When the real expert doesn’t really know. Here’s an interesting approach to the question from a political scientist and a business prof:
To better understand the problem of communicating scientific knowledge to the policymakers and the public, it helps to divide the difficulty of questions into three levels. Level-one questions are those that anyone with even modest expertise or access to a search engine can answer. Some political economy questions in this category include, for example, ‘Will price controls cause shortages?’ or ‘Are incumbent governments likely to do better in elections when the economy is performing well?’
Level-two questions are those where only the most qualified experts have something to say. Some political and economic questions that we believe fall into this category are ‘Can we design algorithms to assign medical residents to programmes in an effective way?’ (yes) and ‘Do term limits improve governing performance?’ (no). These are questions for which substantial peer-reviewed scientific literature provides answers, and they can be addressed by what the American philosopher Thomas Kuhn in 1962 called ‘normal science’: that is, within existing paradigms of scholarly knowledge.
Level-three questions are those where even the best experts don’t know the answers, such as whether the death penalty lowers violent crime, or what interest rates will be in two years. Such questions are either not answerable given current research paradigms, or just more fundamentally unanswerable. Much of the scientific enterprise itself consists of distinguishing between when further research or information will make questions answerable or not.Andrew Little and Matthew Backus, “Confidence tricks” at Aeon
In the last six month, thinking in particular about COVID-19, most of us have heard just about all the contradictory certainty we can stand.
The Voice of Science increasingly sounds like crows squabbling over a biscuit.