Listen to the experts! Follow the science! Shut up, you aren’t an epidemiologist! You’re probably as sick of hearing those remarks as I am.
An expert is generally regarded as someone who has been doing something for so long (10k hours or more) that they have become highly proficient at it. If you do a task 5 hours a day for 200 days a year, it takes about 10 years before you could be regarded as an expert. Nevertheless, there are many experts in every field, and some have a lot more than 10k hours. However…
The vast majority of experts are specialists, working in a particular field. They have vast knowledge and expertise – in that field. They may be somewhat knowledgeable in some other areas, especially if they are closely related, but their degree of knowledge generally becomes lower as you move further away from their core field.
Other experts are generalists. In engineering circles, they are often called systems engineers. In medical circles, they might typically be GPs or general surgeons, or vets. They typically have similarly sized brains, intelligence and knowledge to specialists, but their expertise is spread more thinly across a broader domain, often a much broader domain. Depending on career history, they may still have some regions where they are more knowledgeable than others, but their most important skill is considering many different but interacting parts of a system simultaneously.
“Epidemiology is the study and analysis of the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions in defined populations.” Epidemiologists are therefore exactly the sort of people we need right now to advise on the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions. I wouldn’t dare to think I know better than an expert epidemiologist in that regard and neither should you.
Outside that well-defined domain, their expertise quickly evaporates and they quickly lose their claim to expertise. I would not bother to ask an epidemiologist for their advice on many other important factors such as politics, economics policy, nutrition, cardiovascular health, exercise or mental health factors of lockdown, loneliness, transport policy, policing, sociology, relationships, divorce or family breakdown.
COVID affects all of the above areas so we need people who can consider all of them, considering all the interactions within the system. That means generalists, not specialists, since no human brain can be expert in all relevant fields. Generalists can make informed decisions on the best overall approach. They would consider inputs from epidemiologists of course, but also inputs from experts in all the other fields too, assimilate and then consider the entire system.
I would suggest therefore that government and media are giving far too much attention and power over decision making to one particular expert group – epidemiologists – and giving far too little consideration to the whole system and the generalists who are the appropriate experts in that domain.
Indeed, even politicians are somewhat generalist. Few have any particular field of expertise other than those skills needed to persuade people to vote for them.
However, an intelligent PM like Boris should be able to make a good overall judgement on the best overall approach to dealing with COVID, taking due account not just of ‘the scientific advice’ but of all the relevant factors – the pain, suffering and deaths resulting from the spread of COVID, social and health issues related to lockdown, the many factors governing the health of the economy, the massive future debts that will need to be repaid and the inevitable severe austerity resulting, social cohesion, the trust in the police, justified fears about state intrusion, mass surveillance, loss of liberty, and many more.
He should certainly not be abdicating decision making to people who are only expert in one of those areas.
And neither should you.