Should a Real Expert Debate or Not?
This morning I read the 10th of probably 100s of articles pleading with vaccine cheerleader Professor Peter Hotez not to debate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
He would never do this because he would be crushed.
There really isn’t any doubt about that.
The only question is whether anything would be gained for quality science at all by the outcome.
Our side says yes and their side says no.
Our times have taught us this with certainty: the Hotez camp (which includes all the three-letter agencies plus the whole of the pharma industry plus the media) want an information lockdown.
They have one message: take your meds. It doesn’t amount to much more than that.
RFK Jr., on the other hand, has some serious questions about adverse effects, the combinations of meds we are taking, and the conflicts of interest that are everywhere in this sector. He has spent decades studying and litigating them. He also has grave questions about the relationship between gain-of-function research and the bioweapons industry in the United States and around the world.
Hotez says that he would not debate these issues for fear that giving RFK Jr. a platform would elevate his views and grant them the legitimacy that they do not deserve. He says he prefers to write for the journals and engage only with peers.
But as Tucker Carlson’s new episode points out, Hotez is not some ivory-tower researcher/doctor. He has spent three years appearing on every mainstream venue that he trusts, which are the same ones that Fauci appeared on. They have created an information bubble for themselves. They want to live in it forever.
It’s true that it is not a good tactic for any public figure to engage with people with a fraction of their own reach. Patrick Buchanan once told me that a key rule in these fights is “never shoot down.” That is usually true. You risk amplifying your critics when in fact hardly anyone has heard of them.
But at this point, it is very likely the case that RFK Jr. has a larger reach and influence than Hotez. Hotez is already losing and losing badly. He would not be shooting down. One could argue that RFK Jr. indeed has more to lose from a debate then Hotez, so why would he do it? He would do it for one simple reason: he has a passion for facts, truth, and justice.
Even more importantly, RFK Jr. has worked hard to become an authentic expert on the topic of pharmaceuticals and the industry backing them.
A great feature of becoming a real expert in a field of study is that you can encounter any setting in which the topic is being discussed and engage with calm confidence.
Real experts invite more information and challenges, even direct debate, because doing so satisfies that deep curiosity that led them to be experts in the first place.
They welcome it!
A real expert is voracious for engagement with others on the topic.
A real expert wants to test his views against his opponent, just as great athletes and artists welcome performance and competition.
It inspires them to achieve excellence in the field that inspires them the most.
I would never claim to be an expert in the interaction of infectious disease and policy but I’ve studied the topic incessantly over the last few years. This week, I’m at Porcfest where the topic has come up constantly and there are a variety of opinions out there. It’s super exciting to hear a number of different perspectives because it gives me a chance to test my own conclusions. I desperately want this because I need to know if my conclusions are correct or can otherwise be improved.
At the Brownstone tent, we’ve been running an open mic. Two nights ago, one speaker got up to celebrate his vaccination and personal COVID avoidance strategies. I could feel the room start to get a bit angry so I took the mic and congratulated the man for speaking.
Then I started asking him questions. Why did he feel the need to “socially distance” following the taking of the vaccine if he is so sure that it worked? What does it mean to him that the vaccine did work? Is it possible that he kept getting sick with COVID precisely because of the repeated use of the vaccine?
The whole time I spoke with calm and sympathy. My interlocutor did the same. Within a few minutes, this nice man admitted that he had no real idea what he was saying and could not make sense of his actions and views. He further said that if he could do it over, he would never have taken a shot because now he worries about what it might have done to him.
This was not a debate but rather a discussion. I was genuinely curious about this man’s views and he was interested in mine. I gained some insight and empathy into another’s person’s plight and he into mine. We were better off as a result. This is the best form of “debate:” a mature and calm exchange of contrary views.
I’ve become suspicious of people who believe that their best strategy for winning an argument is to interrupt, shout, spit, fling clever rhetoric at ever higher decimal levels, and hurl insults. These people are also good at yelling out technical details in great rapidity so that they cannot be checked in real time. These habits don’t prove that the person is a fraud but they certainly raise suspicions.
A person with a real command of facts, theories, and real experience can patiently listen to contrary views and answer them with calm reason. There is no grounds to interrupt. On the contrary, all such a person needs is a bit of quiet and some willingness to listen. That person will win the debate against the most belligerent opponent.
There’s something else fascinating about the Hotez refusal. It suggests that he doesn’t really trust the intelligence of the listeners. He figures that people are too stupid to figure out fact from fiction and so therefore the only correct path is to endlessly repeat his exhortations to comply with his latest declarations.
In this way, fake experts are often condescending, arrogant, pushy, and hortatory. Maybe you have had a boss or a friend like this. You have probably learned to stay away from such people. Indeed, with power, they can become dangerous.
In contrast, watch any interview or speech of RFK Jr. He is reasoned, fact-filled, curious, a natural educator, calm, and unfailingly kind to his critics. I saw it the other day when he pointed to a New York Times journalist in the audience. The audience started to boo but he quieted people down and said she is a very nice person with real abilities. This is how he is: he is even kind to those who have smeared him the hardest. He is not infallible and admits it. He wants to improve his understanding. This is the difference between real and fake experts.
The best book I’ve seen on the problem of fake expertise is that of Thomas Harrington: “The Treason of the Experts.” Here he discusses a deeper problem that afflicts many people in academia and government. They have been granted credentials. They deploy these credentials—which may or may not signify expertise—as weapons. They dismiss every view but their own.
Hotez is hardly alone in this. He is an archetype of an entire army of the credentialled who cheered as masses of people were robbed of their rights and liberties over these three years. Now they are on the hot seat. They cannot stand it. They don’t believe that anyone has the right to judge them. But he cannot stop the trajectory of public opinion, which is turning ferociously against them. They are losing. And they cannot stand it.