Once, I believed that the world is run by experts who know what to do. I believed that the best response to a crisis is to listen to the experts and do what they say because they know best and can be trusted to have our interests in mind.
Yes, I was an idiot. In my defense, I was young. Now I know better.
The list of failures of the experts is long. The Vietnam War, which preceded my youthful enthusiasm for pundits, was started by what David Halberstam derisively called “the best and the brightest” in a book of the same name.
They were well educated, or at least well accredited, spoke skillfully, and enjoyed the consideration of others in the ruling class. And they produced a debacle of the first order.
Since then we’ve seen numerous cases of expert incompetence, just look at the management of the economy right now, but one of the most startling is the continued generational ineptitude of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the rest of the public. . health facility to deal with disease outbreaks.
The latest example is the government’s handling of monkeypox, which the Biden administration has just declared a public health emergency. As The New York Times recently reported, the US government had 20 million doses of monkeypox vaccine less than a decade ago. (It’s actually a smallpox vaccine called Jynneos, also effective against monkeypox.) But when we needed it, the so-called Strategic National Stockpile had only 2,400 doses on hand, enough to vaccinate just 1,200 people.
How did this happen? The bureaucratic incompetence and slowness of the Food and Drug Administration. The bureaucrats allowed the vaccine to expire without being replaced because they wanted to develop a freeze-dried version with a longer shelf life. But FDA delays in approval meant the new vaccine didn’t appear even as the previous vaccine expired. The end result was that when a vaccine was needed, none was available.
“I want people to know how badly this turned out given the amount of money and resources that went into it,” says Dr. Ali S. Khan, a former CDC official.
Okay, yes. Worse yet, this vaccine, which was also intended to deal with a bioterrorism-inspired smallpox outbreak, was stored outside the United States at the Danish manufacturer’s facility, causing its own logistical problems.
“The CDC was supposed to have spent the last two decades preparing for the specific scenario of ‘What if someone resurrects smallpox and releases it as a bioweapon?’ Now, when faced with a virus that is literally ‘story mode smallpox,’ they fail,” researcher Nicholas Weaver. observe. Monkeypox “is not hypervirulent,” she notes, and vaccines, treatments and techniques, such as contact tracing, designed for smallpox work just as well. However, the CDC has “failed, totally and utterly, to stop this from growing.”
Well, it’s not the first time. The incompetence of the health establishment regarding COVID is infamous. First, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, downplayed the threat, only to turn a dime and declare it deadly. The CDC developed a flawed test for COVID, then for months prevented other institutions from distributing competing tests that worked. (He’s doing the same thing with monkeypox tests.) Fauci has also executed a 180-degree turn on masking and promoted lockdowns, which the World Health Organization has concluded do more harm than good.
But the CDC’s ineptitude goes further back than that. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the CDC also floundered, admitting its performance was “shaky” as it was outmatched in many ways by health officials in countries like Nigeria. That debacle, five years before the rise of COVID, should have been a wake-up call, but the agency slept on.
And, of course, the CDC’s performance during the 1980s AIDS outbreak, when Fauci first became famous, was abysmal. Fauci, in particular, promoted the misconception that ordinary heterosexuals were at risk for AIDS in the same way as homosexuals and intravenous drug users, which was not true. He spread unnecessary fear and diluted efforts to help populations at risk. There’s not much of a learning curve here.
We would like to live in a world where we can trust experts, both to know what to do and to promote policies that help us. But we don’t live in that world. Maybe we need better experts. The ones we have don’t seem particularly expert at all.
Or maybe we have to think for ourselves.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the blog InstaPundit.com.