Sunday, May 19, 2019

Don’t hesitate to question the pundits, experts and scientists

Every one of us must question the experts, seek information from multiple sources (which means getting out of our own ideology bubble), and use critical thinking to figure out the truth.

Does the title sound heretic? After all, our entire society runs on specialists – engineers, scientists, doctors and experts in other fields. These people spend a lot of time mastering certain subjects, and we can see their tangible accomplishments all around us. The experts also get paid a lot of money and are held in high esteem by the society. While all of that is true, we can also observe that the experts – individually and collectively – are not infallible.

Political experts failed to see Hillary Clinton losing the election; financial experts couldn’t foresee the global financial crisis of 2008 – in fact, they created the crisis; military experts have been miserably wrong about the Middle East from the invasion of Iraq to the destruction of Libya and Syria; nutrition experts still can’t decide the ideal food pyramid; health care experts can’t control the spiraling costs; political experts haven’t figured out ways to reduce crime, poverty and inequality; and great minds of sociology and psychology haven’t increased the overall happiness and harmony in the society.

Experts do have one great talent: pointing fingers. For example, liberal and conservative pundits blame each other’s party, libertarians blame the governments, and progressives blame the corporations. Experts also love to blame the public (example: obesity epidemic) or even “unknown” factors. When all else fails, they resort to logical fallacies (example: “inequality is good, it motivates people”).

However, there are many reasons why experts (in any field) reach, propose and defend disastrous ideas. Understanding and addressing these reasons can help us eventually find better solutions to the many vexing problems of our times.

Compartmentalization: To increase productivity, we have adopted specializations. However, this also means increased ignorance about the big picture as well as other related subject matters. People are simply taught to not question matters outside their job description. So, for example, in the creation of the Great Financial Crisis, credit agencies would take a whole bunch of subprime mortgages, bundle them up and give an AAA rating. Buyers and sellers of this toxic asset wouldn’t question the rating, because they trusted the experts.

As another example, pundits in mainstream media never doubted or challenged the validity of polls in the 2016 election, even though many polls were extremely skewed and biased. There was also a unique phenomenon: some voters were ashamed to admit they were supporting Trump, and thus lied to the pollsters. This is why nobody saw Hillary Clinton losing. There was one smart poll that asked people if their neighbors were voting for Trump. In that poll, Trump was ahead in Michigan and Pennsylvania, States which the experts thought Trump couldn’t win, but he did.

Americans rarely question the intelligence agencies. So, if the CIA says that Iraq has WMD or Russia interfered in the election, nobody dares to analyze the claims or demand evidence. Experts and pundits get hysterical, and logic becomes futile at that point.

It’s Your Job: Consider the people in the marketing department of McDonald’s. Their job is to make fast food attractive. They’re just doing their jobs without worrying about the consequences. There are many jobs like these. Think of the highly-paid lawyers at Monsanto or the lobbyists in Washington. During the Syrian war, journalists from BBC, NY Times and others wrote glowing articles about terrorist leaders by casting them as freedom fighters. This is a widespread, systemic problem that creates experts whose jobs entail shutting out ethics, morality, truth and other considerations.

Success and Money: Our entire mainstream media has embraced the tabloid culture, because journalism has been reduced to advertisement revenues and clicks. Sensational stories and shocking titles sell way more than serious, objective articles. Money and corporate bottom line also affect scientists who work for Big Pharma or depend on grants from giant corporations. Tests are falsified and statistical numbers are fudged to get the FDA approval. Years later, they may get caught, but the corporation pays a minuscule fine compared to the profits they made from the drugs. For example, GlaxoSmithKline paid $3 billion in fine for fraudulent use of certain drugs. However, those drugs brought in more than $40 billion of revenue.

Military contractors are under constant pressure from shareholders to increase revenue and profit every year. Thus, experts are paid to exaggerate foreign threats and justify endless wars. Politicians are influenced by campaign contributions from the militar-industrial complex, and even retired military generals get lucrative jobs in defense industries.

Wall Street, of course, is the paragon of greed and corruption. Much of the financial system is based on fraud and manipulation. For every honest financial expert, there are thousand experts on TV and respectable media who will defend the status quo.

In my book, “Syria – War of Deception,” I reveal how the experts on Syria – Charles Lister, Elliot Higgins, Michael Weiss etc. – blatantly lied about the Syrian war for years. These people are paid by think tanks who are in turn funded by Qatar and UAE, big sponsors of terrorists.

Consciously or otherwise, money and power influence experts and their opinions.

Specialization also equals Ignorance: Doctors at the most prestigious universities end up graduating knowing nothing about the healing powers of food, plants, meditation etc. The smartest doctors in America will be stumped if you ask them, “What food fights depression?” or “What can I eat to reduce my cholesterol?” Modern medicine is also primarily based on treating our bodies like machines with individual and isolated parts. This is an entirely erroneous perspective, but experts are only as good as what they are taught.

Group Think: There are dozens of funny and fascinating experiments done on group think and conformity. (YouTube has many videos like this one). However, in real life, this affects everyone from experts to scientists to politicians. People just want to go with the flow and avoid confrontations. This is why consensus is not always a persuasive argument. For example, people often quote that 97% of scientists agree on global warming. However, if you can get 10% of the scientists to agree upon something, you can get to 97% over time, if you use many iterations of small groups. Thus it’s good to remember that sometimes it’s the tiny, stubborn minority that speaks the truth.

Recent examples of group think failures in the corporate world are the $700 juicer and the “one drop of blood for testing” wonder-woman, Elizabeth Holmes. How did brilliant venture capitalists pour $100 million into a company that wanted to sell juicers for $700, especially when the packets could be simply squeezed by hand? Group think. And to imagine that people gave Theranos $1 billion and all the mainstream media worshipped her when the entire operation turned out to be fake? Blame it on group think that affects uneducated villagers in a poor country as much as the smart minds in Silicon Valley.

Syria has also been an amazing showcase of group think. The entire charade with the White Helmets and the 7-year-old Aleppo girl, Bana Alabed, is beyond ridiculous. But everyone in the establishment just goes along with the script. This saga is an impressive display of mass mind control through group think.

Punishment: If there are many carrots for experts to lie, the consequences for speaking the truth can be painful. Scientists who have spoken against GMOs get viciously attacked by Monsanto and other corporate interests. The biotech industry even went to extreme lengths to retract a scientific paper that demonstrated that GMOs caused tumors. Another scientist showed that an herbicide, Atrazine, caused male frogs to turn into females. His career was almost ruined by corporate powers. In journalism, Chris Hedges and others were fired from prestigious media outlets for daring to speak out against neoliberal/neocon wars. When Gary Webb exposed CIA’s drug trafficking, he was attacked so relentlessly that he committed suicide. Experts have a strong incentive to stick to the official propaganda.

Ideology and Pride: Rachel Maddow will never point out to anything positive done by Trump; and Sean Hannity will never compliment Obama. Washington Post will never admit that RussiaGate is a hoax; and corporate scientists won’t admit to the devastation caused by GMO. Ideology and pride affect scientists, experts, famous writers, billionaires and CEOs just as much as your partisan family members.

Sinister Motives: There are many psychopaths and sociopaths who climb to the top. These people are adept at deception and manipulation. You may see them on TV or on the editorial page of The New York Times. There are also politicians and notable figures who are victims of blackmail or threats, and thus will propagate disinformation.

In conclusion, it’s not easy to figure out what’s true and what’s fiction. Fake news and fake experts are everywhere, often disguised as reputable sources. Every one of us must question the experts, seek information from multiple sources (which means getting out of our own ideology bubble), and use critical thinking to figure out the truth. As a society, we should also encourage big-picture system experts who analyze the short-term and long-term ramifications of policies in all institutions.

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