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Allowing dissent is important, but we must get better at recognizing crackpots!

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A crucial question many are facing right now: If 97 physicians are saying one thing, and 3 are saying another, how do we know who’s right? Many of us were taught not to go along with the crowd; majorities can get it wrong. 3 questions that may be helpful:

  1. On what basis should I determine which group is misleading the public? Can I rely on my own expertise to identify misrepresented scientific studies or biologically implausible assertions, or examine the raw data for myself? Should I simply believe what the majority of those who share my political and religious views are telling me, because they have the expertise to determine which scientific claims are true?
  2. On matters of verifiable scientific fact, is the consensus of the medical and scientific communities generally mistaken? E.g., are they wrong about how to land people on the moon, what causes cancer, how to repair a hernia or heart defect, when comets will be visible, how to design cell phones and computers and skyscrapers, what makes airplanes fly, how to prevent smallpox and polio, or what genetic variations underlie cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, or Huntington’s disease? Is agreement by a vast majority of experts, in itself, a reason to believe the opposite? Should I believe the earth is flat because the scientific consensus is that it's spherical?
  3. Do I honestly believe there’s a massive conspiracy involving every teaching hospital and major medical association in the US to suppress or ignore proven cures for COVID, force children to wear harmful masks, and push a dangerous, ineffective vaccine because the typical physician is happy to cause needless suffering and allow hundreds of thousands to die preventable deaths? Or if there’s not a conspiracy, do I honestly believe there’s a proven treatment being talked about in the news and all over the internet, and compelling evidence against masking and vaccination, but the nation’s 1.3 million physicians are completely unaware of all of this crucial research my Aunt Connie learned about on Parler, or can’t be bothered to investigate any of it?

Allowing for dissent is important. Majorities can get it wrong, especially on moral issues. But there are reliable ways for the scientific community to determine which side has the evidence to back up their claims. Nearly every profession has crackpots and quacks. We need to get better at recognizing them.

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