Yes, Knowledge Trumps Ignorance


I’ve had a running series of exchanges and arguments with people who say: I’m no Ebola Truther but the folks down in Dallas clearly screwed things up so how are we supposed to trust the CDC not to goof nationwide. Here’s my argument.

I’m no expert on epidemiology or infectious disease containment, though I’m somewhat familiar with historical epidemic containment strategies. We have a situation in Dallas with a single victim who was infected in Liberia, traveled to the United States during the disease’s incubation and became symptomatic here. Public health authorities have thrown a web of surveillance and containment around those with whom he came in contact and those who may have had secondary contact.

We’ve seen lots of second-guessing and commentary about fails and dropped balls. But I have not seen this from anyone at the CDC or – and this is the big thing – from anyone else who is an expert on public health or epidemic disease containment. I’m seeing it from people trying to logic it out themselves from what they see on TV.

I don’t take everything the CDC says as gospel. It would not be entirely unreasonable to think that if folks at the CDC had or were screwing things up they might have an institutional or personal interest in covering up or downplaying those failures. But the people at the CDC are not the only people with knowledge about this stuff. If we were seeing knowledgable people saying that everything was getting screwed up, I’d be worried. But we’re not. Quite the contrary actually.

What I have seen are amateurs – people with as much knowledge as I have – using their own logic and suppositions to draw conclusions, often but not always with a backdrop of fear and trash talk. Sometimes I can spot their logical fallacies. Other times I can’t.

But this a case where having knowledge actually matters. If you literally do not know what you’re talking about, I’m going to put your opinions at the back of the line behind those people who do know what they’re talking about. And others should too.