What, now, for despised experts?
How do scientists, fact-checkers and others with deep expertise deal with this, the election of a profoundly incurious president with little respect for the truth and aggressive hostility to views that differ from his? What, now, do the real experts do to try and preserve society’s grasp on reality?
Finding answers that work is critical now more than ever. Because our world is an inordinately complicated puzzle of countless pieces: seven billion-plus humans, anywhere from 20 to 75 billion Internet-connected devices and sensors (everything from your computer and smartphone to your smart TV and the security surveillance cameras in your stores, workplaces and other locations) and an uncountable number of other living plants and creatures that share this planet with us. And the world is growing only more complicated with every passing day.
It’s not just the threats to polar bears and indigenous villages in the Arctic, as if those are the only impacts climate change could have. (Hint: Think impacts on hunting and fishing,“sunny-day flooding”, drought and wildfires, crop failures and more regional conflicts such as the years-long bloodbath we’ve been seeing in Syria).
It’s also massive hacks that can take down major websites like Amazon, Reddit and Netflix and are now possible through unregulated vulnerabilities in the fast-expanding Internet of Things.
It’s artificial intelligence and machine learning that are advancing so quickly even the experts have a hard time keeping up, much less the public officials who are tasked with updating regulations on information technologies.
It’s the growing risk of antibiotic resistance, which one study predicts could cause 10 million deaths every year by mid-century… more than cancer causes. Meanwhile, other diseases that could spread widely in the right (or wrong) conditions — ebola, zika, chikungunya, etc. — remain extremely difficult to treat, and leave lasting and devastating impacts on survivors and/or their babies.
Candidate Donald Trump asserted, all evidence to the contrary, that he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do”. Pre-Brexit, Britain’s justice secretary Michael Gove pooh-poohed the vast number of economists warning about the potential fallout of an EU exit, by declaring that citizens “have had enough of experts”.
But it’s certain that, were Trump or Gove or anyone else who believes such things to become seriously ill, each of them would consult an expert — a trained medical specialist — to seek relief and cures (though, admittedly, Trump has made some unusual choices in this realm). We know they depend upon trained technicians to maintain and update their websites and social media presence. They do not tap random strangers on the shoulder on the tarmac to pilot their airplanes to their next destination. In so many things, like the rest of us do, they depend upon the knowledge and expertise of experts.
But not now? To help guide the most momentous decisions possible that will affect millions and billions of other human lives? For these decisions, Trump has already made it clear he prefers a rogue’s gallery of “leaders” who have failed at the basic tasks of leadership. Throughout his campaign and long before, he also made it clear that he has little understanding of the realities of climate change, the value of vaccinations, the true challenges of cybersecurity (despite the fact he apparently benefited greatly from aggressive Russian cyber-shenanigans), etc.