On Tuesday, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 19-2 to recommend Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine boosters. It was a big shock, because no one can ever tell how the expert panel will vote on Covid-19 questions.
Nonetheless, news stories about the vote noted a tone of doubt in the discussion:
“None of us has a crystal ball and we’re trying to use every last ounce of what we can from predictive modeling and data that’s emerging to try to get ahead of a virus that's very crafty," said top FDA vaccine regulator Peter Marks.
"Unfortunately, looking in the past doesn’t help us a great deal to look in the future for [a] virus that has baffled a lot of us and made predictions almost irrelevant," said acting panel chairman Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan epidemiologist.
This virus, she’s a wily beast! We’ve never had one that can change before! She’s baffled us, crafty bitch-goddess, with her fierce and wild ways! But anyway, here’s what our predictive modeling says will happen next, and here’s what we recommend doing about it. We’re the experts, after all.
Meanwhile, here’s the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank speaking at a forum on central banking this month:
“I think we now understand better how little we understand about inflation.”
So the public health experts are baffled by the consistent failure of their predictive models, and the economic experts are baffled by the consistent failure of their predictive models. It’s like a chef who keeps trying to grill a steak, only to find that he’s burnt another lemon pie. “I SWEAR TO GOD I THOUGHT THIS ONE WAS A BEEF THING.”
These people aren’t stupid, but they’re stupid in practice because they show up to the game with the weight of what they know people in their position are supposed to say and think. Fashionable experts, in-group leaders in their status-compliant position in a field, aren’t reviewing the evidence — ever — but are instead reviewing a performative checklist dotted with social status land mines.
They’re on a team, so they say the team slogans.
In neither case was he thinking about the question. He was thinking about which side he’s on, and what status he wishes to maintain, and which fashionable rooms he wishes to be welcomed in.
If that’s how expertise works, we no longer have have any. We have actors who play the brow-furrowing expert role, but have no real job beyond intoning the message of the day. It says on this card that we recommend even more Covid vaccines for everyone. Let’s break for lunch!
But, mercifully, that’s not invariably how expertise works. And this is why politicians and trend-policing media figures are so completely baffled by experts like Robert Malone or Ryan Cole, or Geert Vanden Bossche or Clare Craig or Peter McCullough, experts who follow the evidence wherever it goes. Tone and social reception tells you a lot: Does an expert say things that aren’t comforting, that sound a little…not on the team? That person clears the first barrier, and you can start assessing the specifics of what they say. Look for journalists who are offended and triggered, and try to find the person who hurt their feelings. That person may turn out to be wrong, but he won’t turn out to be Paul Krugman wrong.
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