How our hierarchical information institutions lost their way
This is by far the most cogent, well thought through piece I've seen in a year on the role of expertise. Maybe the best thing I've read on COVID. I really hope a lot more people read it.
I agree with "we are slowly developing a new form of trust based on a decentralized form of information gathering as the hierarchical form becomes secondary." However; this process is looking very clumsy as we have institutions moderating this information gathering without equipoise or interest in understanding nuance.
This is the best articulation of the dichotomy of actions from governments in the last year. Casual reader, but subscribed because of this article.
There is a difference between public health officials, public health workers, and public health experts. The officials are almost always political appointees of one variety or another, and often their public health expertise is in education, homelessness, hunger, or nothing at all. Public health workers were program-focused, and you can see signs of this as those program workers who were inspecting restaurants and grocery stores simply expanded their checklist of infractions. Neither of these two groups have any particular skills that apply to vaccine production, distribution, inoculation clinics, managing quarantine systems, etc.
The last group, public health experts, have relevant knowledge, but they don't necessarily have relevant expertise. We simply haven't seen anything like COVID in long enough that the most of the experienced experts are dead (and perhaps dead of COVID). This isn't HIV, nor the measles. There are some very good ID doctors out there who understand how to manage an outbreak of something in a hospital, but the measures you can take in that environment simply won't scale up to a county, state, nation, or a society. Also, the process of "science" is that of argument vs argument, backed by data (note this is real-world process, not the ideal). Data is slow to come by, and the experts usually only cover a narrow area, where this crisis covers everything from education to food production.
I think this can all be baked down to one mistake: elected political actors ceded their role to "experts", who were public health officials, not public health experts. The job of the legislatures and executives at various levels is to take decisions and communicate, clearly, what those decisions are, and to monitor the results of their choices. OWS is an example where that occurred -- it was an executive decision, taken with advice from relevant experts, not officials, about the fastest approach to get one or more working vaccines and treatments. The actions of Cuomo and Newsom are also examples, but not positive ones -- they ceded their roles to the "science" that wasn't there and held press conferences that dodged, rather than answered questions.
Good news is that when airborne Ebola comes along, we will finally have a playbook for it.