“Confirmation bias”—the “tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”—is a well-known phenomenon, and one we all engage in at times.
In practice, while individuals might agree with Expert X and disagree with Expert Y, who holds a different position, they don’t necessarily dismiss Expert Y’s knowledge and qualifications. They generally take them seriously, they just disagree.
But in these divided political times, the term “expert” in the sciences is increasingly applied only to those who agree with us. This practice appears to be particularly true among the left-leaning media—especially with respect to climate science and now health care and the pandemic.
The media—and the political left generally—regularly criticize President Trump for not following the advice of the “experts” in how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
But when a group of doctors, many of whom are clearly international experts from major universities in the field of epidemiology and immunology, released “The Great Barrington Declaration,” it was largely dismissed by the media. And one has to wonder if the primary reason for the disregard is the doctors take a more moderate position on the public health response to Covid-19.
“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection,” according to the Declaration.
That’s not the “approved” response promoted by the left, and so it is dismissed.
We see a similar response in the climate science debate. There are many widely respected and credentialed climate experts—some even participate in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—who raise questions about the speed of global warming or sea-level rise and their impact, the causes behind increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere, or whether various storms are increasing or intensifying. If scientists raise even valid questions, they are ignored, dismissed or even ridiculed as climate-change deniers.
Of course, the political right has its favored experts—whether in health care, climate science and economics. But those on the right typically try to address the arguments of the experts on the left. The left, by contrast, tends to dismiss the experts favored by the right, along with the questions they raise.
Scientists often like to say some variation of “science is a process, not an outcome.” By contrast, politics is an outcome more than a process.
But in our day science is increasingly becoming politicized. Just ask the experts—but only if they agree.