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Avoid Expertolatry

My old friend, and former NYU and Auburn classmate, Roger Koppl sent to me the following e-mail that I share here with his kind permission:

Dear Don.

I imagine you have been following the controversy over whether Hotez should debate RFK on Joe Rogan’s podcast. That is the sort of topic about which people may have legitimate disagreements, of course. And Hotez is under no obligation to debate that one person on that one podcast. But I think it is an error to say that you don’t decide a “scientific question” by debating an “anti-vaxxer.” The issues with vaccines, including Covid vaccines, are not only “scientific.” Vaccine safety is not a “scientific question” analogous to the question whether a heliocentric or geocentric model is best. Vaccine safety is a multidimensional issue involving science, public policy, personal values, personal risk preferences, social causation, and so on. Besides, the state has no right to force a flat-earther onto a boat even though their fears of falling off the edge are mistaken. There are issues of public health and externalities with vaccines, but, again, they are not “scientific” issues like heliocentric vs geocentric. If I may be permitted the neologism, I’m afraid some opponents of the debate have fallen into expertolatry, the worship of experts. We should always remember that experts are people, not angels or devils. Value expertise, but fear expert power.