic, prison education programs like the one I taught in for many years, and where I experienced the most vibrant and meaningful classroom interactions of my teaching career, should not exist.

Rather as someone conscious of some of the heinous things that my would-be students had done, I should, according to the logic at play in the Miller case, have haughtily rebuffed my colleagues when they asked me to join the effort, telling them in no uncertain terms that “I don’t in any way wish to support or dignify ‘animals’ such as these.”

I would then proudly tell everyone that would listen about how I had strongly enunciated and defended my clear and unbending moral principles in the face of requests to glorify criminals and their crimes.

Again, is this really a model of moral comportment that we want to advance and normalize?

Sadly, the answer of many—apparently secure in the belief that  their immaculate children could never, ever be agents of evil—to this question appears to be “yes.”

Indeed, wasn’t it a simple variation of this dynamic of stigmatize, dehumanize and shun—rooted in the idea that evil is always pure and located elsewhere—that psychologically underwrote the worst repressions of the High Covid era?

As bad as this practice of eschewing the prospect of healing in favor of preening self-regard and continued aggrieved tension is, it may not even be the worst part of the new trend toward widespread armchair moralizing.

Arguably more troubling is the damage such practices do to what might be called our society’s “economy of concern.” Like most everything about us, our ability to pay attention to the world outside our heads is limited. The kingpins of the new cyber economy know this, and are laser-focused on getting us to give as much of this scarce and extremely valuable resource to them during the course of our days.

They do so most obviously to sell us things we often don’t need or intrinsically want. But they also do so to keep us from thinking about how the social structures they have a huge say in shaping do or do not serve our long-term interests.


By encouraging us to spend cognitive, emotional and moral energies on people and things that ultimately lie well beyond our own radius of personal control.

Like, for example, on young hockey players who made ugly mistakes as a child and early adolescent or, conversely, on the truly heart-wrenching stories of his victim.

Will fulminating online about the young hockey player’s past really solve any of our real problems?

Obviously not.

But it will take energy away from addressing big and structurally-imposed violations of basic rights happening today.

Every minute spent talking today about a single child-on-child abuse case legally resolved, however imperfectly, 6 years ago is a minute not spent addressing the cruelties and injustices of government-on-child abuse taking place today, much of it on the name of “fighting Covid.” outrages eloquently and passionately denounced here by Laura Rosen Cohen .

In effect, when we allow ourselves to be swept up into object-free campaigns of moral virtue-signaling about past personal cases, we are giving those in big entrenched centers of power much more space to enact and consolidate enveloping systems of citizen abuse and social control. And if you think these entrenched centers of power are beyond thinking of how to stimulate diversionary campaigns of small-bore outrage, then it’s time you wake up to the new realities of our world.

A half-century ago, certain activists declared that now “The personal is the political.” It was an alluring soundbite and like so many alluring soundbites overly simplistic. Should we strive to always inject the personal concerns of the citizenry into policy-making discussions? Of course.

That said, there is, and must always be, as Hannah Arendt reminded us, a barrier between our private and public selves as well as an acceptance, as excruciatingly difficult as it might be to do, of the unfortunate role of unrequited tragedy in the lives of us all.

Do I wish that the pain of Meyer-Crothers could have been eliminated by Ohio’s system of juvenile justice? I obviously do. But sadly, that’s not how it works. A public justice system is not designed to eliminate pain, but rather attenuate its onward march, and in this way, provide a possible opening for healing.

The internet has, for better or worse, created new forms of social organization and political mobilization. As we have seen in the Miller case, the Meyer-Crothers family, backed by journalists and online activists, has sought, in effect, to gain a measure of the moral payback the justice system was unable to provide them.

Is it understandable? Yes. Is it their right? Certainly.

Is using these new methods of mobilization to effectively override the legal system and create what are effectively vigilante forms of retribution good for the future of our society and culture?

Probably not.

While it may make a lot of people feel good about themselves at the moment, it will only further corrode trust in the rule of law— a shift that always favors the powerful—and take valuable energy away from the urgent task of fighting massive and systematic government and corporate assaults on our dignity and freedom.


  • Thomas Harrington

    Thomas Harrington, Senior Brownstone Scholar and 2023 Brownstone Fellow, is Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where he taught for 24 years. His research is on Iberian movements of national identity and contemporary Catalan culture. His essays are published at Words in The Pursuit of Light.

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Brownstone Institute

BMJ Exposes Scientific American’s Editor-in-Chief

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From the Brownstone Institute


In a shot across the bow against Scientific American’s continued descent into unscientific twaddle, a BMJ investigation documented over a dozen social media posts by editor-in-chief Laura Helmuth promoting transgender care for children, despite scientific evidence showing such treatment has had “devastating consequences” for minors.

“Laws preventing trans kids from getting gender-affirming treatment are dangerous and abusive, as well as against all medical evidence,” Helmuth posted on X in late 2022, one of many examples that the BMJ sent to Scientific American and its publisher Springer Nature, asking them to explain Helmuth’s trans advocacy which runs contrary to medical evidence.

In other social media posts, Helmuth has labeled critics of dangerous transgender medicine for children “biased,” “bigoted,” “antiscience,” “misinformation,” “cruel,” and compared them to Nazis.

Last year, Helmut promoted false news in Scientific American that argued, “The research is clear and all the relevant medical organizations agree: Gender-affirming care is evidence-based & medically necessary & leads to much better outcomes for trans kids than refusing them care.”

Six days later, the BMJ released an investigation of new research finding that the evidence for transgender care for children lacked evidence and that medical authorities were urging caution.

England, Scotland, Wales, and Sweden have all ceased prescribing puberty blockers for children, except for research studies, and the Finnish psychiatrist who first founded the field of transgender care for children now calls it “dangerous.” Many countries’ medical authorities have concluded that studies promoting trans treatment for children were either biased or of low quality.

The BMJ’s targeting of Laura Helmuth was a warning, of sorts—an admonition that Helmuth should focus on science, cease the advocacy, and stop saying stupid things. But if you continue to read Scientific American, expect Helmuth to continue saying stupid things.

Last month, Harvard’s Steven Pinker labeled Helmuth a “woke fanatic” on X and promoted an article discussing Scientific American’s descent into progressive ideology. “Another noble American institution run into the ground when clueless trustees handed over the keys to a woke fanatic,” Pinker posted.

The article Pinker promoted appeared in City Journal (“Unscientific American”) and carefully documented the magazine’s decline into a political rag since Helmuth took the reins in early 2020. Other outlets have also cast a disapproving eye on Helmuth’s political crusades.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Helmuth tweeted last year that “sparrows have four different chromosomally distinct sexes,” forcing the community notes on X to correct Helmuth’s error.

“It’s just incredible how far @sciam — a periodical I admired — has fallen from its mission to provide accurate, clear, and vivid coverage of science,” Yale professor and physician Nicholas Christakis, posted on X.

“EXCLUSIVE: unScientific American! Popular magazine is slammed by experts over ‘woke’ article titled ‘Why Human Sex is Not Binary’,” reported the Daily Mail, a few months prior to Christakis’ criticism of Helmuth. Dr Carole Hooven, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, told the Daily Mail that Scientific American’s unscientific claims could put women in danger.

“On average, men are bigger and stronger than women, and commit the overwhelming majority of rapes and murders. Most men could kill most women with their bare hands,” Hooven explained. “These facts have informed the establishment of laws and social policies that protect female spaces, particularly those where women are in vulnerable positions such as where they sleep or shower (prison cells and locker rooms, for example).”

Chicago University emeritus professor of ecology and evolution, Jerry Coyne, has written several times about Helmuth promoting factually inaccurate claims in Scientific Americanwhich he labeled “Scientific Pravda.”

Somebody called my attention to three new articles and op-eds in Scientific American that have no science in them, but are pure ideology of the “progressive” sort.  I agree with some of the sentiments expressed in them, as in the first one. But my point is, as usual, to show how everything in science, including its most widely-read “popular” magazine, is being taken over by ideology. Not only that, but it’s ideology of only one stripe: Leftist “progressive” (or “woke,” if you will) ideology, so that the “opinion” section is not a panoply of divergent views, but gives only one view, like a Scientific Pravda.  Remember that the editor refused when I offered to write an op-ed expressing different (but of course not right-wing) views.

In a previous City Journal article in 2022, science writer Nicholas Wade called Scientific American’s shift away from science a “new Lysenkoism” referring to the Soviet doctrine that forced biologists to ignore evolution and the genetics of plants to conform to political ideology.

And in an investigation I conducted for the BMJ (“The covid-19 lab leak hypothesis: did the media fall victim to a misinformation campaign?”) I noted that Helmuth harassed CDC Director Robert Redfield for telling CNN he thought the Covid virus may have come from a Wuhan lab:

The growing tendency to treat the lab leak scenario as worthy of serious investigation has put some reporters on the defensive. After Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appeared on CNN in March, Scientific American’s editor in chief, Laura Helmuth, tweeted, “On CNN, former CDC director Robert Redfield shared the conspiracy theory that the virus came from the Wuhan lab.” The following day, Scientific American ran an essay calling the lab leak theory “evidence free.”

In short, Helmuth is a political fanatic who doesn’t care much for science, unless it’s science that fits her personal politics.

The BMJ’s investigation highlighted the Cass Review which found little evidence to support Helmuth’s claims that the puberty blockers or other trans therapy for children are safe, including surgery. Dr. Hilary Cass is a British physician and former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who spent three years examining the evidence for treating gender-questioning young people.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dr. Cass said that doctors in the United States are “out of date” with understanding trans care for children. “But what some organizations are doing is doubling down on saying the evidence is good,” Dr. Cass told the New York Times. “And I think that’s where you’re misleading the public.”

And in podcast for the BMJ, Dr. Cass noted that of the 100 studies for puberty blockers and hormone treatment, only two were of passable quality. She also dismissed claims by activists such as Helmuth that trans care lowers risk of suicide in children.

“There, unfortunately, is not evidence that gender affirming treatment in its broadest sense reduces the suicide risk,” Dr. Cass said, during the BMJ podcast.

Below are several social media posts by Laura Helmuth crusading for trans care for kids—many of them dangerous messages for children, all lacking quality medical evidence.

To find the latest quality medical evidence on trans care for children, please read The Cass Review, which NHS England commissioned to improve NHS gender identity services, and ensure that children and young people who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria receive a high standard of care, that meets their needs, is safe, holistic, and effective.

Republished from the author’s Substack


  • Paul Thacker

    Paul D. Thacker is an Investigative Reporter; Former Investigator United States Senate; Former Fellow Safra Ethics Center, Harvard University

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Brownstone Institute

Tedros Must Face Reality

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute


It would be easier to ignore the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) deliberations in Geneva this week, but the  opening address of the Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, deserves a response. Both the WHO and its director are completely divorcing themselves from reality, illustrating how dangerous and unfit for purpose the WHO has become. There is clearly no way that any vote should proceed on anything of importance that the WHO may be required to implement in the coming week of WHA deliberations.

Tedros’s emphasis was on pandemics, and the faltering agreements intended to address their risk, the new Pandemic Agreement, and amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR). While these are watered down and the Pandemic Agreement may not even get to a vote, his continued justification for centering greater coordination and power at the WHO speaks volumes about the problem we face.

The Covid-19 period has resulted, as Tedros notes in his address, in up to 20 million additional deaths. WHO-supported policies achieved this, for a virus whose mortality mostly occurred in chronically sick people over 75 years of age. The WHO notes that a little over 7 million are directly attributable to the virus. Many of these other 13 million occurred in low- and middle-income countries, in populations where less than 1% of people are over 75 years old and half are under twenty, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a staggering, appalling, incompetent, and entirely predictable achievement. However, it is going to get much worse. The policies the WHO promoted closed supply lines, shut down the workplaces of tens of millions of day laborers, stopped travel and tourism income on which millions of low-income people rely, closed markets, and pushed over hundreds of millions into severe poverty. They increased the indebtedness of nations globally, with direct effects on child mortality and the ability to grow future economies.

As predicted by the WHO itself, malaria and tuberculosis deaths have increased, and they will stay higher as the impact of increased poverty bites. Funding for essential sanitation and nutrition programs has dropped as the WHO pushed for a shift in funding to mass vaccination in countries with young populations for a disease of the elderly to which they were already immune, supported with frankly idiotic slogans with more to do with advertising than public health, such as “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

In closing schools, for up to two years in some countries, the world has cemented in intergenerational poverty and inequality, overwhelmingly harming hundreds of millions of children at most future risk. Child labor has increased, and up to ten million additional girls are being forced into child marriage with the poverty and abuse that entails. When Tedros states in his opening WHA speech that “the whole world was taken hostage,” this should be what he is referring to. The world was taken hostage by the appalling people who took over public health, used the WHO as a tool with its leadership’s consent, and made hundreds of billions of dollars in profit through these harms foisted on others. Indeed, as Tedros notes, “covid has affected everybody.

Amidst all this rhetoric, the WHO is completely ignoring, and knowingly misrepresenting, what their own data tells them on the risk of natural pandemics. Whilst deliberately misleading countries and the media with claims that the risk of pandemics is rapidly increasing, they are fully aware that deaths from infectious diseases, and pandemics, have decreased over past centuries and are decreasing now. The databases and citations of reports from the WHO, the World Bank, and G20 High Level Independent Panel attest to this.

The causes of infectious disease deaths predominantly revolve around poor nutrition, sanitation, and supply lines for basic medicines. All these, improving before 2020, are now put at risk. Pretending that new diagnostic technologies that allow us to distinguish small virus outbreaks from the declining background constitute increased risk is a public health fallacy that must surely be deliberate. When Tedros states that the drafting teams of the pandemic texts “operated amid a torrent of mis- and disinformation,” he is correct, but it was not from the source he suggests.

So, when we are told that the “world was unprepared” for Covid-19, we should understand that we were unprepared for the hijacking of the WHO and public health policy, not for a virus that had an infection fatality rate in most countries little different than influenza. Pretending that deaths from ‘lockdowns’ were due to Covid adds to the current denial of reality. Lockdown was and should remain a term describing imprisonment. In public health it has been promoted by those who ended up gaining from the Covid debacle; private and corporate funders and their followers. There is a reason why public health previously stressed honest messaging and individual choice.

If the world is to actually address the risk presented by a repeat of Covid, then it had better address its cause – which looks increasingly likely to have been a laboratory leak from gain-of-function research. Nothing in the texts of the proposed Pandemic Agreement or IHR amendments even refers to this. Spending tens of billions per year on a surveillance network for natural threats will impoverish millions and divert funds from diseases of far higher burden, but do nothing to address the problem of research laboratories being paid to enhance virus virulence in humans. The proposed PABS scheme in the Pandemic Agreement in which the WHO will oversee increased passage of pathogens between laboratories and WHO-partnered pharmaceutical companies will likely do more to raise risk than reduce it.

We can all be relieved that the proposed pandemic texts are watered down from their egregious original versions and the Pandemic Agreement is unready for this WHA session. However, any increased coordination of power in the hands of the WHO, in its current state, is dangerous. The world has undergone enough damage in the past four years through misdirection and deliberate misinformation from an international agency that always knew better. Until the root causes of this are addressed, including ever-increasing influence on the organization of private individuals and corporate entities, and the glaring conflicts of interest in related public-private partnerships such as Gavi and CEPI, the world does indeed remain at increasing risk of the repeat of the disaster to which it was recently subjected.

We must first address the reasons why international public health is now about profit and centralization, rather than the health of populations. This won’t happen under the current version of the WHO, and does not appear on the WHA agenda. We are facing a mass denial of reality by the WHO and its leadership. Until this is rectified, any WHA votes that grant further powers or oversight to the WHO are unlikely to be in the interests of the world’s population, or the countries within which they live.


  • David Bell

    David Bell, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a public health physician and biotech consultant in global health. He is a former medical officer and scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, WA, USA.

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