“We must not assume that a group of experts somehow knows what is best,” said US Senator Rand Paul yesterday. COVID-19 is out of control in the United States. And such a deep lack of respect for knowledge may be the reason.
Senator Paul is by no means the only one to refuse advice from an epidemiologist. In the United States, the former ophthalmologist’s lack of confidence in experience, education and specialized knowledge is rampant.
It is an attitude that is developing rapidly in the rest of the world.
It is an attitude that persists even in the face of undeniable evidence.
Senior Washington-based politicians like him argue that the United States must rush to reopen its economy.
And this despite the state after the state declared that its hospitals were on the verge of overload. Let the COVID-19 cases explode. This contact tracking fails. Let people ignore the advice to wear masks and wash your hands.
And people – especially the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions – die.
How did we get here? We live in a world of information overload. And that is actively exploited by commercial and political actors, says Tom Nichols, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College.
“Unable to understand all the complexity that surrounds them, (people and politicians) instead choose to understand almost nothing, then sneakily blame elites for taking control of their lives,” writes Nichols.
Experts suggest. Elected leaders dispose. But it is very rare for elected politicians to be experts, especially in the framework of modern mechanisms of corporatized political parties. Senator Paul was the first American senator to contract the virus. Now he says medical experts must “be careful in their forecasts” even as the south and west of the nation falter in a second wave.
He said Americans “just need more optimism” for a committee hearing on the pandemic, including the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci had just warned that the United States was in the process of experiencing up to 100,000 new cases a day.
Paul wants schools to reopen. He wants clubs and restaurants to reopen. He wants sports events to be allowed.
“All I hear, Dr. Fauci, is,” We can’t do this, we can’t do that. We can’t play baseball, “he said.
The Kentucky senator believed that American citizens would become a “flock with a few people in Washington telling us what to do, and we like sheep to follow blindly.”
He did not address the alternative scenario of a non-expert shepherd.
And that, says Nichols, is a sign of how “dangerously unraveled” the democratic dependence on expert input and representative decision-making is.
An ophthalmologist is not a virologist. A real estate agent is not a diplomat. A marketing manager is not an economist.
But, with some effort, these people can understand and balance the counter arguments.
“The laity cannot do without experts, and they must accept this reality without resentment,” writes Nichols. “Likewise, the experts must accept that they get a hearing, not a veto, and that their advice will not always be followed.”
Ignorance is happiness
For many, ignorance is a virtue. Especially in politics. It is better to blindly and loudly proclaim support for the established – although outdated – dogma of the tribe than to tackle change. Getting it wrong just never comes into it.
“Principled and informed arguments are a sign of intellectual health and vitality in a democracy,” says Nichols. “I’m worried because we don’t have those kinds of arguments anymore, just angry outbursts.”
It is an attitude virus that has spread through social and traditional media, political party halls and bars around the world.
“Rejecting expert advice is tantamount to asserting autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from harmful elites – and to protect their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told that they are wrong.”
The problem is not to have opinions. It is a critical thought. And critical thinking does not exist if one cannot accept the possibility of being wrong.
“I fear that we are going beyond a natural skepticism towards the assertions of experts concerning the death of the ideal of the expertise itself: a collapse fueled by Google, based on Wikipedia and blocked on a blog, of any division between professionals and laymen, teachers and students, connoisseurs and wonders – in other words, between those who have succeeded in a field and those who do not, “says Nichols.
Expertise has become a product “off the shelf”. A service. Nichols maintains that, for example, people are happy to see a doctor for diabetes medication. But not for a lecture on their diet and lifestyle – the real cause of the problem in the first place.
“(People want) that their opinions be treated with deep respect and that their preferences be honored not on the basis of their arguments or the evidence they present, but on the basis of their feelings, emotions and false information that they may have collected here or there along the way. “
Senator Paul does not seem to heed his own advice. At a Senate hearing in June, he challenged Dr. Fauci by saying, “We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side who say there will be no push, then we can safely open the economy. And the facts will confirm it. “
These facts are known. A Michigan bar has been identified as the epicenter of 110 new infections. A gymnasium in West Virginia exposed 200 of them. More than 230 contracted the virus while attending a mass in Oregon. And it’s just a sampler.
But the power of pandemic denial is reflected in an investigation released this weekend. It reveals that about 40% of American citizens now think that the situation is under control. May the worst be over. That the disease has run its course.
They are wrong. COVID-19 is rampant all over the world. The United States is at its epicenter – registering more than 2.7 million cases since the start of the pandemic. This includes 130,000 deaths. Now, a dramatic surge is exploding across the country. Just yesterday, some 44,000 new cases were recorded.
Arizona’s healthcare system is overwhelmed. Its hospitals have triage measures – choosing who to treat and who to reject. Texas also warns that its hospital emergency units are almost full, as new cases exceed 8,000 in one day. California now has 5,000 new cases a day, and its governor moved yesterday to close restaurants, cinemas and bars again.
In the midst of all this, Paul remains hostile to expert advice – although it is correct. “It is important to realize that if society obediently submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a lot of harm can happen,” he said yesterday. “We should not assume that a group of experts somehow knows what is best for everyone,” he said.
THE SHIELD OF TRUTH
Health experts admit that they don’t yet know exactly how this virus works, nor what its strengths and weaknesses are. there is no treatment. This is why the world has only four weapons against this pandemic until an effective vaccine is developed. By experts. Evidence shows that these measures work.
The first test. This identifies the risk. This identifies the depth of penetration of the virus into a community. It identifies individual asymptomatic carriers and quickly isolates and treats patients.
The second is tracking contacts. It is hard and long work. However, this made it possible to mobilize the limited resources at best. Known carriers are questioned and investigated. Their movements while they were infectious are mapped. This indicates the people, groups and places that may have been exposed. Tests can then be redirected to prevent the virus from spreading.
Third, isolation. It’s rude. It’s expensive. But it is the only effective tool available to health agencies against an epidemic of COVID-19. The virus cannot spread without having the opportunity to spread to other people. And if a community remains isolated long enough, the virus will go away. He’s just starving for new hosts.
Fourth, personal hygiene. A cough in a club, pub, restaurant, cafe, or store can contaminate an area for hours. All you need to catch the disease is to unknowingly touch an infected surface and then your own face. This is why hand washing and masks are a last line of defense.
If these four measures are not applied correctly, the defense against the pandemic fails.
And this is the experience of the United States after politicians and business leaders undermined the advice of health experts. And that does not bode well for the future.
“Unless some sort of trust and mutual respect can be restored, public discourse will be polluted with undeserved respect for unfounded opinions,” writes Nichols. “And in such an environment, everything and everything becomes possible, including the end of democracy.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel