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Listening to the Experts Means Statisticians as Well as the Epidemiologists

I think it’s important to let “experts” be heard on a topic. If someone has earned a level of expertise in a field or on a topic, there’s a high degree of likelihood they know something that the average citizen doesn’t know.

  • I think experts in Syrian politics should be listened to before our diplomats engage or our military intervenes in their affairs.
  • I think expert arborists should be listened to before we declare an entire forest region diseased and burn it to the ground.
  • I think expert mechanics should be listened to before overhauling an entire engine or replacing a transmission.
  • I think experts in physics and astronomy should be listened to before ordering our entire population underground to avoid an incoming asteroid.
  • And yes, I think experts in epidemiology should be listened to before our political leaders decide the most effective means of dealing with a highly communicable, airborne virus outbreak.

But there’s something that I’ve noticed about these observations in our current political environment. Everyone seems willing to acknowledge in the first four examples that experts differ in their views, that groupthink can be an enemy, and that there are other realities that must be weighed when determining how to interpret those “expert” opinions.

Yet for some reason, when it comes to the fifth of those examples above, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment amongst those media elites controlling the flow of information to the masses that only the most alarmist, most dire, most grim, and most ominous assessment is to be heard.

Making the best decisions requires a willingness to trust experts, sure. But it also requires holding expert analysis to a standard of accuracy, and level of competence. And it seems like at some point we need to start addressing things that are being shared by other experts, like statisticians. Things like this:

I understand that there are bad actors on every side. But the majority of us want the same thing: people to be safe, and to get back to normal as soon as possible. If that’s our objective then let’s be willing to do some critical thinking, weigh the expert information coming in from a number of sources, and perhaps begin to accept a rational explanation that perhaps despite all of our mitigation efforts, the virus is likely to continue spreading until it works its way through a population. Hiding away and locking down appears to be effective only in slowing down the inevitable.

Our policy decisions need to begin to be made with that as our fundamental, baseline understanding.

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