Liability of Experts – The New York Times | Today Headlines

Liability of Experts – The New York Times

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Jennifer Nuzzo is a nationwide health expert who made her mark during the pandemic. She is Johns Hopkins University’s much-cited principal data collection epidemiologist on Covid-19 testing. She is active on Twitter and frequently cited in the media. She can explain complex ideas in plain language, and she has often been prophetic about Covid.

Nonetheless, she took to Twitter last May to criticize herself. She had expected that the end of her mask tenure by Texas would lead to an increase in the number of cases, and it was not:

Nuzzo’s little exercise in self-responsibility highlighted the inherent unpredictability of this virus. (Masks reduce its spread, but the effect may be too small to be seen across a community or state.) His tweet also underscored a more important point: people with a platform. -public form should be prepared to admit they are wrong.

There is no shame in being wrong sometimes. Everyone is, including knowledgeable experts. The world is a messy and uncertain place. The only way to be right all the time is to be quiet or not to say anything interesting.

The problem is not that people make mistakes; is that so few are ready to admit it.

Many experts post praise for themselves on social media instead. They claim that every new development – whether it’s on Covid, the economy, politics or foreign affairs – justifies what they’ve been saying from the start. They don’t address the weak points of their arguments and hope that no one notices their incorrect predictions from the past.

We journalists commit the same sins. Over a decade ago, in an effort to do better, David Weigel of Slate (and now the Washington Post) introduced a concept he called “expert liability.” He describes articles in which journalists highlight their own mistakes – not small factual errors, which are often corrected, but analytical errors, which are not.

Today’s newsletter is my annual attempt at empowering experts. Below I will link to other writers who have written similar articles in recent weeks.

Looking back on the past year of the Morning Newsletters, I felt proud of our coverage, especially on Covid, and I am grateful to the many readers who have come to rely on the newsletter. But that’s enough self-glorification. As Nuzzo would say, the time for accountability.

I, too, underestimated the unpredictability of the virus.

Before the emergence of the Delta variant, infections among those vaccinated – known as breakthrough infections – were rare. I assumed the pattern would likely continue through 2021. If it had, huge new waves of infection, like the current one, would have been impossible.

Instead, Delta led to an increase in peak infections, and Omicron led to a larger increase. Symptoms are usually mild, but they can lead to poor outcomes for a small portion of people who are vaccinated and whose health is already vulnerable, such as the elderly. The wave of revolutionary infections means that Covid often still dominates everyday life.

I have since tried to absorb the lesson of Covid uncertainty and have highlighted it in more recent newsletters. As Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota – who has long insisted on the inevitable unknowns of Covid – put it: “We are still really in the cave age to understand how viruses emerge, how they emerge. spread, how they start and stop, why they do it. what theyre doing.”

I was too skeptical of the first signs of declining vaccine immunity and the importance of boosters.

Towards the end of the summer, some researchers began to report data suggesting that the potency of the vaccines had waned after about six months. Other researchers doubted the case, saying the data was unclear – and that drug companies had a clear incentive to promote waning immunity and boosters. But the case of boosters now seems clear.

Amidst uncertain evidence, I try to avoid automatically assuming the worst. This is often the right approach. (Many of the early warning signs of Covid – about the virus’s effects on children, the contagiousness of Delta, and the severity of Omicron, for example – have proven out of place.) Sometimes, however, the disturbing signs are the ones that deserve attention. ‘to be taken into account.

Another lesson: the quality of Covid data in the United States is poor, often clouding early judgments. It may be wise to look to Israel, where the data is better. Experts there quickly recognized that the decline in immunity was real.

Inflation has been higher and longer lasting than I expected.

This is the element of the 2021 analysis that bothers me the most in retrospect, as I recognized a large underlying cause of inflation. On several occasions, I have argued that congressional stimulus packages seem unnecessary: ​​the government is sending checks to the vast majority of American households even though most people’s finances are doing very well.

A more targeted approach – bringing more help to the unemployed and those struggling with childcare and less to everyone – seemed better suited to the economic effects of the pandemic. Yet Congress, with bipartisan support, continued to send tens of millions of checks.

The checks arrived as many families were also spending less on services, such as travel and dining out. As a result, their spending on physical goods increased, contributing to shortages and the highest inflation since 1982.

I was lulled into complacency because inflation hadn’t been a problem for decades. People who had warned about inflation, like Wall Street economists and many conservatives, had been wrong time and time again. The economy had been too weak to trigger inflation during the first two decades of the 21st century – until things changed.

“I think it’s really important for the media and for other institutions like the CDC to build trust by being honest when they are wrong,” Derek Thompson from The Atlantic said on Bill Simmons’ podcast. Thompson’s own mea culpa: underestimating breakthrough infections.

My colleague Shira Ovid asked technical experts to describe their misplaced predictions, including their over-optimism about self-driving cars.

Matthew Yglesias of Substack listed all of the 2021 predictions that he was wrong, including whether a Supreme Court judge would retire.

Damon Linker of the week underestimated the seriousness of Jan. 6 and said he did not praise Liz Cheney enough.

Donald Trump’s coup attempt has reached its next stage, Maureen dowd writing.

To protect democracy, Democrats must organize locally, Ezra Klein argues.

Eat well challenge: Control your desires.

The time of the quiz: The average score on our last news quiz was 9.1. Can you beat it?

Tips from Wirecutter: (Re) consider wired headphones.

Lives lived: For millions of Americans, Dwayne Hickman will always be Dobie Gillis, the teenage boy in love he played in a revered sitcom. Hickman died at the age of 87.

Bike paths to inspire carbon-conscious travelers. A black district which once again asserts itself as a cultural center. And a lush archipelago that resists overtourism.

These three are among our 52 Places for 2022, an annual Times article on top travel destinations. This year’s list highlights places where positive change is happening, be it environmental or cultural, and travelers can be a part of it.

But worthy doesn’t mean boring. The views from Iberá Park in Argentina are breathtaking, even if you don’t know the park’s grasslands are essential to saving the odd-tailed tyrant birds. And the braised artichokes and Burgundy snails served at EDWINS in Cleveland are as much about gastronomy as it is about teaching a new profession to former prisoners. See the 52 locations. – Natasha Frost, Editor of Briefings

Friday’s Spelling Bee pangrams were driver and insulating. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.

Here are today’s mini crosswords and a hint: audibly (five letters).

If you want to play more, find all of our games here.


Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David

PS The word “newsletterFirst appeared in The Times in – where else? – a newsletter.


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