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Boosters and Expertise

The debate about COVID boosters is a good prism for judging when expertise is relevant and when it's not.
A man receives a H1N1 swine flu vaccine at XXXXX on October 27, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea. The Korea Food and Drug Administration approved domestically developped vaccines last week, the government plan to vaccinate 35 percent of South Korean population until next February.
(Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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November 16, 2021 3:40 p.m.

Over the last half dozen years the rightist-populist (shorthand: Trumpist) war on expertise has created a highly polarized conversation about the role of expertise in democratic public life. But the debate about booster shots shows how those of us who are on Team Expertise have perhaps slightly overshot in this contentious public conversation. Or perhaps ‘overshot’ isn’t the right word. It shows how once we set aside conversations with idiots and bullshit artists there are real nuances, as there always has been, in the balance between expertise and democratic self-governance.

Let’s start by making a few points clear. Especially in the hard sciences we really should defer to people with professional expertise. Not sign off all decision-making, mind you, but really show great deference to the organized and systematic accumulation of knowledge which is a centerpiece – perhaps the centerpiece – of our civilization. The question is often on what questions specifically is the expertise relevant?

Here’s where you get to the booster question.

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