The Doubting of the Experts
On December 8th, 1941, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare War on the Empire of Japan. It is one of the most stirring speeches ever recorded. Congress quickly agreed and except for the standard Conscientious Objector vote, approved the resolution and declared War on Japan.
I go back to the speech itself, which, even if you are not a fan of FDR, is quite stirring, patriotic and appeals to everything that Americans love about their nation. including an appeal to Almighty G-d to see us through to final victory. If you haven’t heard it or watched it, you should do so right now:
In many ways it hearkened back to the speech that FDR had listened to by Woodrow Wilson, who ran in 1916 on a promise to keep America out of the war, then gave what many to consider to be the best speech to call for a Declaration of War ever given by a President. Wilson’s speech left many in tears and screaming with fervor as the nation found itself finally getting into the war which he had promised to keep us out of just months before.
FDR’s speech was short, to the point and brought the focus of the nation onto the task at hand, the defeat of a treacherous enemy who had attack without warning. The United States of America, was now, once again, in the war.
One of the more interesting developments lately is the idea that people who are not an “expert” in a given subject matter continue to question the conclusions and statements of those who are “experts” in a given subject matter. For example, many climate scientists are upset at the fact that the public doesn’t accept their dire warnings and instead, seems to rely on pseudo-science and media manipulation to challenge the expert view on the matter. The Experts are angry about his doubting of their conclusions – and by the by it’s not just Global Warming – and are asking what can be done to limit it and/or eliminate it? Is it just a matter of presentation or is there – in the view of the Experts – some other nefarious factor at work here? Fake news? Talk Radio? What?
It surprises me that we even need to talk about this because the answers aren’t as complex or confusing as the Experts choose to believe. Its actually a combination of two things, confirmation bias and errors by the Experts. I call them errors, but perhaps a better way of phrasing that would be a failure to communicate. In science, there are no absolute certainties. I know that sounds strange, but it’s also true. Things that are heavy cannot fly. The Earth is the center of the universe. And flat. Man cannot land on the moon. The atom is the smallest thing. There is no such thing as “dark matter.” The Speed of light is the absolute speed of the universe. And so on.
All of these things were at one time or another, absolute truths. You would not have been mocked for believing them but you would have faced ridicule for not doing so. The only constant in our universe is change – the change is what we know and understand.
Look, I believe in science. Pure science, untainted by politics or greed. But I am also a pragmatist, I know that paleontologist need funds to dig dinosaur bones, and the things that fascinate and enlighten them aren’t what the people with the funds want to hear about. For the most part.
So when it comes to this “problem” that We the People aren’t just taking the Experts at their word and allowing their conclusions to run our lives, what are we to conclude?
First – let’s be honest about things. The Experts have filled our papers and bookshelves with hypothesis expounded as theory that we are all doomed and it’s going to happen tomorrow. If I were to carefully count, I would be willing to bet that more Experts have predicted the demise of the Earth and mankind than street corner preachers. The difference is that the preachers aren’t getting interviewed by print media or appearing on TV shows to espouse their hypothesis.
Second – the public is in fact, woefully ignorant of science and its procedures. In general we are not apt to use our minds to ask reasonable questions that enlighten us rather than scare us. And, the Experts use the worst case scenarios instead of fully and frankly explaining the probabilities. For example, it is 100% certain that the Earth will be struck by a large asteroid which has the potential to annihilate all of mankind and most life on the planet. It’s happened before and it will – 100% – happen again. That is a true statement, but it also fails to take into account the probabilities on a universal time scale of it happening, say, today, or even tomorrow. Which, by the by, are far less than 100%.
Thirdly – Both sides cling to their own confirmation bias. The Experts are so certain that they are correct, that any and all contrary data or ideas are roundly rejected. The non-Experts find what is comfortable to themselves and cling to that, failing to question the premise and accepting the idea that it could be wrong. Then we start throwing people into prisons, towers and even fires, because they dare to disagree.
The problem goes even further than science. It extends into government, where we so often hear the retort to any question: “You don’t know enough to question my vote/position/judgment. If you knew what I know, you’d see it my way.” Well, then tell me what you know. I am quite certain – I am after all an Expert on the matter – that City budgets and State Laws are NOT Classified Top Secret National Security issues. So why the veiling of the background knowledge?
In California, the State Legislature has now decided that it is enough of an Expert that new laws are being proposed to spend tax dollars to insure that all children have a “right to social and emotional well being.” If you question that – at all – it’s because you don’t understand and/or you hate children.
So what do we do?
The answer is twofold. We the People need to be more skeptical, not less, but not in a “stuck-in-the-mud” la-la-la-la-la-I’m not listening to you” kind of way. We need to become more educated – and after all we live in the information age – and more discerning. A scientific conclusion always comes with a probability. We need to deal in probabilities, not possibilities.
Likewise, Experts need to be perfectly clear about their conclusions and actions. The public isn’t all stupid and incapable of understanding you. After all, if you want to be understood, it is incumbent upon you to teach. The standard caricature of the shy and unable to deal with other people scientist needs to be shed. If the conclusions on a given matter are that important, then they should be communicated clearly and contextually, not with confusion and worst case hyperbole. After all, we hate it when the CIA does that, don’t we?
Politicians must learn that they are not the be all-end all of understanding. If the excuse is “You don’t know what I know,” then the politician has failed to communicate. There are any number of questions that should be raised about SB-18, but the typical response from politicians will be to label the questioner and to proclaim that they are “doing it for the children.”
Are you, really?
Scientific Experts know without a doubt that someday the Earth will be devastated. They do not know when it will happen. Politicians seem hell bent on making it as soon as possible.
Posted on December 8, 2016, in American, Article I, Constitution, Global Warming, History, It's Science!, WWI, WWII and tagged Children's Bill of Rights, Confirmation Bias, December 7th, Experts, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Japan, SB-18, Science, Woodrow Wilson, World War I, World War II. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.