“DON’T CONFUSE US WITH FACTS"

15 July 2021

 

     In his book, “The Death of Expertise” (Oxford University Press, 2017), Tom Nichols describes America’s growing revolt against experts, intellectuals, scientists, and other “eggheads – in other words, people who claim to know more about something than other Americans do. This revolt against private knowledge may include nearly half of all Americans, and the numbers appear to be growing.[1]

   Nichols doesn’t give full credit for the growth of the movement to the Internet and Donald Trump, but he does point out how they have helped it. The Internet has shown us that all the world’s knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips equally, and that we don’t have to be stuck with one “truth” for every circumstance (the Internet showing clearly that there can be many “truths”). Donald Trump took those principles, and showed us all that a person can know more about everything than all the experts in the world can claim. (He doesn’t think we can know as much as him, obviously, but we can still have “good” opinions about everything.)

   The non-expertisers point to the big failings of the eggheads: Thalidomide[2]; Y2K (the computers didn’t revolt and take over the world)[3]; the Ozone Hole (it’s still there, and we haven’t all died of cancer)[4]; and, of course, the Big Lie: that we all are descendants of apes.[5] When certain events are pointed out that seem to have been pretty successful, they note that anybody can be lucky occasionally’ that if you toss a coin enough times it will sometimes come up “heads;” and (the ultimate explanation) if you put 1000 monkeys in a room with 1000 word processors, they might eventually write the Declaration of Independence.

   Nichols doesn’t mention this, but he undoubtedly knows the idea that is (probably erroneously) attributed to the poet William Cowper; the absence of evidence is not necessarily the evidence of absence. In other words, just because something isn’t clearly evident doesn’t mean that it  doesn’t exist or didn’t occur. For example, the 2020 Presidential voting has been analyzed in all states and many communities, by representatives of both political parties and by independent reviewers, and the amount of vote irregularities found – mostly clerical errors, not “fraud” – could not possibly have affected the vote outcome. The anti-experts say the fraud was massive, even though there is a complete absence of evidence.[6]

***

 

   I’ve been a little worried, since reading the Nichol’s book, that someone might mistake me for an “egghead.”  I have an internet website, on which I occasionally post something that might seem scientific or technical. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I am not an expert in anything. I’m just like you. I have opinions that are just as good as yours, but they aren’t better.

   Yes, I admit I went to college, but I only got a Bachelor’s degree. And it wasn’t a university; it was just a state college and, really, it was what we used to call a teacher’s college – just good enough to let us know slightly more than the 2nd and 3rd graders that we would have in our classes.

   I’m 80 – older than most of you – but, remember, that I’ve only had Google and Wikipedia for the last 20 years or so, so we’re even on knowledge. I admit that I have read a few real  books, and have even taken notes about some of the things I’ve read. I’ve written a few books, too, but – God knows - anybody can write a book. Now, when I wrote my three books on the California condor, I read 2,655 books and papers on condors. That doesn’t mean I know more about condors than you do. In the end, it still comes down to my opinion, and yours is as good as mine.

     Just for fun, I took the test about America that all immigrants are required to take. I only missed one question. High school seniors who were given the test only scored about 4 percent correct. That doesn’t mean I did better; it may be that the developers of the test didn’t know the right answers, or might not have known that each question had more than one correct answer. It happens, and it’s one of the traps that experts fall into.

   I’ve voted for 60 years, and I admit I’ve always tried to learn a little bit about the candidates. But I don’t follow any of them on Twitter, and don’t know what movies and TV they like, so I guess I don’t really know them. And I’ve never really seen anything that looked like voter fraud, but my opinion that it doesn’t exist and that the last election wasn’t stolen is just my opinion. (“The absence of evidence…”  Right?) You’re 18, are just completing twelve years in schools that no longer teach Civics or American History, and you haven’t yet voted or skimmed a voter’s pamphlet. That doesn’t mean that your opinion is less valid than mine.

   And I don’t like Donald Trump, but it’s not because he is a liar, a bully, a bigot, a sexist, a racist, an ageist, probably a criminal, almost certainly insane, a truly horrible person, and clearly doesn’t know a goddam thing about leading a country. No, it’s just my opinion, and yours is just as good.

   What I’m trying to say is, please don’t judge me by a couple things I’ve written that seem to have some substance and credibility. I’m really just a regular American like you. If you happen to find my websites, and if you happen to skim over a few sentences on some of my essays, please remember: I am not an expert on anything.

   But, of course, your opinion about that is as good as mine.


[1] Most of the anti-expertise group live in the South and Midwest; identify themselves as religious, conservative, and Republican; are against vaccinations; aren’t sure The Pandemic ever happened; believe that “Climate Change” is really just the usual variations in our weather; and that Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential election. I’m sure these attributes are purely coincidental, and have nothing to do with their anti-expertise stance.

[2] Although it was never allowed in the United States, and its problems led directly to our strict U. S. drug approval laws.

[3] Although the “experts” claim the computers didn’t take over because work had been going on behind the scenes to prevent the disaster.

[4] But, say those pesky scientists, only because 197 nations all agreed to the Montreal Protocol, that banned the use of certain chemical compounds that were causing and accelerating the damage.

[5] Although I’ve heard that some scientists are backtracking on that Darwinian claim, noting that baboons, gorillas and chimps are much too smart to be the progenitors of humans.

[6] Intellectuals agree with the basic idea that things can occur without obvious evidence, but they propose limits to the concept. For example, there could be one flea – or hundreds of fleas – in a field, without them being evident. An elephant in the field could not be overlooked. That’s your opinion, say the rebels; the “elephant” (in this case, massive voter fraud) is there, all right.


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