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One piece of the COVID-19 situation that has concerned and confused me is the disdain some people have exhibited toward experts. I was in Baltimore, Maryland a few years ago working at a conference. (Remember the old days when people traveled to conferences?) I was sitting at my table in the Exhibit Hall when I realized that the vision in my right eye had become very blurry. This would have seemed like something I should get checked on anyway, but I had recently had laser treatment to repair two retinal tears in that eye, so I was certain I should. But my retina specialists were in Macon, and I was in Baltimore, not scheduled to return home for two more days. So I called my doctors’ office to see if they could get me in to see someone in Baltimore. They could and they did. Later that day, a friendly Lyft driver deposited me at a retina specialist’s office somewhere in some suburb of Baltimore. As I waited in the exam room, I used my functioning eye to read the diplomas on the wall. The doctor who was about to examine me had earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins. Friends, I did not say to myself, ‘This doctor’s training is too good for me. Why, he probably thinks he knows more about retinas than I do. I’m going to find someone who has less expertise.’ No, I said to myself, ‘I have hit the jackpot. I am grateful to have been sent to a doctor with such good training and so much expertise.’ (By the way, as it turned out, the Johns Hopkins-trained doctor discovered that a blood vessel had burst in my eye. It healed and my vision cleared up in a few days. I trusted the doctor’s expert diagnosis. And had I needed laser or other treatment, I’d have been grateful for his expertise.) I see a lot of posts on Facebook (usually memes, which I swore off sharing a long time ago, but I wouldn’t share one like this anyway) that say something like ‘Someone can have a college degree and still be dumb.’ There’s a variant of it that says something like, ‘Someone can have a college degree and still lack common sense.’ In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I have three degrees, and I had to marry someone with common sense before I acquired any. While I’m on the subject, I’ve also noticed that often people sharing such a meme tie it to remarks about how vocational and technical education is a better route for some than going to college. I’d like to say four things about that. (1) Vocational and technical education is valuable and the careers to which it can lead are indispensable. (2) One can champion such education without denigrating those who pursue a college or university degree and/or graduate degrees. (3) Classism is classism, regardless of the perspective from which it comes, so looking down on those with university degrees is no better than looking down on those without them. (4) I find it really silly and sad that I need to say anything about this. Let me tell you: I admire experts. I admire experts in auto mechanics, in plumbing, in electricity, in heating and cooling, in dental hygiene, in hair cutting and styling, in construction, in carpentry, and in many other fields. I appreciate and accept the expertise of people who know more than I do about important necessary things (and in many of these cases, if they know anything at all, they know more than I do). Can I insist on living my life without taking the expertise of such professionals into account? Sure I can. But I’d be foolish to do so. Someone who has been trained to fix that thingamajig under my car’s hood knows more about it than I do. If our house’s air conditioning system goes out this summer, I’m calling the experts at Rooks Brothers Heating & Cooling (full disclosure: we’re kin, but they’re good). The fact is that my ignorance is not as legitimate as others’ expertise. My point is that disdain for expertise is misplaced, and disregarding expertise is dangerous. We should take medical professionals and other scientists seriously, because the fact is that they know more than non-professionals and non-scientists know. I don’t know where the willingness of some people to think they know more than the experts do about science and medicine in general, and about viruses and pandemics in particular, comes from. Maybe they’re influenced by the eagerness of some in high office’”including the one in the highest office in the land’”to dismiss and ignore the advice of experts, and even to attack the experts themselves. Such individuals do so for political reasons. Maybe some of us do too. If you ignore and denigrate science, whatever reasons you have for doing so aren’t good enough to put yourself and others at risk.

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