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Did Elon Musk Tweet ‘If One Day, My Words are Against Science, Choose Science’ Before a COVID-19 Controversy?

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Elon Musk once tweeted: "If one day, my words are against science, choose science."

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As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed in the United States, dueling opinions were politicized and bluntly split between opinions based on hard science versus economics. This ended up leading to the recirculation of a purported tweet from Elon Musk about any of his putative future opinions “against science”:

Well well well, how the turn tables from agedlikemilk

The Screenshot

A post submitted to r/agedlikemilk (a subreddit about statements that have quickly soured), a user shared a Twitter screenshot of Musk sharing the following quote:

“If one day, my words are against science, choose science.” Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

At the top of the screenshot, a more recent tweet of Musk’s appeared, tweeted on the same day the above post was submitted to Reddit:

COVID-19: Science versus “the Economy”

Beginning around March 20 2020, the increasing spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 led to a patchwork of orders across states — typically described as “stay at home,” “shelter in place,” “quarantine,” or “lockdown” measures.

The measures themselves emerged against the backdrop of early controversy over whether such measures would “wreck the economy” as well as initial assertions that handling of the burgeoning pandemic ought not be economically “worse” than preventing infections and excess death:

https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1241935285916782593

The above tweet incidentally appeared less than 48 hours after “lockdown” measures began.

Moreover, medical science — specifically, epidemiology — was the impetus for global stay-at-home directives in a March 16 2020 report from Imperial College London. Researchers in that effort ran several projections to determine which the least damaging course of action would be moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Report, Explained

On our page linked above, we described the overall conclusions of that research — namely a predicted unbearable outcome even if a “mitigation” strategy was adopted in the United States.

Researchers predicted more than a million deaths in the United States alone even under the “mitigation” model with many public health restrictions, and they also emphasized that they believed the stricter “suppression” model was the only viable approach. Projections were based in part on the long duration between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the development of a vaccine, which would take at least eighteen months.

By April 15 2020, “anti-lockdown protests” began non-spontaneously occurring across the United States:

Viral ‘Ohio State House COVID-19 Protest’ Image

Anti-lockdown protesters displayed behavior and signs that were not only anti-science, but anti-Semitic and arguably unethical as well:

‘The Real Plague’ Anti-Semitic Sign Spotted at Ohio Anti-Lockdown COVID-19 Pandemic Protest

COVID-19 ‘Sacrifice the Weak’ Reopen Tennessee Protest Sign

Also, anti-grammar:

Misspelled ‘We the Peaple, Re-Open Pennslvania’ Sign

A primary unifying motive for the protests was fiscal in nature, with protesters arguing to “re-open” the economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Denialism

Predictably, people favoring the purported health of the economy over safety measures espoused a number of scientifically-unsupported or inaccurate ideas about COVID-19 safety measures to further their position, such as erroneous claims that quarantine was not appropriate for asymptomatic or apparently healthy people:

‘Quarantine is When You Restrict the Movement of SICK People’ Facebook Meme

Any purportedly credible position in favor of ending the measures would quickly go viral, such as the unsupported claims of two California doctors:

Medical Community Refutes Bakersfield Doctors’ Attempts to Minimize COVID-19

Another untrue but popular circulating claim held no scientific proof existed that social distancing worked:

Is There ‘No Scientific Proof’ That Social Distancing Prevents the Spread of Coronavirus?

Science Weighs In

In the ever-changing discourse, parallels drawn between “COVID deniers” and climate change denial were common:

Many of these [extant anti-science] groups, including Koch network-funded entities such as Americans for Prosperity and State Policy Network members have also attacked stay-at-home orders and orchestrated ‘Liberate’ movement protests nationwide … notorious climate deniers around the world are even claiming that the novel coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, or that it’s an evil plot by “globalist elites” like Bill Gates and George Soros to alternately force vaccines or a “world population cull.”

On April 24 2020, the Cornell Alliance for Science explained how existing astroturfed networks were rapidly and effectively mobilized against COVID-19 suppression. That source also explained that the measures — while vocal and visible — stood in stark contrast to what medical science had to say about early conclusion of social distancing:

With a new poll affirming that 72 percent of Americans still strongly support stay-at-home measures, the “open it up” rallies and traffic gridlock actions represent a distinct minority view. But they’ve gained outsized influence due to funding, legal assistance and organizational efforts provided by conservative interests, including gun advocates, and more are planned for the coming week.

The protestors have typically demanded that states reopen businesses and lift their restrictions on social distancing, though experts warn that rapid re-openings could have fatal consequences.“The math is unfortunately pretty simple. It’s not a matter of whether infections will increase but by how much,” Jeffrey Shaman, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University, told The Washington Post.

[…]

The groups have relied heavily on social media to promote their cause and mobilize participants, prompting Facebook to declare it would remove posts by any groups advocating illegal behavior. Protestors, some of whom have shown up for the rallies heavily armed, have frequently flouted state rules around social distancing and wearing masks.

With most Americans expressing reluctance to quickly reopen their states, it’s unclear whether the rallies will ever reach a critical mass. But some, like sociologist Robert J. Brulle, fear the rallies, both orchestrated and organic, will have more unsettling impacts … if that [anti-science] sentiment takes hold, it could make it difficult to advance vaccination campaigns and climate mitigation efforts, as well as to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 30 2020, Alliance for Science reported that the World Health Organization was warning of a “misinformation ‘infodemic,’ [via] anti-science groups around the world [who] are doubling down on a dizzying array of competing conspiracy theories about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and quoted a then-recent article in the journal Nature about the effects of statements and movements undermining science and the importance of amplifying credible sources:

“In a world where anti-vaccination advocates and climate-change denialists persist, talking sense might seem hopeless, especially when social-media algorithms and deliberate bad actors amplify pseudoscience messages,” University of Alberta health law and policy researcher Timothy Caulfield wrote in Nature. “There is no easy answer to solving this, but science-informed messages are not easily found. We need more researchers making an effort.”

On April 27 2020, Wired explained why the purposeful coordination of resources to force through a minority view and provide the appearance of broader popularity seemed so familiar. The “novel” element of the novel coronavirus created a massive vulnerability as science raced to mitigate the human toll, and special interests weaponized a portion of a panicked populace:

The uncertainty around Covid-19 pretty much actively encourages conspiracy-minded thinking. According to Pew Research Center, three in 10 Americans believe Covid-19 was cooked up in a lab. Most people who believe in one conspiracy theory believe in several, so, on the right, they have coalesced around a kind of anti-science, anti-government, pro-gun, pro-nationalism worldview that sees itself as perennially under threat.

“It’s the same kind of dynamic that applies to things like climate change. It’s the same ideological playbook,” says Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “That’s why they’re happening so quickly.” The protests, the demonstrators, the supportive Fox News commentators, it was all a prebaked sure bet. [Mark Naison, a professor of history at Fordham University who has studied social protest movements] calls them “a poor man’s Trump rally” and opines that the president’s all-caps support of them on Twitter may be as simple as him missing that positive attention, especially in an election year.

It is vitally important not to be falsely equivalent here: Most Americans will never shrug off social-distancing guidelines and take to the streets. The protests are unpopular, even among (non-MAGA-hatted) conservatives … [A rash of COVID-19 protests] are just a modern permutation of an identity crisis with roots very deep in America’s individualist history. Finding a coherent narrative in such a layered situation is a puzzle—one that ultimately has very little to do with Covid-19 or quarantines.

To be clear, there was really no call in medical or epidemiological circles to prematurely end lockdown — the only “experts” making such claims were typically economists or political operatives. Which brings us to…

Elon Musk

As the protests wore on, Musk took to Twitter a great deal to voice his opinion on COVID-19 suppression measures. And while science was squarely in favor of measures to stop the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Musk didn’t seem to agree (even retweeting video of the widely-debunked Bakersfield doctors):

2017 Elon Musk versus 2020 Elon Musk

Above is just a smattering of Musk’s many tweets expressing opinions around COVID-19 and applauding states prematurely lifting lockdown measures. As for the screenshot shared to r/agedlikemilk, it was authentic. It was a quote, but nevertheless, Musk tweeted it:

TL;DR

After Elon Musk appeared to side against science in COVID-19 discourse, screenshots of his purported tweet stating “If one day, my words are against science, choose science” circulated. It is true that Musk’s April 2020 tweets were “against science,” and further true that he published the original tweet.