Why Experts aren’t enough.

Dr. J’s Chats, Episode 3: Why Experts aren’t enough.  

I made this short video posted on the Ruth Institute Facebook page on April 29. Here is the text.

 When a new infectious disease is discovered, our information about it is necessarily incomplete. We have to collect the important data. We have to analyze it accurately, which includes classifying cases in a sensible manner. The average person has no expertise at all in this area. Neither does the average politician or journalist. All of us must rely on experts to do their jobs competently and honestly.

We need accurate information. Yet what we actually have is expert opinion, as filtered through the news media and political jockeying. No wonder people are upset. We don’t know what to believe. We are facing unknowable risks. We are being asked to make unprecedented sacrifices and disruptions.

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that we had all information we need, reported to all of us in the most unbiased possible manner. Even then, we could not leave the decision-making to the experts. That is because there is no one specialty that is expert enough in every possible arena to make the decisions we need.

For instance: the epidemiologists have made strict demands for social distancing. Fair enough. That is what their body of expertise prepares them to do. “If you want to slow the spread of this disease, these are the steps you must take.” But their expertise does not allow them to weigh the costs of what they propose.

Now when I say “costs,” you perhaps immediately think of financial costs. People losing their jobs, their businesses, their homes. We have been trained to think: “oh goodness, we must never attempt to measure human life in terms of dollars and cents. Who cares if people lose money? We must save lives!”

Very well. Let us talk about the lives lost due to depression, caused by loneliness, induced by the social distancing measures. The specialists in infectious disease don’t know anything more about these costs than you or I. So we need a new batch of specialists: the psychologists. Yes, indeed, the psychologists will tell us, depression is a real illness. Loneliness and social isolation can aggravate depression. All this can lead to suicide.

So, we are entitled to ask: what about these lives? Don’t the lives lost from depression matter?

What about the addicts who can no longer attend their 12-Step meetings? Addiction experts can tell you that many such people in recovery are vulnerable without their meetings. Do their relapses and overdoses and suicides matter?

We cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by experts. Look around at the extreme measures we are being asked to take. The epidemiologists see only their corner of the world. Yes, we need their input. Yes, we need the benefit of their expertise. But each expert can only see their own corner of any given problem.

In our rush to avoid spreading germs, even these examples are not the worst costs we are overlooking. I will tell more next time.

And by the way, Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.

See you then.


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