October 26, 2020

The Death of Expertise

The Death of Expertise

“Snake oil is a euphemism for deceptive marketing and health care fraud. It refers to the petroleum-based mineral oil or “snake oil” that used to be sold as a cure-all elixir for many kinds of physiological problems. Many 19th-century United States and 18th-century European entrepreneurs advertised and sold mineral oil (often mixed with various active and inactive household herbs, spices, and compounds, but containing no snake-derived substances whatsoever) as “snake oil liniment”, making frivolous claims about its efficacy as a panacea.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_oil

It seems to me that the “snake oil” phenomenon is still very much alive and well in 21st Century America.  Recently, a certain televangelist was warned by two state Attorney Generals to stop promoting “silver solution” as a cure for the coronavirus. Another news article tells of “Strange devices (that) have been cropping up on the lapels of political figures around the world. Sometimes known as Air Doctor and sometimes as Virus Shut Out, they look like normal ID badges. But according to their manufacturers, they use chemicals to wipe out airborne pathogens and protect wearers from disease.”

This article in the Federalist by Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School, encapsulates my rant for today.  Tom says:

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

Just so, and it bothers me greatly.  Of course, experts can make mistakes, they are, after all, human like the rest of us.  But when somebody spends years at schools and universities studying a subject, and then years laboring in that field of study gaining real world experience—why wouldn’t you listen to them?  Why wouldn’t you give more weight to their opinion on their subject than someone with no schooling or experience on that subject?  I am a scientist with expertise in certain areas of geology, but not in other areas.  Even though I have more experience and knowledge than a layman, I’m more than happy to yield my opinion when I recognize expertise in someone else.  I just don’t get the current attitude. Nichols says:

To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly… Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality…

Nichols uses the example of whooping cough, an often fatal scourge that was nearly eliminated last century.  But it is now resurging in this country because otherwise seemingly intelligent people aren’t vaccinating their children.  And they are following, not the advice of medical professionals or their own doctors, but this…this… this… ditz 

Who said, “The University of Google,” she said to Oprah, “is where I got my degree from.”

How did we, as a society, get to this point that we ignore competence and expertise and give ear to foolish and dangerous nonsense?  Nichols argues some of it is due to globalization and the rise of the internet.  There are no longer gatekeepers or editors that used to filter at least the most egregious idiocy.  Nichols says:

Now, anyone can bum rush the comments section of any major publication. Sometimes, that results in a free-for-all that spurs better thinking. Most of the time, however, it means that anyone can post anything they want, under any anonymous cover, and never have to defend their views or get called out for being wrong.

The universities bear some blame, as they no longer educate students but have become “boutiques, in which the professors are expected to be something like intellectual valets. This produces nothing but a delusion of intellectual adequacy in children who should be instructed, not catered to.”

The Dunning-Kruger effect in action

Of course, some of this is just human nature and was always so.  In psychology it is called the Dunning-Kruger effect  a lack of self-awareness where the person vastly overestimates their knowledge and expertise, when, in fact, they are a… well… dumbass!  A loud, in-your-face, supremely confident, obnoxious one at that!

What can be done?  Nichols has some ideas:

  1. We can all stipulate: the expert isn’t always right.
  2. But an expert is far more likely to be right than you are. On a question of factual interpretation or evaluation, it shouldn’t engender insecurity or anxiety to think that an expert’s view is likely to be better-informed than yours. (Because, likely, it is.)
  3. Experts come in many flavors. Education enables it, but practitioners in a field acquire expertise through experience; usually the combination of the two is the mark of a true expert in a field. But if you have neither education nor experience, you might want to consider exactly what it is you’re bringing to the argument.
  4. In any discussion, you have a positive obligation to learn at least enough to make the conversation possible. The University of Google doesn’t count. Remember: having a strong opinion about something isn’t the same as knowing something.
  5. And yes, your political opinions have value. Of course they do: you’re a member of a democracy and what you want is as important as what any other voter wants. As a layman, however, your political analysis, has far less value, and probably isn’t — indeed, almost certainly isn’t — as good as you think it is.

Well, I’m NOT giving up.  I’m going to keep insisting, in my circle of friends and family, that we heed the advice of the experts and ignore the conspiracy theorists.  That we not keep silent but speak up and rebuke nonsense with common sense. Maybe I’ll get shouted down sometimes… well so be it.  I’ll pay the price.  And I’m urging all who read this post to keep on keeping on.  Don’t grow weary in well-doing.  Don’t give up the fight.  Be the voice of reason when you are given the opportunity.  Rant over – Mike out- mic drop.

Comments

  1. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/resource-centers/immunization/antivaccine-celebrities-have-inordinate-amount-of-influence

    Mike Bell, I think this is an excellent topic that needs to be examined on a national level so at least the general public would have an awareness and perhaps even a understanding of this important issue. I am attaching the above link as it relates to the celebrity that helped spur a movement and the good response of the guys who know drugs i.e , to me the experts.
    I think on many what I called hard facts or a field that requires study, education and experience the experts are to be relied on heavily. When my brakes squeal and my car does not run correctly , I go to a good mechanic not my cousin Louie who reads Popular Mechanics. I am very concerned when I read about and think about the term that was new to me , internet influencer, people that have a of power though their internet fame,, followers and clout who get paid to influence.
    It is tough in todays world to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, being optimistic most Americans do follow the advice of the experts, most of the time.

    • Dan, this is Mike the Geologist, not Mike Bell. Remember, this is the Internet MIKE site. 🙂

      • CM, Caught my mistake already, thanks, Goes to show good things come in 3 s. It was way too early for my brain to be control of anything but my bladder.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I am very concerned when I read about and think about the term that was new to me , internet influencer, people that have a of power though their internet fame,, followers and clout who get paid to influence.

      I remember a “Social Media Influencer” who demanded a free five-star resort stay or she would “influence” the resort completely out of business.

      And for “Social Media Influence”, remember eating Tide Pods/Laundry Detergent because Social Media said to? And how the only way to stop that was to engage other Internet Influencers?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In Christianese,
        “Social Media said it,
        I Believe It,
        THAT SETTLES IT!”

  2. anonymous says

    How to resist conspiracy theories for dummies:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoYjIDwbzLY&feature=youtu.be

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Ah, but that video is automatically Fake News planted by The Conspiracy.

      The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

      • David Greene says

        “The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.”

        Not ALL the Dwarfs, just the Black Dwarfs… 🙂

  3. Naomi Daugherty says

    Brilliantly and eloquently written! Bravo! I completely agree with this and I’m definitely going to be sharing this on all my social media platforms.

  4. This is a long, but very poignant, essay on biblical wisdom (of the Proverbial variety), and how it applies to the current situation in the church and the world. Very relevant to the topic at hand, and highly recommended.

    https://alastairadversaria.com/2020/05/02/wisdom-and-folly-in-christian-responses-to-coronavirus/

    • In particular, points 14 (“The wise recognize the cosmopolitanism of truth”) and 15 (“The wise honour and submit to authorities” – in this case, experts).

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Points 5) and 9) were the diamond points for me, but this is what was running through my head when I read the whole article:

      ‘This is what happens when the Protestant impulse leaps the barrier from the strictly religious and dogmatic and asserts itself in the marketplace. All magisteria become suspect, and every crackpot with a burning passion considers himself the heir to Martin Luther.’

  5. Mike the Geologist, my apology for attributing your thought provoking article to Mike Bell, I am not too sharp at 1:19 AM or for that matter 1:19 PM. I appreciate your contribution to this site and giving your time and should I say expertise? I may need your opinion soon as some new rocks seem to be developing in my skull. I think the experts would say you need to be awake and your brain functioning before you comment but what do they know?

    • Mike the Geologist says

      That’s OK, Dan. There are a lot of Mikes around here.

      • “Is your name not ‘Bruce’?”

        “No, it’s ‘Michael’.”

        “That’s going to cause a bit of confusion! Mind if we call you ‘Bruce’, to keep things clear?”

  6. Robert F says

    “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain can ever tell me…..”

  7. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > How did we, as a society, get to this point that we ignore competence and expertise
    > and give ear to foolish and dangerous nonsense?

    As someone who sits it lots of public policy decisions: The Experts rarely, if ever, say what our society’s privileged – previously even more heavily subsidized than they are currently – want to hear. There is enormous advantage to de-platforming expertise if the overwhelming consensus of the expertise it that you and your current mode of living are a principle part of the The Problem. Explain to people that they have to [even just allow] change and their respect for expertise goes right out the window. I am confident if The Experts told people what they wanted to hear then they would carried on shoulders down the street with bands and ticker-tape. Anger at The Experts then becomes wider and more generalized until it encompasses anything and everything.

  8. Robert F says

    Just yesterday I read that an outspoken QAnon conspiracy theorist believer has been elected by voters of one state as nominee for the U.S. Senate. And the beat goes on.

    • Yes, and she is a Bible-believing Christian. She’s s not alone. It says a lot about where evangelicalism.is going. Whose voice to listen to… Jesus or Q?

      • Robert F says

        I recently read that some QAnon group has actually started holding church services on Sunday mornings. They read the Bible and understand Christianity through a QAnon hermeneutic — if you can dignify it with that word — and it’s quite easy to plug QAnon beliefs into an End Times apocalyptic outline, and vice versa.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The Gospel According to QAnon.
          Now with complementary Rapture Boarding Pass.
          DON’T BE LEFT BEHIND(TM)!

          • Rick Ro. says

            How about, DON’T BE LEFT BEHIND, BECAUSE ONLY THE LEFT WILL BE LEFT BEHIND!!!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Yes, and she is a Bible-believing Christian.

        Which is now identical with QAnon True Believer.

  9. This is especially true in religion, at least in evangelical circles. And this isn’t to pick on evangelicals – many prominent evangelical thinkers have written about the ‘evangelical mind’ – or lack thereof, such as Mark Noll, J. P. Moreland, and Os Guiness. Anti-intellectualism (ignorance) is seen as a spiritual virtue. Being dumb as Balaam’s ass makes one a spiritual giant.

    Not to boast, but to express my frustration, I (like many imonkers) have advanced training in biblical studies, from prominent (evangelical) seminaries and world-class universities, and continue to read extensively in the field (and taught Greek as an adjunct professor at a seminary). But when I go into a Sunday School class and offer my ‘opinion’ on something, the next person to speak will say,’well this is what I think it means’, and usually run off on some rabbit trail that has absolutely nothing to do with the passage, its literary context, historical context, and quite often is completely at odds with the argument the biblical writer is making. And both opinions are given equal weight, and often the less-informed opinion (if it has emotional impact) is given more weight. After listening to a ‘let’s go around the room and tell us what you think it means’ session, sometimes I want to scream and say ‘I don’t give a damn what you think it means. I want to know WHAT IT MEANS!’ I don’t go to Sunday School classes anymore. 🙂

    As Os Guiness argues (in his little book ‘Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What to Do About It’), it’s in the DNA of evangelicalism, from its birth in pietism, its adolescence in frontier revivalism, its early adulthood in the scientific controversies around evolution, to its maturity as a cultural force, it has always been opposed to ‘experts’ and emphasized individual ‘experiences with God’. Unfortunately his book is long on diagnosis but short on ‘what to do about it’.

    • Andrew Zook says

      Greg, I don’t have the Bible studies expertise you have, but have read a lot (and generally from theologians outside pop evangelicalism) and I have experienced this many times as well in SS. I still go, but I’ve noticed that it can be one of the most depressing hours of my week… the bs and nonsense that people Think is sound Biblical study/thinking is astounding sometimes…
      And on top of it, they think and are taught, that if they doubt… then they’re lacking faith! So to raise thoughtful questions by default will be interpreted as a personal attack upon their “faith” (confident thinking about things, including the non-expert ways of thinking they feel most comfortable with!). It’s a vicious circle…

      • Andrew Zook says

        I should add… that if you do raise doubts about a particular non-expert arrived opinion, most likely the rest will wonder what kind of backsliding christian you are… for raising Doubt, that ticket to hell everyone Must. Avoid. At. All. Costs!
        I should be more courageous… I’m non-confrontational by personality… but the above possibility (that most everyone else will think ill of you for raising Doubt on their precious, since birth interpretation of Scripture) weighs heavily upon me… and I would have to climb over it almost every single session…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Holy Nincompoop Syndrome.
        Where the more stupid and ignorant you are, the more Godly you must be.

        “Science” falsely so-called or WORD! OF! GAWD!

        “That’s not Scripture. Show Me SCRIPTURE!”
        — PastorRaulReesCalvaryChapelWestCovina, any time someone tried to reason with him

        • Robert F says

          >Holy Nincompoop Syndrome.
          Where the more stupid and ignorant you are, the more Godly you must be.

          A Fool for Christ! A veritable army of Fools!

          • Of course, by “fool for Christ” Paul meant foolishness regarding the “wisdom of the world” – i.e “Look Out For Number One”, “Might Makes Right”, “The Ends Justify the Means”, etc. From *that* standpoint, the teachings of Christ ARE foolishness.

          • Christ commanded us to be as wise as serpents and harmless as dives. Nowadays, we’re as wise as doves, and harmless as serpents.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > ‘let’s go around the room and tell us what you think it means’ session, ,,,
      > ‘I don’t give a damn what you think it means.
      > I want to know WHAT IT MEANS!

      +1,000

      • And if that is the methodology you bring to the study of a book supposedly composed entirely of eternal transcendent truths, then you are going to end up a relativist no matter how loudly you deny it.

        • Yes. When ‘relativism’ was a dirty word among Evangelicals in the 1990s I found it odd that ‘relativism’ in the realm of religion, particularly biblical interpretation, was almost invented by Evangelicals, and is a sacred tenet of the faith.

    • Because the “what to do about it” would require a total paradigm shift – and those typically happen only after the shift is forced upon the shiftees by history.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        ‘what to do about it’ is the BEST framing of almost anything, IMNSHO.
        Declaration of X, must be followed by “And so?” That clears up a lot.
        And in the “And so?” Knowledge must find its help-mate: courage.

    • Robert F says

      ……I …. have advanced training in biblical studies, from prominent (evangelical) seminaries and world-class universities, and continue to read extensively in the field (and taught Greek as an adjunct professor at a seminary). But when I go into a Sunday School class and offer my ‘opinion’ on something, the next person to speak will say,’well this is what I think it means’, and usually run off on some rabbit trail that has absolutely nothing to do with the passage, its literary context, historical context, and quite often is completely at odds with the argument the biblical writer is making. And both opinions are given equal weight, and often the less-informed opinion (if it has emotional impact) is given more weight.

      And that’s the way the internet works: Real, mature expertise —-dishes of nourishing (and sometimes delicious!) cuisine — is placed side by side with disinformation and conspiracy theory — pure slop — as if everything on the table is entitled to equal consideration and of equal quality.

      • And if discernment is ever taught, it’s taught more along the lines of party/ideological loyalty than how to actually weigh opposing claims.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          In Christianese, “Discernment” does not mean “seeing the reality beneath the appearance”, but seeing DEMONS and WITCHES under every bed and in every closet.

    • “Anti-intellectualism (ignorance) is seen as a spiritual virtue.” That wasn’t always the case. Within our local church, the pastor had seminary training which included intensive biblical study and being at least conversant in the biblical languages. A trend in seminaries now is to stress entrepreneurial/management skills and moving away from preaching ministry; many do not require Hebrew and Greek. It’s all well and good that seminaries move with the times, but it leads to a shallow pulpit, if not failing in knowledge of the faith.

      I recall the owner of a Christian television network saying theology is “doo-doo”. A controversial article in Christianity Today around Christmas led to attacks against an “elite”. The fury ostensibly had to do with political partisanship. Most condemning the article were high profile evangelicals lacking theological education; those they were criticizing were by all intents and purposes “experts”, and had degrees. Theological education, it seems, has become dangerous to evangelicalism.

      Some time ago, a so-called Christian university dismissed a large part of its theology faculty. Now, they are eliminating the philosophy department. The conclusion Noll and others drew is even more precarious where the presiding “elite” are the rock stars of television and megachurches substitute their persona and stage presence for critical thinking. I imagine we should be somewhat glad for today, because tomorrow will be much worse.

      • I think your church was an admirable exception. Sadly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I recall the owner of a Christian television network saying theology is “doo-doo”.

        Did he actually say it in baby-talk?

    • David Greene says

      Well no offense but even among those with advanced training in biblical studies from world class universities often do not agree. Well they might all agree that some goofy layman’s opinion is nonsensical wrongness. But still they have a wide array of incompatible opinions. What I have seen is that laymen often know their limitations in this arena and so pick some “guru” to follow, maybe N. T. Wright for example.

      In the world of science it is quite different, you get a lot of those folks Mike (the geologist) is talking about. They actively reject those with actual training and knowledge as if it were some great badge of honor.

      • David,

        I completely agree. But as we are learning more about the ancient world all the time, there is a coalescing around some common themes, particularly in biblical studies. It is the nature (and purpose) of research to question and explore, whether in science, history, or biblical studies. One of the major disagreements in the seminary is often between the biblical studies department and the systematic theology department. Biblical studies folks often see the systematic theology folks as bound to the past and often reject the whole idea of ‘systematizing’ while the systematic theology folks often see the biblical studies folks as ‘young whippersnappers’ who are always chasing some new thing. Just as science is always in a state of flux, as our knowledge increases, so is research into ancient history, and biblical studies.

        As it is in the world of science, it is in the church as well (at least evangelical churches). Those with actual training and knowledge may not be actively scorned (they are in some circles – I was warned when I ‘went off to get learnin’ to ‘be careful not to lose your faith’ when I listened to those over-educated know-it-alls), but their ‘opinions’ are usually discounted, often in favor of those who have REALLY ‘experienced God’.

    • Not to argue with your point, but your comment reminds me of one of my favorite Imonk posts:

      https://internetmonk.com/archive/dumb-up-brother-a-spirituality-of-ignorance

      “What I’m going to say to anyone listening is that I see little evidence that great learning or correct doctrine produces Christ-like people.“

      • That may be true, but neither does ignorance. I have found that some of the most mean-spirited people I’ve encountered in church are the least informed about their faith and the most ardent (and sometimes vicious) about defending parts of it. On the other hand, some of the most informed (or at least the most theologically ‘precise’ in their view) can be just as mean-spirited.

        • I agree. I’m not a scholar by any means, but I empathize with your frustrations on a much smaller scale. Small groups can get hijacked by the loudest person in the group not matter how theologically educated.?

  10. Great post! Preach it!

    “Experts come in many flavors. Education enables it, but practitioners in a field acquire expertise through experience; usually the combination of the two is the mark of a true expert in a field.”

    I think this is much of the problem because people are citing the few people with medical credentials that are contributing to the conspiracy theories. They are finding such people to reinforce their views and calling them experts, therefore giving credence to the off-the-wall mindset.

    • Example: “On the afternoon of May 5, Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women’s health physician, shared “Plandemic” with her nearly half a million Facebook followers. Dr. Northrup, who had developed a following from her appearances as a medical expert on “Oprah,” had previously expressed misgivings about vaccines.”

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/technology/plandemic-movie-youtube-facebook-coronavirus.html

      • Robert F says

        And there is a direct line from that video and this sign. This vilifying of experts, and spinning of conspiracy theories around them, is very dangerous.

        • Robert F says

          Correction: …..to this sign.

          • Yes, and a redefinition of who is an expert, and not just any layperson (as Mike the Geologist rightly warns against), but the promotion of anyone with some indirect credentials (such as the doctor from Oprah). That is the type of person many will point to as a basis for, or reaffirmation of, their position.

            • Robert F says

              Oprah did a real disservice to the public by promoting this woman. I believe it’s not the first time, though I’m not a fan and don’t watch Oprah, so I’m not well-informed there.

              • I do not watch her either. I guess neither of us are “experts” on the topic of Oprah.

  11. senecagriggs says

    “Who knew there was ‘herd immunity’ to intelligence.”
    __________

    BUT; Most scientists can’t replicate research studies by their peers

    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39054778

    SO – I always look at new research findings with a jaundiced eye.

    • senecagriggss says

      see: retractionwatch.com

    • Did you read beyond the headline?

      “he problem, it turned out, was not with Marcus Munafo’s science, but with the way the scientific literature had been “tidied up” to present a much clearer, more robust outcome.

      “What we see in the published literature is a highly curated version of what’s actually happened,” he says.

      “The trouble is that gives you a rose-tinted view of the evidence because the results that get published tend to be the most interesting, the most exciting, novel, eye-catching, unexpected results.”

      IOW, the problem is not the scientists, or the process – it’s the journals.

  12. Christiane says

    is it POSSIBLE that it doesn’t matter to people any more about what’s ‘true’ or what’s ‘right’ because they ‘go along to get along’ and the entry into the ‘base’ they want to be in demands that they ‘accept’ a load of bull pucky as proof of ‘loyalty’ to the ‘leader’?

    ?

    • Possible? Actually, likely.

    • Dana Ames says

      That goes for any “leader”, not only the orange-haired one – could be any politician of any stripe, or any religious snake-oil dealer. I think we’re going to have to be more careful about this as time goes on.

      Fr Stephen says his Baptist father-in-law was the holiest man he ever knew, and often said, “Well, I don’t know about that.” And then let the conversation end.

      Dana

  13. Michael Z says

    Related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, in engineering we talk about the U-shaped curve you get if you plot people’s competence in the X axis and confidence in their abilities in the Y axis. As someone gains more knowledge in a field, at first their confidence in their own ability decreases (as they suddenly realize how complex and nuanced it is) but eventually as they truly master it they gain an earned confidence in themselves. (That’s why in job interviews, traditional methods that only assess confidence are not sufficient.)

  14. We have an important decision coming up in a few months. Let’s remember this wise post when we make our choice.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I am not enamored with either option at the moment.

      • Just because neither candidate is perfect does not mean that they are interchangable.

        https://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2020/04/21/were-all-responsible-for-the-responsibilities-we-refuse-to-accept/

        • Rick Ro. says

          I didn’t say they were interchangeable. But they are both seriously flawed, even if for different reasons.

          • Perhaps but there is a clear demarcation to be made between a competent person who you may not agree with who surrounds himself with competent people and a person who has clearly demonstrated dangerous incompetence and who surrounds himself with dangerous incompetents. Remember you’re voting for an administration not just a individual. I find myself voting more against than for in our elections and this time will be no different.

            • Rick Ro. says

              –> “but there is a clear demarcation to be made between a competent person who you may not agree with who surrounds himself with competent people and a person who has clearly demonstrated dangerous incompetence and who surrounds himself with dangerous incompetents.”

              Okay… that is an extremely true and valid point! Better a fool who is smart enough to surround himself with competent advisors than a fool who surrounds himself with fools.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                Isn’t that synonymous with “A fool who HAS to be the Smartest Person in the room”?

        • I vote lesser evil, but as the first commenter to Fred’s post points out, the argument isn’t as cut and dreher Ed as lesser evil augers usually try to claim. For one thing, it has the long term effect of telling Democrats that all they need to be is less evil than the Republicans. All of the moral obligations are placed on the voter and none on the candidate, except for being less evil. We owe them our support and they owe only the promise of being less evil.

          Second, this mindset is quickly extended to every aspect of politics. Many politics obsessed people only care about issues if the issue can be used to make the other side look bad. I know people like this in real life— you can’t say anything critical about a policy favored by some Democrat without the subject quickly veering to “but Republicans are worse”. This isn’t true of everybody ( it isn’t true of Chomsky), but it is true of the vast majority of Democrats I see using this argument.

          Third, it is often used hypocritically. This really ties in with point two. We are told we have to vote for the Democrat or innocent people will suffer. Okay, I buy that. However, in most cases I never see these people talk about the suffering of innocent people caused by Democrats.

          Take the war in Yemen. Despite what the NYT recently implied, the people in the Obama Administration were very nearly as bad as Trump. We helped and are helping the Saudis murder civilians. The majority of liberals didn’t want to hear about it when it as Obama’s war. But once it became Trump’s crime, they came around to seeing how outrageous it was.

          So I support the Democrats for a few minutes in the voting both, but outside of that people should pay attention to what is right or wrong without caring which party is made to look good or bad. The majority of people who try to vote shame you into voting for the Democrat won’t do this. I stopped reading Fred Clark largely because I think he is guilty of this.

          • Some annoying spell- checked caused yp is up above, but hopefully you can make out what I meant.

          • Robert F says

            What you’ve said makes a lot of sense. Our foreign policy has been hellish for Yemen for many years now. And there are other issues where Democratic and Republican administrations have competed in amorality, and immorality. All true.

  15. One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from a TV show, specifically the “New Ground” episode of Stargate: SG-1, where Nyan,a scientist on another world responds to one of the SG-1 team members asking him why he’s not devastated finding out his hypothesis was wrong – “Teal’c, I’m a scientist. When I find evidence that my theories are wrong, it’s as exciting as if they were correct.” THAT is what science is all about!

    • Robert F says

      But when grants and funding are linked to a line of study, and it doesn’t pan out, a lot of money can be lost for individual scientists, and even more for the institutions that employ them. It may not be so exciting, in that case, to have one’s theory punctured. Scientists are human, the vast majority of them are not rich, and they will be biased toward their own income-generating theories, and gainful employment. That doesn’t mean they lie about it, but their framing of data may be influenced, even unconsciously. That’s why it’s crucial to have the whole community of scientists checking up on each other — and that’s what they do, when the community is operating well, they subject each others theories to the most extreme skepticism, they check up on each other. Part of this in driven by an understanding of human nature, and its tendency to fudge results in favor of personally and institutionally preferred outcomes.

      • That is true, thankfully. However, that doesn’t seem to apply to conspiracy theories, or almost anything when Christians are involved.

        Back when I was at home with Evangelicals it never ceased to amaze me how much credibility was given to someone if they were a ‘believer’. I was invited to participate in what were clearly ponzi schemes (nobody with any credit-worthiness will pay 30% interest for a 90 day loan of $50,000), given the hard-sell for magnets that cured everything (by aligning the iron in the blood as it flows past the magnet), and all sorts of supplements (like colloidal silver). They were all legitimate because everyone involved was a Christian so any sort of questioning was an affront, almost an attack on their faith.

        I remember asking a friend who was selling magnets if I could try one for a month to see if it worked, then I would buy it if it did. He responded, almost offended, ‘your doctor doesn’t give you free samples, does he?’ As I thought about it later my answer should have been: ‘yes he does, quite often’.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Back when I was at home with Evangelicals it never ceased to amaze me how much credibility was given to someone if they were a ‘believer’.

          “And you’ll only drink milk
          If it comes from a CHRISTIAN cow —
          Don’t spend your hard-earned bread
          Keeping those HEATHENS well fed —
          Line CHRISTIAN pockets instead!”
          — Steve Taylor, “Guilty by Association”, 1984
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RRjpvsmzBE

      • And if Christians have not noticed their gullibility, you can be absolutely assured that the hucksters HAVE.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Didn’t Mike Bell work in advertising/sponsorship for a radio station once?
          Whose policy was if a CHRISTIAN(TM) advertiser, Cash in Advance, No Exceptions, they’d gotten burned so often? Even crackheads had a better credit rating.

      • The excellence of the scientific *method* is obvious. But a lot of folks confuse “science” with “scientists,” who are as human as the rest of us.

        (From The Guardian, April 11): “The great physicist Max Planck put the pessimistic case in 1950. A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, he said. Rather, “its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.

        Planck’s admirers condensed his argument into a phrase that is a little too resonant today: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    But it is now resurging in this country because otherwise seemingly intelligent people aren’t vaccinating their children. And they are following, not the advice of medical professionals or their own doctors, but this…this… this… ditz

    B-But she’s a CELEBRITY!!!!!

    “If you vote for someone just because your favorite rock star voted for them, YOU’RE DUMBER THAN WE ARE!”
    — Alice Cooper

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      P.S. It’s only a matter of time before Anti-Vaxx becomes another Litmus Test of Salvation.

      A couple years ago, we had our first Whooping Cough outbreak in a century.
      It was in one of the most upscale parts of the San Fernando Valley.

      Soon after, a map of Greater Los Angeles showing childhood vaccination rates showed up in news media. With a couple exceptions, the lowest vaccination rates were in the most affluent areas. Guess money acts as a magic shield against Whooping Cough. (Hmmmm… Tell that to FDR regarding polio.)

      • Doesn’t surprise me. If you’re rich enough to send your kid to private school, you can choose a school that will overlook vaccination requirements. Poor people don’t have that “luxury”.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Actually, the highest vaccination rates on the map were in the slums & barrios. Barrios with a lot of dirt-poor under-the-table immigrants from Mexico or Central America where they probably buried a couple kids from those diseases in the old country before coming here. THEY made sure they and their kids were vaccinated.

      • Radagast says

        Having done a lot of Genealogy, I read the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (digitalized and on =line) just for fun. It gives quite of view of the goings-on of city life in the mid to late 1800s. It should be required reading for anti-vaxers as it tells first hand stories of the pandemics that frequented New York/Brooklyn each year including small pox, cholera, consumption, whooping cough and sometimes diphtheria and dysentery. We as a society tend to forget the death rates before vaccines.

        • Just go to any cemetery older than the 1950s, and see just how many of those buried there are children…

    • Actually, Alice Cooper is one of the few celebrities whose opinions might actually carry some weight with me. 😉

      • Eeyore, very good point about Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper was very upset when rock and rollers etc. started giving opinions and endorsements to politicians as he felt that was not proper for rock as perhaps they were not experts?

        • There are two types of people – the wise, who know they are fools; and the foolish, who think they are wise.

        • Robert F says

          That goes for entertainers in general, like reality show hosts. The idea that a rock star or reality show host would know how govern, how to run the country, why it’s just ridiculous, isn’t it dan?

          • Robert F. Yes , unless the voters , voting on the issues voted for the reality show host who had other qualities. Resumes are important to the establishment. We elected a community organizer with an undistinguished state senate senate career, was a very short term Senator with no proven record of accomplishment to be President also. If the constitutional requirements which are very minimum are met , anyone can be President that the voters decide is worthy. Our first President always considered himself a farmer. If the Hollywood and celebrity crowd want to run for office and make their positions policy they should and let the voters decide. Paul Ryan is a perfect (bad) example of those who grew up and know the political system. Again up to voters, we voted for a movie star, a peanut farmer , a blue blood from New England , a career politician from Ark. and a guy who did nothing with his life til he somehow became Gov. of Tx and then President. Up to the voters.

            • Robert F says

              I actually have no objection to celebrities of any kind offering their opinions on political matters, or running for office. It’s incumbent on their fans not to take their words as gospel. But for decades conservatives have been insisting that liberal celebrities — and it does seem to me that most politically vocal celebrities seem to be liberal — should just be quiet, don’t know what they’re talking about, and should be ignored. Now these same conservatives have elected a man whose real success has been as a celebrity, marketing product as a celebrity, and maintaining his public profile high as a TV star. They really have no ground to stand on when it comes to criticizing celebrities for voicing political viewpoints.

              • Robert F. No conservatives of any note have any problem with freedom of speech by anyone. However when certain well known people use their social status to give political opinions than they are opening themselves up to examination of their opinions. President Trump ran for President, explained his policy on the issues and was elected. Aylissa Milano for example is always in the news and invited to political/state events and is a free agent with no skin in the game. I give great credit to Ashley Judd who had the courage and fortitude to run for office, stand before the voters and put herself and her beliefs on the voting ballot. She lost but she did what she thought was right. I do not care what any celebrity liberal or conservative thinks about an issue unless they are an expert or have some insight on the issues..I do not think only conservatives voted for Trump or he would not have won the traditionally blue states. The experts on the Me Too side are in a pretzel on always believe the woman, so were they really experts or just using the issue for a political result? I lot of what we are talking about is credibility , who is credible? Why are they credible? This is a very complicated issue especially in our internet , steaming, cable 24/7 news age.

                • Robert F says

                  Alyssa Milano? She’s had her share of death threats; that puts her skin in the game.

                  • Robert F. Look at Rose McGowen treatment and her status compared to Alyssa Milano. I do not think A. Milano or too many celebrity people really have any apprehension about speaking their mind and unfortunately in the internet age morons do have access to communication. I think, in my opinion Rose McGowen has credibility due to her history of exposing powerful people in the industry vs. Milano who takes a rather political tinged opinion on the issue. This is all tied into the old Johnny Carson Show , Who Do You Trust and then we can add our question why.

            • It is possible for someone with little effective experience in politics to make a good president – if they surround themselves with, and listen to, good advisors. (i.e. EXPERTS) When a president surrounds themselves with ideologues and yes-men… that’s where the trouble starts.

  17. senecagriggs says

    Bill Nye, the NON science guy.

    • Robert F says

      What? Is there some scandal associated with Bill Nye? Not that it really would make any difference for the value of science — he’s just one person — but I am curious what you’re talking about.

      • Probably has to do with Nye’s hostility to YEC/Creation Science…

        • Robert F says

          Oh, right. Something that all real scientists, doing real science, agree on.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Science” falsely so-called….
            — 1 Timothy 6:20

            Actually, the word translated as “science” probably translated through the Latin “Scientas”, meaning “Knowledge”. Once you realize that, the meaning flips 180 to a description of the Dunning-Kreuger Effect.

            And now that 2000-year-old idiom for the Dunning-Kreuger Effect is quoted to SCRIPTURally justify a Holy Dunning-Kreuger Effect.

    • Didn’t he have a televised debate about evolution with a Christian leader who has no scientific or theological credentials?

      • Robert F says

        Last year a fake social media story was circulated about Nye having been arrested for making and selling illegal drugs, but I don’t think senecag would be foolish enough to fall for that one.

  18. https://fightthenewdrug.org/15-things-experts-got-proved-wrong/

    I linked the above just for some fun trivia of selective editing of when some experts were wrong at some time. I do not think most people would think I know more about the Theory of Relativity than Einstein unless it is my theory that my cousin Mike is very overweight and dumb, which I think has be proven by science and affirmed by nature. However I was surprised at the anti porn tie in at the end using expert analysis to make a point, so are the anti porn experts right? or are they not the true experts?

    Yes, I would take Don Herbert over Bill Nye.

    • A-HEM…

      “Although Fight the New Drug purports to present “just the facts” regarding the effects of pornography, this has been disputed. James Hablin of The Atlantic described their approach as “a just-some-of-the-facts approach”, “less transparent than an openly ideologically-driven strategy”, and noted that evidence for a link between pornography and negative health outcomes was inconclusive.[3] Samantha Allen of The Daily Beast described the group’s message as “rooted in pseudoscience”, criticizing the analogy of porn as a drug as contradictory to neuroscience research. Allen noted the campaign as an example of continued influence by LDS Church members over social issues, and pointed to the group launching the billboards in San Francisco as evidence of them intentionally targeting socially progressive regions.[6] In an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, a group of sex therapists stated that Fight the New Drug’s leaders and presenters were not mental health nor sexuality professionals and did not have sufficient training to address these subjects appropriately, and noted that a claim by the group, that pornography affects the brain like drugs, is false because pornography does not introduce chemicals into the brain.[10]”

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight_the_New_Drug

      Lesson One in discernment – Vet Your Sources.

      • Robert F says

        The claim to be an expert, even when made by others on one’s behalf, does not mean that one is actually an expert.

        • Eeyore/Robert F. absolutely that is why the problem in todays world is growing. Who defines the expert and how do you make a value judgement on the experts opinion. Looking into the wikipedia article that Eeyore linked it seems the two people cited as sources perhaps experts were actually writers for the Atlantic and the Daily Beast. Ok, that is not a deal killer, they should have credentials . James Habin has a medical education and seems to have a solid medical background but is not a researcher . Samantha Allen, was raised a conservative Mormon, left in 2008 , is a transgender and seems to be an advocate. She has a good educational background and certainly seems accomplished. However , here is the nub of the problem, are the New Drug guys to be totally discounted as they are not true experts ? Or are the wikipedia sources to be discounted as they are not experts in the field any more than the New Drug guys. Now it comes down to us as individuals, where do we as individuals decide on where to stand on the issue? An NBC says “the more you know” perhaps the better your decision. Who vets wikipedia? Who vetted the article, I do not know, I am asking but the article was good info

          • Robert F says

            It wasn’t info, it was some data curated by opinion. That it was presented as objective analysis of hard data makes it an exercise in deception.

            • Robert F says

              I’m talking about the article you linked to — it’s deceptive because the writers present it as hard data rather than opinion supported with some inconclusive data.

              • Robert F. Thanks, I get it and think you and Eeyore have explained it well. I agree and it does all go back to the individual to be as vigilant as they can .

          • “Who vetted the article, I do not know,”

            As I noted below, that information is easy to find out. Look at the article’s history and talk pages. Wikipedia (unlike most other sites) is VERY open about that process.

  19. Eeyore, thanks for a excellent follow up answer to my question. It underscores the point of experts. I happen as an untrained lay person to agree with the anti porn guys that porn is not good for many reasons. So if the “experts” in the whatever field of study have studies that porn is not harmful to the general public in some areas , I would question that finding. However , I think that bringing forth the issue and addressing the issue as the New Drug people are doing is helpful as it moves the discussion forward so perhaps definitive science methodology can give more detailed answers but I doubt porn would be deemed a positive for society at large. However , that does not mean it should be illegal etc. but that people knowing what the experts in many fields have studied and arrived at a conclusion can reach their own conclusion based on their personal factors for themselves. Is wikipedia always a good source for expert analysis but it is a source.

    • Bringing up the issue as a *moral/ethical* issue is fine. Bringing it up as a *scientific* one, and then using poor work that happens to support your pre-determined ethical conclusion, is NOT fine.

    • Also, the great thing about Wikipedia is that (if the article is properly policed) articles will have footnotes and be held to basic standards of argumentation. A good indicator of where an article stands in that light is to look at its Talk page and see what issues have been brought up about it (and by whom).

  20. It would have been indelicate for Nichols to note this in an article on The Federalist, but only one side of the political divide has institutionalized incompetence. Yes, the left has its share of whackos. Anti-vaxxers occupy both sides. But the Democratic Party is mostly successful at not making this kind of stuff its party line.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “But the Democratic Party is mostly successful at not making this kind of stuff its party line.”

      Exactly. What I think is happening the past 10-15 years is that the GOP has gotten into the (bad) habit of labeling anything they don’t like as a Democratic position. So suddenly things (like this pandemic) become politically charged and us vs. them issues when they really needn’t be. Take global warming, as another case in point. Why did that become such a politically charged deal? Why couldn’t Repiblicans look at the same data and just say, Yeah, this is what it’s telling us.

      I think the GOP will end up marginalizing themselves even more than they have as time moves on. These observations over the years is what has led me away from that Party. I see way too many people taking stances just because that dont make sense just because the opposite stance is viewd as Democrat.

      And Heck… if QAnon folks start running the party, look out!

      • “Take global warming, as another case in point. Why did that become such a politically charged deal? Why couldn’t Repiblicans look at the same data and just say, Yeah, this is what it’s telling us.”

        Because if the problem is as big and entrenched as the data implicates, then the problem is caused by our commitment to continuous economic growth powered by fossil fuels, and can only be solved by massive government intervention – and Republicans are passionately devoted to the former, and utterly hostile to the latter.

      • The group that fascinates me is the self-identified libertarians. The ditto-heads are going to believe whatever they are told to believe. That is uninteresting. But the self-identified libertarians have the self-image of hard-headed rationalists. That allows them, when they come to some particularly loathsome conclusion (often the same as FoxNews and Rush are feeding their followers), to dolefully agree that yes, this is unfortunately, but we must not let sentimentality get in the way of reason. It is entirely possible to construct a coherent argument for keeping the economy open and just taking the hit. This is what Sweden did. Yet the self-identified libertarian crowd has instead gone the truther route, that actual infectious disease experts don’t know what they are talking about and this is all overblown. Why is this? My guess is that “Let Grandma die so stock prices stay up” is a loathsome conclusion too far, even for them. Lots of people are working their way around to this position, but few are willing to say it out loud, and even fewer were willing to take that as their opening position.

        • Robert F says

          Sweden’s relatively lax coronavirus policy doesn’t seem to be turning out too well. It looks like they may end up with the highest death rate in Europe, and without the benefit of herd immunity that their approach was supposed to expedite. Today it’s being reported that only around 7% of the population of Sweden has been infected with the coronavirus, which is not much different from other European countries, and a long long way from “herd immunity.” Many Swedish people have retreated from normal activities on their own, and they won’t come out until they think it’s safe, or safer. And that could be never.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        The Guardian informed me about today. I want to order it and read it.

        It sounds very intriguing, with the possibility of moving our political and economic discourse away from our Augustinian underpinnings towards a more Orthodox anthropology.

        We have never been at a loss for good advice. An enemy has done this.

      • anonymous says

        too late

    • Dana Ames says

      the Democratic Party is mostly successful at not making this kind of stuff its party line

      “Mostly” is the key word here. There are some Democrats who have their own litmus tests and articles of faith that must not be questioned.

      Dana

  21. Rick Ro. says

    Thanks for the link to Nichols’ article and your own take on this, Mike the Geo. Very good read.

  22. I read Tom Nichols’ book a few months ago (https://www.amazon.com/Death-Expertise-Campaign-Established-Knowledge/dp/0190469412)
    It is excellent. And sobering because, as he posits, a democratic society cannot last long if its citizens embrace ignorance and demean experts. If everyone’s truth is equal, then everyone inhabits their own reality and we can never embrace our community as a country. One chapter of the book discusses experts in a feel who, because of their expertise, believe they are experts in every field. I have know quite a few of those in my day and they are nearly impossible to sway from their opinions.

    I’d urge anyone here reading this to do yourself a favor and get a copy of the book. It’s worth reading.

    • “One chapter of the book discusses experts in a feel who, because of their expertise, believe they are experts in every field.”

      The fallacy upon which all celebrity advertising is based. 😛

  23. senecagriggs says

    “It is excellent. And sobering because, as he posits, a democratic society cannot last long if its citizens embrace ignorance and demean experts. If everyone’s truth is equal, then everyone inhabits their own reality and we can never embrace our community as a country. One chapter of the book discusses experts in a feel who, because of their expertise, believe they are experts in every field. I have know quite a few of those in my day and they are nearly impossible to sway from their opinions. ”
    __________________________-_-

    Welcome to the world as it is; not as we wish it would be.

    Seneca “Don Quixote” Griggs smile

  24. Klasie Kraalogies says

    There is always this gem of a quote by Isaac

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    This was published in 1980. What we observe now is not something new. We just see it more because of social media.

    Here is a link to a pdf of the original article:

    https://aphelis.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/ASIMOV_1980_Cult_of_Ignorance.pdf

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Social Media just makes communication easier, faster, and more widespread.
      For Better AND For Worse.

      Now anyone can link up with like-minded types online and achieve Critical Mass.

  25. Mike the G , Just want to add how much I have enjoyed your article and the comments from so many here today. I have actually learned or furthered my knowledge on several issues that I would not explored. This is such an important and basic issue. My main concern is the power of the internet and the move by many people to only interact with those they agree with. Sometimes , even my brother in law is right about something so it is hard for me to keep an open mind. Anyway , this has made my day better and giving me food for thought and I think my brain was dying as I had it on a diet. Headless Guy comments at 4 pm summed it up well. Much good stuff here today from many , in my opinion , but I am no expert. I cannot even get names right.

  26. senecagriggs says

    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance about the transmission of COVID-19, saying that the virus “does not spread easily” off surfaces as it was first believed.”

    As we’ve seen before, a little bit of cynicism goes a long way towards wisdom when the “experts” opine.

    • One must differentiate between the actual experts and the people who make the public announements. And also allow for the fact that, when facing a new situation (in this case a virus), information will change as further studies are done. Science is not an all-or-nothing thing – just like theology. But then again, you’re an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so…

      • Robert F says

        Right. I read this, what seneca cited, in the news yesterday, and it didn’t sound like news to me. The gist of the story was that coronavirus is not primarily transmitted via contaminated surfaces, but we should be vigilant and careful by wiping frequently used surfaces down, and washing hands after touching surfaces. No change, really. The fact is there’s no way in the short time the virus has been around to know its longevity or potency on all the surfaces we encounter every day; that will take years of study. Experts are mostly using their experience with transmission of other viruses to guide recommendations and guidelines. The basic advice is: be careful with all surfaces. That hasn’t changed since almost the beginning of this crisis.

      • Robert F says

        Some people seem to expect — and even demand — science to produce nearly instantaneous miracles. That exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is and how it works.

  27. Late to this but:

    Not liking the answer/message does not mean it is wrong.

  28. Very weird to me on a post-evangelical website that no one has commented on the connection (causai relationship, I’d say) with post-modernism. This is what the modernists were warning us about.