Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman pointed out that science is iconoclastic. He quipped that “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Good science is edgy, takes risks, thinks outside of the box. Real experts are good at what they do, and they understand and acknowledge their own ignorance and welcome controversies and new insights.
Economist Alexander Salter at Texas Tech has an excellent essay for the American Institute for Economic Research. From “Incompetent Experts and Bad Government”:
Experts in the supposedly scientific fields of public health and economics have made a mess of things. Their failures would be comedic, were the consequences not so tragic. Instead of capable service for the public’s welfare, the American people have been made to suffer incompetence and malfeasance. Unless we critically examine the failure of experts, we invite similar blunders in the future… In terms of incompetence, it would be difficult to top this country’s public health officials. Case in point is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, as it describes itself, “saves lives and protects people from health, safety, and security threats.” In truth, it has directly contributed to the opposite.
If This Were a Novel
Salter rightly takes the CDC to task, noting that we lag behind most other advanced nations in our testing for the coronavirus, and it is mostly the CDC’s fault. Working physicians, including my colleagues here in New York at the corona front line, are acutely aware of that. You’d think that the agency tasked with prevention of pandemics would be ahead of the curve, but it was not. Testing is essential for safely reemerging from our quarantine and also essential if we are to understand the epidemiological dynamics of this virus. Even after the CDC failed to sound the alarm to close our borders to people, from Wuhan and then Europe, who were vectors for this virus — we had excellent reason to know in December that this was coming — the models for death rates and need for medical resources were basically worthless. These models led us to make political and economic decisions based on faulty science. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the WHO. For months, the World Health Organization covered up the seriousness of this threat to world health. If this were a novel, we’d conclude that the plot was too bizarre to believe.
There is another sharp irony here: Internet atheists (and some journalists) have used the pandemic to bash religious believers and to imply that the “anti-intellectual” behavior of people of faith plays a large role in the spread of this virus. Of course, it is the Chinese scientific establishment — the largest community of atheist scientific experts on earth — who inflicted this pandemic on the world. Perhaps a little belief in transcendent moral accountability would have tweaked the consciences of the “freethinking” scientific experts and politicians in China when they dissembled and covered up and let this virus spread, just to protect their own backsides. The pandemic didn’t start at a church barbecue. There is a context to the scientific and political culture in China that spawned this atrocity.
Certainly, Listen to Dr. Fauci
Will it then be another 36 months of this — “and that’s my best-case scenario” — as journalistic “Cassandra” Laurie Garrett predicts to a deferential Frank Bruni in the New York Times? That would be the end not only of our economy but of Western civilization.
America needs good information, from many rigorously designed studies, about the prevalence and deadliness of coronavirus infections in given subsets of people, so that governors and mayors can develop rules for social distancing and reopening that are sensible, sustainable and tailored to the situation at hand.
America needs a federal government that assertively promotes and helps to coordinate that, not one in which experts like Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx tiptoe around a president’s tender ego.
Should it, then, be the experts, with their models and studies, who are the ones ultimately in charge, freed from “tiptoeing” around political leaders and the voters who lawfully elect them?
On the contrary. We, the American people, need to establish some limits on the authority of our “experts.” By all means listen to what Dr. Fauci has to say, what Bill Gates has to say. But listen to many other voices as well, inside and outside of the circle of public health doyens. The American people is sovereign and we must take counsel together to decide on the best course of action. The American scientific community has become a secular priesthood that desperately needs laicization.
We need to understand, too, that the experts who botched this pandemic are the same people who tell us we are obliged to embrace the “consensus” in other matters: that Darwin’s theory is a fact, that the mind is meat, that quantum mechanics is the “nothing” from which the universe popped into existence, that free will isn’t real, and that science disproves God’s existence. Science by consensus is science by guild, and as we are seeing now, rule by the science guild is not merely unwise, it is deadly. Just when we are putting masks on, the science guild’s mask is falling off.