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On trusting the experts

I have changed the trapdoor into the crawlspace under my house.  The builder was, is, a better carpenter than I.  Yet over the past 4 years, I have never been satisfied by the trapdoor he built.  He has built many houses – but I have gone into the crawlspace many times, as I worked with the water lines.  Sometime during those trips below the main floor, my expertise on that particular part of the house surpassed his – and this winter, I realized that in order to do things right, I had to strip the trapdoor out, then rebuild it so that things would work better.  The fact that his skills in carpentry exceeded mine was irrelevant.  My understanding of the requirements of this particular trapdoor exceeded his.

In my last job, I was accepted as an expert in demography.  And I can confidently state that expertise in demography requires understanding three things – births, deaths, and migration.  From those three inputs, I created models that projected future populations.  I’m looking forward to the publication of the 2020 Census, so I can see how closely my models matched reality.  Time was that demography needed a University’s library to find the data you need – now, an internet connection makes it possible to be an expert almost anywhere.

P.O. Ackley, who started the gunsmithing program at Trinidad State always denied being a gun expert – and he basically wrote the book on the topic.  I’ve encountered several experts on guns, but never one with credentials equal to Ackley.  Perhaps one of the most important aspects of expertise is knowing how much you don’t know.   

The covid pandemic has brushed alongside my expertise – disease has a definite correlation with death, and some relationship with migration.  Likewise, it brushes alongside the expertise of the medical doctor.  I’ve watched a pandemic handled by politicians and MDs (and there isn’t always a difference) with the implication that we need to follow the science and the experts.  The problem is, it’s easy to evaluate past data.  When it’s a new topic, and you’re looking at partial and fragmented data, it’s more of a challenge,

At the onset of the pandemic, Fauci wasn’t recommending masks – by June he was.  He’s changed his numbers several times on herd immunity and vaccinations.  I would prefer experts who were consistent and correct – but I have built a better trap door that works with the data I have. 

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