There’s a lot of talk about how anti-expertise sentiment is problematic, but I’d like to offer a slightly different take.

The issue isn’t that people don’t want to listen to experts, it’s that experts aren’t being honest with ourselves about the limits of our own knowledge.

Although many people take the concept for granted, KNOWLEDGE is a hard thing to define.

Philosophically, to *know* something you generally need three things: (1) for it actually to be true; (2) for you to believe it is true; and (3) for you to have learnt it in a reliable way.
The first requirement—that the think you think you know is actually true—is something we can’t ever really be sure of because The Truth is largely an unknowable philosophical mystery, in the same way that a perfect circle is an idea that doesn’t exist in the world.
But the second and third requirements are ones we can control.

The second requirement—that you believe the thing to be true—is pretty straightforward.

Requirement 3 is where things get interesting.
The third requirement is that the way in which you have come to believe the thing to be true is a reliable process.

That might seem straightforward at first glance but what constitutes a reliable process is really at the heart of the anti-expertise movement.
So what are some of the ways in which people might come to know things?

•Hear or read from a (reliable) source
•Personal casual observation/ experience
•Formal observation & evaluation
Scientists, like me, typically think of the last part of that list as the main source of knowledge—science is a set of formal methods for careful, reliable, reproducible observation and evaluation to determine what is likely to be true.
But despite the importance of formal observation and evaluation to our own work, most scientists (me included) get the *overwhelming majority* of our knowledge from the first part of the list: hearing or reading (hopefully reliable) sources.
Scientists love to talk about how science is an objective method of knowing, but most of the science we each individually know is information that was told to us by other people, NOT information we learned from conducting our own formal observation & evaluation.
How science differs from other types of knowing is that we believe that things we have been told originally started as careful, formal, reliable observation & evaluation.

That’s why we believe scientific sources are more reliable than, say, a random youtube video.
And we believe this because we generally understand the processes by which science is generated and shared, and because we TRUST other scientists to be following these processes and reporting their methods and findings accurately.
On the other side of the debate are the anti-expertise people. These individuals are often described as not believing in formal observation & evaluation, and instead relying on either personal causal observation or sources they do trust—sources often not trusted by scientists!
But one of the really interesting things I’ve observed is how much these anti-expertise folks *actually* value knowing things via formal observation & evaluation!

A VERY common theme is “doing the research ourselves”.
Now, when these groups talk about “doing the research” they don’t necessarily mean the same process as scientists mean—when they say ‘research’ they aren’t intending to recruit study samples or conduct experiments.
But they are doing what most scientists *actually* do to learn most of the things we know—going to the scientific literature and reading the summaries of other people’s formal observation and evaluation!
So, if scientists and those who are anti-expertise are all basically learning most of what they know from reading trusted sources, *and* if those trusted sources are often the same basic category of people & processes, why do these groups so often come to know *different* facts?
No matter how much scientists would like to pretend the problem is with the readers, I think we need to admit that this problem is actually coming from us!
Science is HARD. It’s hard to do right, it’s hard to explain, it’s hard to understand, and, even worse, it’s hard to succeed in professionally when you’re committed to doing science well.
On the other hand, it’s EASY to cut corners or skip sensitivity analyses; it’s easy to write dense, incomprehensible text; and it’s easy to succeed professionally when you rush out lots and lots of quick & dirty work.

Our scientific system is fundamentally broken.
Be honest: if you are a scientist, do you trust every scientific study from your field to be correctly, reliably, and accurately conducted and reported?
I suspect that, like me, instead of taking studies in your field at face value, you start by carefully reading the methods to see if the researchers have made any mistakes.
But, we don’t admit this to the public. Instead we say “science works, trust us.” With an attitude like that, how can we really we fault non-scientists for taking science at face value? For reading scientific studies & assuming that they understand the science therein?
Can we criticize people for getting the wrong idea when they’re simply trying to learn by “reading the science” on their own, when the real problem is that the science cant be trusted to stand on it’s own?!
How do we solve this? The honest answer is I don’t know. There likely isn’t one single fix.

Me, I try to: (1) teach scientists how to do and report science better; and (2) teach the public how to evaluate science better so they can find the pearls amongst the swine.
Because if everyone is searching for knowledge in the same ways & with the same understanding of what makes for a reliable formal observation and evaluation process, maybe we can all finally start to agree on a set of facts.

And then we can have the REAL argument: about values.

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More from @EpiEllie

28 Dec
On the first day of Christmas, my quarantine activity:
A puzzle of a pear tree
On the second day of Christmas, my quarantine activity:
Two knitted gloves
And a puzzle of a pear tree
On the third day of Christmas, my quarantine activity:
Three French crime shows
Two knitted gloves
And a puzzle of a pear tree
Read 5 tweets
22 Dec
The past 12 months, I’ve heard a disturbingly large number of people, even respected senior scientists, ask the question: “how do I design a study to prove this fact I already believe is true?”

Um, you shouldn’t?!

Ask instead: “how do I design a study to learn *if* it’s true?”
Read 4 tweets
6 Dec
People often ask me if they should do some optional activity.

I work from home & only leave to exercise outside or run errands (eg groceries, take-out). This is all I’ve been doing since March.

So, no I don’t think you should do that thing. But if you must, please do it safer.
I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss casual water cooler chats and awkward small talk, I miss getting lost in a crowd, I miss browsing craft & art markets, I miss IT NOT BEING A PANDEMIC.
I’m not wading in to the comments to argue about my choices, but let me just say, risk to *myself* is not my primary driver here.

I stay home because of risk to us *all*. I stay home because I can, and, by staying home, I make myself a firebreak for my contact network.
Read 5 tweets
6 Dec
If you’ve followed me since the spring of summer, you may remember that I injured my knee just before the pandemic really kicked off. After several rounds of physical therapy & multiple diagnostic procedures, it’s mostly (tho not completely) ok.

My health insurance OTOH... a🧵
I have pretty decent health insurance through work that generally meets my needs. They paid for all my knee-related issues just fine, at first. But then everything changed...
... I started getting like weekly letters asking me to call the insurance company to let them know if my knee was injured in some way that meant they weren’t the ones responsible for paying (car accident, work injury, etc).

But it wasn’t & they were.
Read 6 tweets
4 Dec
@andreamatranga @howardrgold1 People who have been exposed may not be infected. Quarantine is about limiting *their* opportunity to unknowingly transmit in the days before symptoms emerge or they test positive in the event they’re actually infected. Length is based on avg time from exposure to known infection
@andreamatranga @howardrgold1 Isolation is for people who are *definitely infected*, and diration depends on the average duration of contagiousness.
@andreamatranga @howardrgold1 Someone who takes 14 days from exposure to symptoms & then has fever for 11 days would quarantine 14 days AND isolate *another* 13 days.
Read 5 tweets
3 Dec
This week, the CDC released new guidance on quarantine: if 14 days is infeasible then 10 days (or 7 days & a neg test) is probably okay so long as you never have symptoms.

It’s important to note that this does NOT contradict earlier guidelines. 14 days is still ideal!
One important piece in their report that I haven’t seen discussed yet: for those people who actually ARE infected but aren’t symptomatic yet, ending quarantine early apparently means an up to 12% chance of infecting other people before symptoms develop.
Given that the reduced guidance is mainly aimed at people who can’t quarantine the full 14 days because they aren’t getting the necessary support to be able to not work, this seems like potentially a recipe for increased spread among essential workers.
Read 5 tweets

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