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The Assault on Expertise

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ARI fellows Ben Bayer and Elan Journo made a video titled The Assault on Expertise.

I consider this an important topic, but believe Evaluating Expertise would have been a better title.

I agree with their following points.

- Achieving expertise is long, hard work.

- Many kinds of knowledge are works in progress.

- A non-expert should rationally judge, to the best of his/her ability, anybody considered an expert, whether by him/her or by somebody else.

- Schools often do a poor job of educating students about science.

- Science is becoming more politicized.

I wish they had said more about non-experts cherrypicking experts, and brushing off experts they don't agree with, especially when there is significant disagreement among the experts. In today's world, such non-experts seem to me to be a bigger problem than non-experts assaulting experts.

Climate science and medicine, especially about the coronavirus, get some attention. Conspiracy theories get attention during the Q&A starting at 51:20.

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1 hour ago, merjet said:

I wish they had said more about non-experts cherrypicking experts, and brushing off experts they don't agree with, especially when there is significant disagreement among the experts. In today's world, such non-experts seem to me to be a bigger problem than non-experts assaulting experts.

On second thought, maybe that is a bit strong. Non-experts often attack other non-experts saying they "deny science." Of course, that goes with cherrypicking experts.

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4 hours ago, merjet said:

On second thought, maybe that is a bit strong. Non-experts often attack other non-experts saying they "deny science." Of course, that goes with cherrypicking experts.

Was going to make this exact comment (roughly) because this is happening a lot lately. It's like appeal to authority by those too incompetent (the vast majority of politicians) to accurately judge the validity of the authority's ("science") competence while using it as an unquestionable "virtue test".

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I question the assertion that public skepticism about the role of scientific expertise has reached new levels. I grant that Bayer and Journo have some expertise on the beliefs of the masses. So how do we resolve this apparent paradox, w.r.t. my views?  First, questioning an expert opinion is not an assault on expertise, it is a valid demand to see the evidence (as a prelude to evaluating the claim). I really do not have any idea what the evidence is that there has been an increase in skepticism about scientific claims. Are they referring to some opinion surveys asking “Do you believe in science?” or some such question? How do you gauge public opinion if not by randomly sampling the population with well-constructed questions designed to test actual skepticism about the validity of science? Now maybe it is not important whether skepticism has actually reached new levels because the real question should be, who do you trust and why do you trust them, and maybe I should treat their statement as a slip of the tongue and not a hard factual claim, but it is kind of ironic that they make a factual claim without saying why we should believe them.

I question the premise that the public is even exposed in any objective and significant way to scientific expertise. What form does such exposure take? For example, how many people have read Jayaweera et al. in Environmental research vol. 188 – can I get a show of hands? Or do we only get non-random sound bites from the news media? What exactly are the experts saying, and why should we believe them? The fundamental difference between believing peer-reviewed scientific articles, and believing a doctor or nurse who the news has decided to let express their opinion on a topic, is that scientific articles have been slowly vetted by sets of experts in the relevant area, whereas media medical experts are of unknown credibility, picked on an unknown basis by an unknown person, and their sound bites on the news are not vetted by scientific experts. Journal articles have been submitted to the Peikoff certainty test – the search for credible alternatives. Moreover, scientific articles present the facts and then the conclusions – in that order. News-science is remarkable in how it completely detaches conclusions from evidence. At most you will find a restatement of the claim that “We find that X is effective”, or “This was the subject of a big test”. Details please?

Covid is an interesting case from the perspective of public science education, and I cannot say that I am impressed at how the experts convey their knowledge to the public. I think the main reason is that unlike physical sciences, cause-effect relations in medicine are slippery. The equation “You {smoke/get covid}, you die!” is an exaggeration. Fauci has done an okay job in not overstating the degree of certainty that can be assigned to covid conclusions. But you don’t hear any of the reasons why medical experts are not absolutely certain. You don’t hear any discussion of the methodology of reaching scientific conclusions. And this is a bad thing, IMO. So when one of those statistical report charts in the newspaper shows a massive 1-day spike or drop in cases, or when the nightly news reports sensationalist statistics like “the highest number of cases in a single day”, The Public is bound to get a warped perspective on the importance of such factoids, mostly because they don’t know anything about statistics, sampling, and categorization (how exactly do you determine that something is a covid death?).

There is a vicious circle problem here, that most people are not intellectually equipped to handle the technical details, and in the overwhelming majority of cases when dealing with an expert, people fall back on the executive summary – just tell me what to do. The news is not going to waste time explaining how we know what we know, they are just going to report what the experts say – but they are not trying to get a balanced cross-section of experts with competing conclusions. Therefore, the experts are not going to waste their 30 second explaining how science is done, and they are definitely not going to touch the third rail of uncertainty.

However, I do suspect that there has been a slow but steady increase in something related to public skepticism about the role of scientific expertise: an increase in the embrace of nihilism.

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I guess this is based on events ( I can't open the discussion, for some reason). If only one thing that this pandemic and lockdowns have shown is: Question Authority. The experts, so-called, were all over the place in their identification of the virus and extravagant prognoses and predictions (fed by the media) and their suggested, draconian measures, and we the dumb obedient public have paid for it. Basically the experts were mostly wrong, scientifically and medically and morally, and should be called to task. How disingenuous or inept is hard to know. If there were not covert political motives by them, there was certainly the ethical-altruist presumption of universal sacrifices to be made. Governments were slightly less to blame, as they had little choice but to listen to and act on their and WHO"s experts' expertise. Not having heard this presentation, going by the remarks, I'm surprised that ARI people should lean towards accepting scientific expertise as given. Better you'd think for people to be highly critical, though under-informed 'armchair experts', than remain meekly silent because one does not know what 'they' know. It's the people who always pay. Scientists can shrug off the consequences of their errors with glib, superior sophistry. In one rather self-contradictory point (from merjet's summary) these guys state the obvious: science is becoming politicized - HAS become, when one looks at AGW - also has always been funding-reliant and so the scientits may not be completely independent and impartial. Indeed, with some valid loss of trust by the public, oughtn't an "assault on expertise" be justified and necessary?

"The physical sciences are still ruled by some remnants of a rational epistemology (which is rapidly being destroyed) ..." AR- 1969

Edited by whYNOT
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Posted (edited)

There has been and is a good example of non-experts deciding what experts to trust with regard to hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19. Hydroxychloroquine became big news when President Trump announced in April he had taken hydroxychloroquine. The anti-Trumpers went beserk. There had been some clinical trials, but they had been with low-risk people or patients with Covid-19 bad enough to be hospitalized. Dr. Fauci and others based their opinions on such clinical trials. Other experts, especially Dr. Harvey Risch, said the clinical trials were conducted with the wrong set of patients. The Tragic Hydroxychloroquine Debate and Dr. Fauci's Denial of Evidence

After Dr. Risch spoke out, John Berman of CNN interviewed Dr. Risch. Non-expert Berman was hostile and very critical of Dr. Risch. Link.

 

 

Edited by merjet
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1 hour ago, merjet said:

After Dr. Risch spoke out, John Berman of CNN interviewed Dr. Risch. Non-expert Berman was hostile and very critical of Dr. Risch.

Berman uses randomized clinical trials (RCT) as a favorite "weapon" against Dr. Risch. The first comment on article linked in my previous post is: "So, where are the randomized clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of masks and social distancing?  If an RCT is required before we do interventions why haven't we done an RCT for that?" 🙂

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On 8/28/2020 at 1:04 PM, merjet said:

There has been and is a good example of non-experts deciding what experts to trust with regard to hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19. Hydroxychloroquine became big news when President Trump announced in April he had taken hydroxychloroquine. The anti-Trumpers went beserk. There had been some clinical trials, but they had been with low-risk people or patients with Covid-19 bad enough to be hospitalized. Dr. Fauci and others based their opinions on such clinical trials. Other experts, especially Dr. Harvey Risch, said the clinical trials were conducted with the wrong set of patients. The Tragic Hydroxychloroquine Debate and Dr. Fauci's Denial of Evidence

After Dr. Risch spoke out, John Berman of CNN interviewed Dr. Risch. Non-expert Berman was hostile and very critical of Dr. Risch. Link.

 

 

Ah yes. The magic bullet. A vaccine or prophylactic against the virus. When they arrive, great, but most of the damage has already been done - and not all from corona, but more, I and many argue, from the inessential total isolation which has wrecked or transformed many more lives than the virus is claiming. I scanned through the ARI discussion and it's not bad; but one thing I thought was that Bayer and Journo over-relied on the skepticism of scientific expertise. That's for me quite secondary. Coronavirus was largely treated very seriously by most people (if not further magnified out of proportion by media) from the get-go. (Early skepticism was quite in order, in fact, when it was obvious that the media was exploiting the emergency).

What should have been done about coronavirus? If anything? That's the question thoughtful people ask.

The equal "tribalism" - the two of them raise - both the conservative right and leftists has been divisive, is true enough, but the divisions are not morally equivalent. The former people have been displeased and desperate at being denied their working/earning lives and other activities. Quite similar here. There is good evidence that the virus was politicized for power and employed by the Left, extending lockdowns, enjoying the desperation of the former. I think this should have been the scholars' main talking point also, aside from an "assault" on scientific expertise and "conspiracies theories".

The ARI guys know too that life is "goal-directed action". Not just now and then, but continuous and self-generated. You don't stop your life and pick it up again where you left off. You don't easily pick up your goals, thinking or skills, and clients and customers and suppliers and employers or employees either. People's minds, feelings, habits and activities have changed drastically by seclusion and distancing. A young businessman and Christian I talked with today, who without bemoaning, can't anticipate his once-thriving enterprise I know he's dedicated his talents, energy and finance to, ever recovering fully - agreed. Business and commerce depends on continuity, he knows; and he sees this neo-marxist Government which has been drunk on power with its lockdowns, believes men of commerce - the creators - are the given, replaceable by any 'workers'. Despite his loss my friend is cheerfully struggling to keep operating and employing his staff. (Multiply this situation by 100's of millions, worldwide).

He said also that those who can and are prepared to work must not be prevented and (surprisingly objective, here) their lives not "sacrificed" to those who can't and don't choose to or are at health risk. In all, once again, I side with the conservatives who have a better understanding and value of business and life.

 

Edited by whYNOT
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