A Mistrust of Authority

I’ve been watching some of the impeachment hearings when I’ve had time (which, admittedly, has been not often today). And of course they’ve devolved into the political turf war we all expected, but I was able to watch the opening statements of the two witnesses, and I found them to be quite credible, particularly the second–the US Ambassador to Ukraine for the last while. When you look at his resume and see who he’s worked with and for how long, it becomes difficult to attack him as a political beast. He worked under Republicans and Democrats. He seems like an excellent expert on this topic.

And so of course he’s viewed with mistrust.

I find it discouraging that more and more, people are choosing which facts to believe. Which experts to listen to. As if the truth is nothing more than a round of voting on American Idol. Sure, the “experts” can weigh in, but what really matters is how many people believe your side is right.

I was speaking to a colleague the other day, and they’d been teaching a class on campus. As part of the class, the issue of climate change had come up. The class agreed that the vast majority of experts have concluded climate change is real and man-made, but the class also said it was important to have both sides represented in any public debate on the matter.

Typically, I’m all for informed debate and decision making. However, I’d like to think that there are some areas where we can acknowledge debate is over. For example, there’s a group of people out there dedicated to the concept that the earth is flat. There are also people who still believe immunizations cause autism. This is in the face of all medical and scientific evidence. Out of 1,000 experts on a topic, 999 can say one thing, and as long as there’s 1 saying something else, people would argue we need to give a platform to that 1 person.

I don’t think that’s how it works. If 1 person believes something no one else believes, they don’t have a right to equal representation on a national debate. To earn that right, they need to go about convincing others of their findings. In science, this doesn’t come down to opinions. It comes down to verifiable facts. Experiments. Studies.

Take vaccines and autism. One study found a connection between the two. The study had a sample size of 12. It has since been completely debunked by multiple studies with samples sizes in the tens of thousands. And yet, ironically, because that original now-debunked study appeared in a prestigious journal, deniers use that to dismiss other studies in prestigious journals.

That’s just not how science works. It’s not how facts work. But there’s been a huge backlash in some circles against facts and science and experts in general. I find that incredibly disappointing and disheartening. If we can’t even agree on the same fundamental truths . . .

I don’t know how we can hope to ever solve anything.


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