The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Against ‘Experts’ and the ‘Elite’: Because All of Us Know More Than Any of Us

Posted on | April 14, 2020 | 1 Comment

Here’s a secret that isn’t really a secret: I am opinionated.

I know what you’re saying: “Where is Sarah Hoyt’s shocked face?”

The reason I’m opinionated is because I know a lot of stuff. From the time I was 7 years old, my hobby was reading The World Book Encyclopedia, and I’d more or less read the whole thing by age 12. Having a lot of knowledge tends to make one confident in one’s opinions, and thus I became an obnoxious know-it-all at an early age. Arrogant punk that I was, there followed a sort of graduate training program in the School of Hard Knocks, whereby I added “street smart” to my bookish achievements, and I have never stopped learning.

Have some of my opinions changed? Yes, rather drastically in some cases, but when you get to be my age, you ought to have formed quite solid opinions on the subjects that you know best, while also gaining wisdom enough to adopt an attitude of intellectual humility in regard to subjects with which you are less familiar. When it comes to epidemiology, I have tried to avoid being like those Twitter pundits who, as recently as February, were regaling us with their expert opinions of Ukraine and the constitutional limits on presidential authority, only to switch hats quite suddenly and begin posing as authorities on contagious disease.

Who are these people? Why do they consider themselves all-purpose experts, and expect the rest of us to accept their opinions as authoritative? Quite simply, they are members of the intelligentsia, calling to mind a famous aphorism of George Orwell: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” Members of the intelligentsia specialize in persuasion, employing their superior skill in the use of language to advance particular views on various subjects — economics, politics, etc.

Yet it is a fact, as true in our era as it was in Orwell’s, that many members of the intelligentsia are fools who, by their superior skill in rhetoric, become articulate proponents for bad ideas.

Let me emphasize this point: Rhetorical cleverness can easily be mistaken for being right, if you care so much about the form of argument that you can be persuaded by mere eloquence. Think about the so-called philosophes of 18th-century France — Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, et al. — whose ideas were so influential in provoking the French Revolution. Perhaps most mischievous of these was Rousseau, whom Edmund Burke acknowledged as “a writer of great force and vivacity” with “a style glowing, animated, enthusiastic,” and yet wholly vicious in his influence. Of the revolutionaries who would soon murder thousands of their fellow citizens by the guillotine and other means, Burke wrote: “Rousseau is their canon of holy writ . . . he is their standard figure of perfection.” And it has remained true, for more than 200 years, that nearly every genuinely bad idea in the world first emerged from the mind of a French philosopher. Don’t get me started on Foucault. But I digress . . .

It is enough to persuade some people of the truth of an opinion that it is widely endorsed by “experts.” Some people who in general disdain religion nevertheless have a mystical reverence toward academic credentials. Some people would believe that frogs could fly, if the argument in favor of this proposition was offered by a Harvard professor with a Ph.D., and published as an op-ed in the New York Times.

Think about the scientific “consensus” in favor of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW, also known known as “climate change”). There are scientists who are skeptical toward this theory, but such is the practice of modern academia that all research funding in this area is monopolized by those who endorse the “consensus” view. So the skeptics are marginalized, even while the predictions made by proponents of AGW theory prove to be false, and such eminent climate-change “experts” as Michael Mann resort to lawsuits in an effort to silence their critics. (“Creator of Global-Warming’s Infamous ‘Hockey Stick’ Chart Loses ‘Climate-Science’ Lawsuit.”) Many similar examples could be cited of credentialed experts whose once-popular ideas have since been discredited, but the point is that idolatry of expert authority has caused serious problems in our society because so many (allegedly) educated people lack the kind of common-sense skepticism necessary to independent thought. If there were a “consensus” among Ivy League professors that frogs can fly, the editors of the New York Times would never express the slightest doubt. And such has been the case, generally, with the media’s treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.

In January, and continuing through most of February, the danger of the Chinese disease was widely dismissed by Democrats and the media:

Trump’s critics want us to forget, for example, that when the president announced a ban on travel from China on Jan. 31, many of them condemned this measure as a racist overreaction. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science,” Joe Biden said the day after the China travel ban was announced . . .
The headline on a Jan. 28 BuzzFeed article advised Americans, “Don’t Worry About The Coronavirus. Worry About The Flu.” On Jan. 29, Farhad Manjoo published a column in the New York Times with the headline “Beware the Pandemic Panic.” Manjoo downplayed the danger of the virus and instead cautioned, “What worries me more than the new disease is that fear of a vague and terrifying new illness might spiral into panic, and that it might be used to justify unnecessarily severe limits on movement and on civil liberties, especially of racial and religious minorities around the world.” One thing we can never expect from elite journalists is accountability. Rather than admitting his own errors, Manjoo simply pivoted to blaming Trump: “Coronavirus Is What You Get When You Ignore Science” was the headline on his March 4 column, in which he asserted that the president had “gut the United States’ pandemic-response infrastructure.”

When did the “consensus” shift? It was right after the “Super Tuesday” primary, when Biden finally showed he could stop the Bernie Sanders insurgency, that the media decided that Trump was “ignor[ing] science” by failing to do more than he had already done. Now? The media is keeping up a drumbeat that nationwide lockdown orders must be continued indefinitely. To advance this argument, the media keeps repeating the cumulative death-toll from COVID-19, ignoring the fact that (a) the vast majority of these deaths are in a handful of major urban areas, and (b) on a per-capita basis, the pandemic in the United States is much less severe than in Europe. In most parts of America, the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t been nearly as widespread or as deadly as in the big cities, but the media is keeping up their incessant fear-mongering theme, because they’re deliberately seeking to cause a prolonged recession for which they will blame Trump. And their justification, you see, is their professed faith in “science” and “experts.”

This faith treats a certain small number of people as a secular priesthood, qualified to speak ex cathedra on all things scientific, whose judgment on such matters is beyond dispute. Yet the scientific “experts” behind the IHME model spectacularly failed to project the trajectory of the pandemic, and why? Because skepticism was forbidden. No one inside Dr. Murray’s IHME cabal would have dared to question the accuracy of the computer model they utilized to create their projection.

Discredited by failure, however, the priesthood can still do no wrong in the eyes of their worshipful admirers in the media. And so “science” is invoked as the basis of arguments for why Florida, for example, cannot be allowed to end its statewide shutdown orders. In case you didn’t notice (CNN won’t report this) Florida has already “flattened the curve” of its COVID-19 outbreak. The statewide number of daily new cases reported peaked April 3 — more than a week ago — at 1,308 and last week, Monday through Friday, averaged about 1,100 new cases daily. So the dreaded “surge” of new cases that Florida had been warned about is already over, and the state’s hospital system was not overwhelmed. Indeed, fewer than 3,000 Floridians have ever been hospitalized with COVID-19. The state’s cumulative total of cases (21,019) represents an infection rate of 98 per 100,000 residents, which is 99% lower than the rate in New York. Keep in mind, of course, that 59% of all Florida coronavirus cases are in three counties — Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — yet the entire state has been under a lockdown order.

See my point? If the public data is available, everybody with sufficient interest and knowledge can run their own analysis, and interrogate the “science” behind these foolish policies, without the media distorting the story by reporting cumulative totals of cases and deaths, as if this were the number that actually mattered most. From a public-health perspective, however, the issue is whether the spread of the contagion is so rapid that it overwhelms the health-care system. Outside of three counties, Florida has never had that problem and likely never will. The net number of hospitalizations in the state went down slightly on Monday, the governor reported, and if this trend continues another week, by next Monday (April 20), we can guess that the number of new cases daily will be in the vicinity of 700. By May 1, even the “hot spots” in Dade County will probably be under control.

This problem with the failed “expert” projections of disaster (the IHME predicted that Florida’s pandemic wouldn’t peak until early May) is that no one person — not even the most experienced and credentialed scientist — possesses as much knowledge as all the rest of us combined. This is a point that the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek made, and it was the subject of James Surowiecki’s 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The Internet makes possible a form of research known as “crowd sourcing,” where everyone interested in a subject collaborates to find answers, and it’s amazing to see how this works. If the “experts” are wrong, the rest of us can grab hold of the facts to prove them wrong.

Here is a commenter (“miked765”) at Instapundit:

As of today rounded approximate numbers from show the states of NY/Jersey/Michigan account for approx 276k of the US 561k cases, just about half of all US cases. These same three states combine for approx 13k the est. 22k covid-deaths in the US, about 59% of all US deaths. Combined population of NY/NJ/Mich is 38 million. These are the only three US states with 1k+ covid fatalities. Michigan 6% death rate is the highest in the US, a full point higher than second-place New York.
However…California has 39 million population, but 11k cases and 651 deaths.
Texas population 29 million, approx 14k cases 271 deaths
Florida population 21 million, 21k cases, 474 deaths
That’s 89 million people, 46k combined cases and 1,396 combined fatalities, a fraction of the combined totals in NY/NJ/MI.
By contrast, Spain 46 million population approx 169k cases, 17k deaths.
South Korea 51 million population 10k cases, 211 deaths
This is why you cant compare the USA with any other country. We have both an entire Spain and an entire South Korea within our border in terms of relative harm done by/success fighting the virus.

This is not — NOT — a nationwide crisis, and our coronavirus pandemic is not — NOT — nearly as bad as Europe’s, on a per-capita basis.

You see? We may not be “experts,” but some of us can do basic arithmetic, while the “elite” journalists can’t seem to figure it out.



One Response to “Against ‘Experts’ and the ‘Elite’: Because All of Us Know More Than Any of Us”

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    April 20th, 2020 @ 4:47 pm

    […] more than most people, this fact by itself doesn’t exactly give them the ability to calculate simple math or make dispassionate observations. Let’s face it, most of them are pretty average. […]