Conor Friedersdorf: What specifically is wrong about policing the speech of doctors and nurses?
Nicholas Christakis: It is bad for morale. It is inefficient in the sense that we’re taking health-care workers out of commission at the time we need them the most. It is absurd that administrators are spending time surveilling the social-media posts of their personnel rather than trying to actually fix the problem by addressing inefficiencies in their hospital or sourcing [personal protective equipment]. And finally, we are not going to kill this germ with censorship! The idea that we can hide from inconvenient truths or close our eyes and pretend that the situation is not the way it is by clamping down on people who are speaking is a kind of idiocy of the highest order. I find the whole thing absurd. The sharing of information is extremely useful and important to optimize efficiency. And don’t these administrators have anything better to do? Hospitals are scrambling. Why try to run around and shut up your staff when you could be fixing supply chains or sourcing ovens to heat PPE or preparing to divide wards to separate the sick from the not so sick? There are so many urgent things to do right now.
Friedersdorf: You’ve studied a lot of pandemics and epidemics. Is there any compelling public-health reason for restricting information flows?
Christakis: I cannot see any legitimate reason for such practices. I can imagine that people will say they’re trying to tamp down on panic or to provide a consistent message to a confused public. But if anything, in my view, the ham-fisted way this is being done is going to contribute to public disbelief in experts.