On the BioLogos Forum frequent commentator “beaglelady” introduces a video from Dr. John Cook, Research Assistant Professor at Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, author of the book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change, and founder of http://SkepticalScience.com . The video is entitled, “How fake experts are used to mislead”, and takes to task, in particular, “America’s Frontline Doctors” and Dr. Stella Immanuel. Snopes.com said:
A group that called itself “America’s Frontline Doctors” (AFD) took to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 27, 2020, in a self-described “White Coat Summit” to address a “massive disinformation campaign” regarding COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.
Additional investigation by Snopes seems to show the AFD was an ad hoc group put together for the demonstration on the Supreme Court steps, although since then, according to Snopes: “AFD registered for a second domain, americasfrontlinedoctorsummit.com, on July 29, according to Whois. As of Aug. 6, the group appeared to still be active on Facebook and Instagram with thousands of followers.”
Stella Immanuel, a licensed physician, currently practices at a private clinic in Texas. The Wiki page goes on to say:
As the founder of a charismatic religious organization, Fire Power Ministries, she has made various fringe claims about other medical conditions, especially as it relates to human sexuality, including that endometriosis, infertility, miscarriages, and sexually transmitted infections are caused by spirit spouses. She has also endorsed a number of conspiracy theories, including the involvement of space aliens and the Illuminati in manipulating society and government.
Although the fake expert has been around for a long time, the problem in American science was greatly exacerbated during the smoking debates of the 1980s. The tobacco companies used the strategy of the “Whitecoat project” to project pro-tobacco propaganda as alternative science. It didn’t matter if their scientists had any real experience in public health, they just had to look like they did.
Another cogent example is the “Global Warming Petition Project” that achieved 31,487 signatures of scientists. But when you looked closer at the signatories, 99.9% had no climatology expertise. It was fake experts in bulk—which is far better than one fake expert.
How do you identify a fake expert? Dr. Cook gave some examples:
- You don’t become an expert in one field by having a degree in another field
- Some people think their expertise in some other field gives them the authority to contradict expertise in the specific medical field related to the pandemic.
- You don’t acquire expertise by standing in the vicinity of other experts.
- You don’t become an expert because of a smart family member.
- You’re not a scientific expert because you think you have a great brain.
- Another red flag of false experts is when someone claims their own authority is superior to the consensus of experts in that field.
- The only way to achieve expertise in a complex subject is through years of study, further years of scientific research, and having your research scrutinized by other experts.
One often hears from purveyors of fake experts the admonition to “do your own research”. But until you’ve had actual training in research in a scientific discipline, most people have no idea how to research a subject. They think it means type a subject into an online search engine. All too often, when we “do our own research” what we are really doing is looking for confirmation our particular position is right, which is all too easy to do online.
Dr. John Cook has a series of videos examining the logical fallacies, rhetorical techniques, and conspiratorial thinking in COVID misinformation. They are a very good series, well done, low key without adding his own overblown rhetoric. The critique of his effort is that he is preaching to his own choir. Would somebody caught up in COVID misinformation even sit through one of his videos? Probably not. Dr. Cook takes direct aim at Donald Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis. Any Trump supporter will likely run off shouting “fake news”. Is there anybody still on the fence that might be convinced by a well-reasoned argument? Maybe… I don’t know. A recent ABC news poll found nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis. So maybe there is hope. I say keeping plugging away with the truth…