Now is not the time to undermine our actual health experts

Now is not the time to undermine our actual health experts

PERHAPS it all began with Michael Gove. Perhaps it took wings under Donald Trump. Perhaps it became a daily occurrence with Boris Johnson.

However and wherever it started, and no matter what country you’re in, one thing the pandemic has provoked is an attack upon knowledge.

In 2016 Michael Gove replied to the suggestion that nearly all experts in nearly all fields opposed Brexit by saying “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts”.

By any standards it was a bizarre thing to say.

Like saying what is the worth in studying a subject thoroughly for thirty or forty years?

Like saying why bother bringing your car to a qualified mechanic? Why get a qualified pilot to fly the plane?

Why bother asking Alex Ferguson about football? What does an expert know?

Why not get an American President with no medical qualifications at all to suggest ingesting bleach? Why not get a British Prime Minister to throw out a Latin phrase by way of actually saying anything? That’ll do, won’t it?

I can’t help thinking of all this as I daily listen to highly qualified, vastly experienced, medical experts in virology wheeled on to the airwaves to yet again explain how pandemics progress and how vaccines work.

All against a background of noise generated by those who are far from experts.

I can’t help wondering how they feel having their hard-earned knowledge challenged by someone who’s just ‘had enough of experts.’

Someone who, hopefully, wouldn’t tell the pilot how to fly the plane because of something they’d seen on Facebook.

But who will tell the expert how viruses and vaccines work. It would be funny, wouldn’t it, if it wasn’t so seriously pandemic.

Though, perhaps, it’s not Gove and co.’s fault at all.

True, we live in a globalised world but we have no Gove, Trump or Johnson here in Ireland.

Yet we do have those confident in dismissing experts.

On the one hand we have one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, which is something we can take great heart from, but if there is one thing about social media it is it’s loudness.

Our know-better-than-the-experts might be minuscule in number but even here in Cork, Galway or Kerry they are loud.

So, maybe it is just that. Maybe it is just the illusion of the internet which has given so many more a voice and the illusion that all those voices are equal.

In this version of reality my opinion on how to fly a plane is as equal as that of an experienced pilots. My opinion on how to run a sheep farm on the Cooley Peninsula is as valid as that of a farmer from generations of Cooley Peninsula farmers.

He may well be the expert but, sure, what does that matter?

What does the brain surgeon know about brain surgery that I don’t?

What does the expert in viruses know that I don’t?

Sure, you’d let me have a go at fixing your car, wouldn’t you?

Functioning, healthy democracies, indeed functioning, healthy societies, have a populace that questions.

They have a society that doesn’t just obey, out of fear, or because of punitive consequences.

Asking questions doesn’t undermine us, it enhances us.

But an unwillingness to accept knowledge, to accept learning, to accept even the intrinsic value of those things, undermines everything.

Accepting that governments, for instance, make mistakes is simply part of being a mature society. Accepting that there are major problems with the pharmaceutical industry and an easy reliance on overused medications is mature, critical thinking.

Accepting that continuing restrictions are painful is just being an adult.

But confusing this with not accepting expert explanations leads nowhere.

There is then no basis for anything. Curating your own knowledge by accessing questionable social media reports or carrying out your own ‘research’ on the internet doesn’t actually increase your knowledge.

For instance you can, if you so wish, do your ‘research’ into why the earth is flat, but that is fundamentally not knowledge.

Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, has been one of those subjected to protests outside his home.

Presumably his expert opinion wasn’t appreciated by the protestors though I’m unsure as to how many of the protestors were themselves experts.

Except that, apparently, doesn’t matter anymore.

What is Holohan’s considered and learned opinion compared to some bloke with a placard, a reliable broadband connection, a Facebook page, and a smartphone?