Distrust and Verify

Every member of America’s expert class possessing even a modicum of integrity and self-awareness has long been aware of a simple truth: Only a fool would trust the emanations of America’s leading experts.

Worse, the more prestigious the job title, the less trustworthy the pronouncement. Official experts who speak for the government are the most suspect of all. Worse still, you can’t write off anything they say because a great deal of it is informed and valid.

In other words, you can’t assume that some urgent message coming from the prestigious official leading the charge to address a critical problem is true—but you can’t assume that it’s false, either. What you can assume safely is that it’s self-serving. When the truth serves their personal agendas, they share it gleefully. When it doesn’t, selective self-serving factoids, deceptively packaged, will always trump the public interest.

The clearest long-running example of this phenomenon involves the climate apocalypse—which bears only a tenuous relationship to climate science but generates ample funding and prestige for its leading proponents.

This week’s trophy, however, goes to America’s leading experts in foreign and defense policy, who assured us mere weeks ago that Afghanistan was secure. Are America’s top generals really that ignorant of military realities? Or were they playing to a domestic political agenda and hoping they could keep the fiction going long enough to gain plausible deniability and confuse the public?

Answer: You don’t get to be a general while being that ignorant of military facts on the ground. On the other hand, you don’t get to be a top general unless you know how to curry favor with politicians, diplomats, pundits, and the press. Which skill do you think dominates among those who’ve made it to the very top?

The same is true throughout America’s elite expert class. Those at the top are those who excel at getting promoted. With some exceptions, their mastery of subject matter and methodology is third rate; their mastery of professional politics is world class.

That open secret has been buried and denied for far too long. Thanks to the COVID pandemic, however, America is finally noticing that our “leading experts” are largely ego-driven elitists possessing only casual concern for the public. They’re deeply unworthy of our trust.

These “experts” have debased the notion of “science.” They’ve intentionally blurred the distinctions between scientific inquiry and policy guidance for two self-serving reasons:

One, the single most common answer to any scientific question—by far—is some variant of “We don’t yet know.” Restated more scientifically: “The best available data is insufficient to generate an answer we can state to any degree of scientific certainty.” Top experts will do anything to avoid giving such an honest, clear answer. Uncertainty makes them seem less like experts. Far better for their elite image to be clear, certain, unequivocal, incoherent, inconsistent, and entirely wrong.

Two, power, prestige, and patronage opportunities flow to those who issue policy proclamations. Elite ego-driven experts tend to believe that they’re far wiser than the politicians, pundits, and peasants who’ve come to them for help. When the crisis of the moment impinges upon their particular area of expertise, who better to dictate the solution?

With the delta variant, draconian mandates, discriminatory vaccine passports, and another potentially disrupted school year dominating the news, our “leading public health experts” have fostered debate on numerous questions that should have clear scientific answers.

A few examples: What are the risks of death or serious illness to children? Are vaccinated people less contagious than the non-vaccinated? How much does a casually worn surgical mask reduce the likelihood of contagion from an asymptomatic individual? How long does natural immunity last? How long does vaccination immunity last?

None of these questions are suitable topics for opinions on which reasonable people can differ. They’re all amenable to scientific definition, hypothesis testing, data accumulation—and answers. If the answers remain inconclusive, fine. Announce the uncertainty and refrain from recommending new policies. Stand against the sizable swaths of the public and officialdom who remain woefully ill-informed but deeply opinionated—and in many cases, eager to impose significant, widespread, and open-ended impositions on civil liberties. Such a posture is an affront to both liberty and science.

Blame for this debacle lies squarely at the feet of America’s leading experts. It’s time that America trumpeted what many of us on the inside have long known: You can’t trust these folks! Take everything they say with a grain of salt.

It may not be easy, but if you’re tired of having elite experts run roughshod over the country and your life, you’re going to have to start doing your own research. When it comes to assessing the advice of America’s top experts, there’s only one way forward: Distrust and verify.

Read the article as originally posted on Real Clear Politics.

Bruce Abramson

Bruce Abramson has over thirty years of experience working as a technologist, economist, attorney, and policy analyst. Dr. Abramson holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Columbia and a J.D. from Georgetown. He has contributed to the scholarly literature on computing, business, economics, law, and foreign policy, and written extensively about American politics and policy.