We're All Experts Now . . . And Not In A Good Way
There's a disturbing phenomenon that's been going on for a number of years, but that's become downright dangerous during this pandemic. It's the death of expertise. We have full-blown experts in epidemiology who study epidemics and pandemics, but our country is not utilizing their expertise.
Our first clue was when John Bolton, as director of the NSC, got rid of the global health security team in Spring of 2018. The Administration also cut the CDC funding, which was to come out of it's disease monitoring budget, but Congress found ways to give the CDC back that money.
The CDC was writing about Covid-19 as early as February 7th and talking about preventing the spread of the virus in the United States.
In February, the President was making statements about having just a few cases and how those cases would fade away to nothing. This is the absolute opposite of what the public health experts were saying.
In the last few weeks, we've been told to stay at home and limit our visits to only getting groceries and other necessities. Yet, we've seen people out partying on the beaches in Florida claiming that they're not afraid of coronavirus.
Until recently, even the President has been contradicting the things that the epidemiologists, particularly Dr. Fauci, has been recommending. Thankfully, we've seen more agreement between the two of them in the last press conference.
What is going on? Do these people on the beach not believe the experts? Does the President not pay attention to the CDC and DHHS doctors and epidemiologists? These people are paid well to do their jobs. They understand illness and how it spreads through a population. This is what they study all day every day. They have PhDs in this stuff. Dr. Fauci is THE expert and he should be running the show.
But there's more! Rush Limbaugh said the following in an interview in Salon: "And how do we know they're even health experts? Well, they wear white lab coats, and they've been in the job for a while — and they're at the CDC, and they're at the NIH…. But has there been any job assessment for them? They're just assumed to be the best because they're in government. But these are all kinds of things that I've been questioning."
So, who is going to assess the CDC? It's a government agencies that are expected to manage themselves and be critiqued by the scientific community. And, indeed, it does interact with medical community through conferences and journals. It doesn't work in isolation. It's scientists work with scientists at medical schools and universities around the US and around the world. In addition, it works with the World Health Organization.
Folks, this is crazy. But, it's not out of the blue. We've seen experts denigrated for quite a while. "Young Earth Creationists" have been telling Bible scholars and scientists that a "literal" reading of scripture trumps all scholarship. They believe that all the scholarship out there about the beginning of the universe is flawed or just wrong because the Bible clearly teaches that the universe is only 6000 years old. And, Ken Ham, a man who was a science teacher, has a ministry that debates and refutes the work of PhDs in numerous fields, including biology, astrophysics, and biblical studies. The expertise of these scholars doesn't matter because these particular Christians fall back on their particular "literal" reading of the Bible.
We also see the death of expertise in the anti-vaxxer movement. The people caught up in this movement use largely anecdotal evidence buttressed by one, now disproven scientific article, and many pseudo-scientific articles to show that vaccines are harmful. Unfortunately, they won't listen to the experts who have real evidence, including a great deal of scientifically supported data. In the anti-vaxxer movement, like the Young-Earth Creationist movement, there are "experts" who have very little background in the science itself, but who are willing to argue with the true experts, using pseudo-science and opinion. And they can make themselves sound really good.
And, not to belabor the point, but the Climate Change Denier movement is yet another place that we see anti-science attitudes and the death of expertise. In this case, it's possible that there is some underlying selfish motivation in this movement. Climate Change Deniers use outlying data to try to show that there is very little, if any, climate change going on, that the little change occurring will not be deleterious to the planet, and that humans didn't cause it and can't fix it. Using those arguments, they say that there is no need for us to slow the use of fossil fuels or change any of our other habits. In this issue, though, we can see that the climate scientists have made predictions that have held true. The experts have been correct and we would do well to follow their lead.
What am I getting at here? Science is an important part of our lives and it's important that we recognize and listen to the science experts. We are seeing that laid bare in the Covid-19 outbreak. While we've been tolerating science denial in Young Earth Creationism, Anti-Vaxxers, and Climate Change Denialism, we can't afford to for much longer. Science education in our schools needs to confront all of these topics head-on. Our students need to come out of high school ready to face data and understand the need for scientific experts.
Without our scientific experts, we would never get on an airplane or go see a doctor. If we are willing to trust our engineers and physicians, why are we suddenly not willing to believe the epidemiologists and climate scientists? This is the time to respect the work of those who are working for us. There is always controversy and discussion within the scientific community. Fine. But, when the scientific community speaks as one, it behooves the rest of us to listen. These people are working hard for the rest of us.
Listen to the experts. Stay inside. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. The epidemiologists are the experts here. Let them do their jobs.