why public health "experts" never want to fight "the amateurs"
what kung fu theater can teach us about public health
back in the long ago, i was a wrestler. i was pretty good, won some tournaments, captained a high school team, etc. nothing earth-shattering, but no slouch either. later on, i picked up muay thai (thai kickboxing). this was back in the 90’s, long before it was trendy and when the gyms were dirty, hard, fighters only affairs. no one came for thai-bo. you came because you aspired to fight full contact.
i was a vaguely talented amateur with a winning record in the ring against other vaguely talented amateurs, but no hope of ever vaulting up to the next level. if you had offered me a fight against a pro, i’d have said “no way.” i’d have gotten my head torn off. and i knew it.
that sort of thing was not subtle. you knew how “expert” you were. you knew it because you fought and there is nowhere to hide in training, sparring, or especially the ring with other people who aspire to be fighters too.
everyone had plans. everyone got punched in the face. then you found out whether and to what extent your plan could survive contact with reality.
if you didn’t know if you were better than someone, there was an easy way to find out.
there were other arts as well. the rarified shaolin mystics, karate kiddos, and tae kwon dozers all looked terribly splendid with their flying kicks and punch flurries and wudan wisdom. hell, they scared me early on. their exclusive mystique made for great marketing. but it was bad product. and this became really obvious. many so called “fighting experts” were absolute cupcakes and you could dismantle many a “black belt” without breaking a sweat.
none of them wanted to fight with us. (well, maybe me, but not the deeply scary dudes i trained with) they would not get in the ring. their masters and sifus would not come within a country mile of our instructors if it looked like fight day. this allowed delusions to persist.
flying triple lotus kick can wow the crowd, but on “defend yourself against a trained opponent day?” not so much.
but if you’ve never taken it out for a spin, how would you know?
our teachers and coaches were from thailand. they called all these claims and flashy fighting “woo-woo.”
like “you bring that woo-woo into the ring, you get killed.”
and they were right.
we saw it when the bold ones tried or we picked up a student from some dragon academy. and this is why the ability to deny that our ring existed and was valid mattered so much to them. it preserved the mystique of the mcdojo factories of “do 18 months and you’ll be a blackbelt in TKD” and disciples that would only engage with one another in controlled, contrived circumstances where it was safe.
most astonishing, of those who did come many walked in utterly sure they were about to dominate.
for a long time, this myth held. “i know karate!” was a fearsome claim. then, a funny thing happened: the truth got loose. MMA slid onto the scene and picked up all the techniques that worked from kickboxing and MT to jiujitsu, wrestling, and whatever else looked useful. no dancing around and looking impressive. all applied fighting.
it was easy for me to see coming because it was things i had done before. i had some experience, some basic grounding.
and it mopped the floor with woo-woo.
what people forget is there was this big early hope that the masters of woo-woo were going to come and silence these upstarts. some saffron monk from the secret valley whose name may not be spoken would float in and clean house. instead, anyone who tried got eviscerated. and very, very quickly, these disciples found reasons to stay on mountaintops.
the mismatch was far too obvious and nothing dissolves the mystique of the lifetime woo-woo practitioner like getting knocked out in 30 seconds by some 3rd year fighter from a good school.
the true power of woo-woo is making you too afraid to challenge it.
and a lot more of the world works like this than you think.
because woo-woo is absolutely fricking everywhere.
and that’s what made this question from longtime gatopal™ jordan schachtel so wonderfully poignant.
can anyone else think of a field like this?
oh, you mean like these public health frauds from their nonsense credential factories having to compete in real time with people who can actually do science, data, and statistics?
because i sure saw a lot of alleged blackbelts and sifu’s choked out by "newbies" over the last 2 years..
it looked like this:
i’m not going to mince words here: nearly all the policy arm of public health is woo-woo.
these alleged epidemiologists and modelers and academics were a bunch of cloistered frauds pushing hocus pocus from the mountain top temples. and they have learned nothing. they got it this wrong in march of 2020. and they were still getting it this wrong 2 years later.
it’s all woo-woo and fear mongering.
their track records stink. this field has long been mostly a joke with a few bright spots generally far from the public policy portion of this ecosystem of mysticism.
from SAGE to the CDC, the UW to the NIH, it’s been complete and total woo-woo. their models did not just fail, they were so bad they were non-deterministic and could not even replicate their own results.
they rode in on big white woo-woo horses laden with credentials and made bold claims of their prowess and prescience. they legitimately had no idea they were not world champ top of the game stone cold epi-killahs. they had never been outside. it was 15 years of patty cake training to get ready for the gold medal round in olympic boxing.
total misses on swine flu and zika and dengue and “ebola comes to america” had been largely ignored.
they had no idea that they were, in reality, stunningly, embarrassingly bad at this.
and suddenly they were in the big leagues and got knocked out in the first round in front of everyone because they did not know any better than to jump in a ring for which they were unqualified. all their predictions were wrong, their recommendations false and ill advised. it was just jumping around and tossing out jargon and mathiness as though it implied knowing how to fight a disease.
and we watched this kung-fu theater die in real time.
most amusing was what it elicited from those who knew how to fight. one look and this fraud was obvious. it was 7 year olds yelling “hee-yah” and tripping over their feet.
many (probably most) of us that got drawn into this debate were not grounded in epidemiology. honestly, that’s probably why were were able to see the problem. if you actually knew how any small part of any of this worked, you could see that the “experts” were doing that bit wrong.
so you grabbed whatever thread looked off to you and started to pull. and it rapidly became obvious that this was neither as complex nor as obscure as was being made out. it was just jargon and authority being used to intimidate and to impress those unfamiliar with what science is supposed to look like (alas, most of the public).
but, if you knew biology, drug or drug trial design, statistics, data handing, and/or inferential and deductive reasoning, you could rapidly catch and exceed the mendacious monasteries of public health. and so people came from all over from finance and academia and physics and chemistry and the life sciences. actuaries rode roughshod over PhD’s in epidemiology. people who build HFT algos looked at SAGE models and could not stop laughing for a week.
the fight against the experts was grossly unfair.
the “experts” were reared on woo-woo. they had never been in a real ring with real techniques and real people who came from spaces where you had to be right, not tenured and where nobody cares about your credentials or your shiny job title or kowtowed to getting grant moolah to run your study and have a career. they cared about whether you could impose order on data, make meaningful predictions, and support your claims in open debate.
the early clashes were telling.
i was astonished, over and over, when engaging with people who ran departments at universities and government agencies to find they lacked basic grounding in stats and often in science. many had barely read the works of their own space or done so so selectively as to amount to the same thing.
and the wizards of woo-woo did what they always do: once they saw they were outmatched, they sought not to overcome opposition in the arena, but to bar others from it, to intimidate with credentials, dismiss through ad hominem and appeal to authority, and to prevent speech and publication even from their own class. go against the teachings of the great woo-woo and nevermore shall thee gain grant money, tenure, or sinecure.
trust no one who we have not anointed as trustworthy.
it’s entirely circular. only they who give out credentials can be trusted because you can only trust those with credentials.
this is actually how you spot woo-woo.
look for groups claiming prowess validated by credentials that they themselves bestowed.
if you’re really that good, step in the ring. bring your ideas and data and process and render it open. let’s fight and see what hypotheses emerge as validated.
good fighters want to be tested. the ones who are all talk do not.
this is true in every field of human endeavor.
and as an indicator, it’s nearly infallible.
in 2019, i legitimately was not aware of what a near total sham public health is. i had never seen them step into the octagon. by mid 2020, it was so manifestly obvious that no one with real data, statistics, or science chops could miss it.
it took team reality 3 months to go from “never looked at this before” to basic parity with public health and in 3 more, it had overrun the discipline.
watching michael levitt basically teach a whole field how to model epidemics was amazing. it took him a couple of months to nail models that vastly outperformed any others i saw. apparently, they don’t just hand out nobel prizes in chemistry for having a winning smile.
watching hilarious woo-woo like “the hammer and dance” get arm barred into submission by people that knew how to spot jumps of assumptive hand waving was uproarious.
i built a bunch of models by hand in excel using google mobility data that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that lockdowns did not bend curves and all the pacific rim “efficacy” was really just pre-existing immunity from prior SARS-like viruses.
meanwhile, the public health “experts” could not even figure out that the signal was seasonal and were embarrassing themselves claiming peru as a great example of lockdowns working right before it underwent the worst covid spike in the world a few minutes later.
the “experts” have had a REALLY bad 2 years. their credentials and lazy appeals to authority did not stand up to the arena. and they stopped wanting to talk to us at all and adopted epithets like “denier” and stances like “the science is settled.”
these are the weasel words of defeated woo-woo hiding its “L’s.”
now rotate the shape again.
do you really think it’s JUST this discipline of “authorities and experts” that is so riddled with rot and unfit for combat?
because it isn’t. it’s not even one of the worst.
and this incentive to exclude the uninitiated from the debate is only going to rise. this is going to be the fight of our time, the rear guard action of ivory towers seeking to preserve undeserved stature and prerogative as “the keepers of science” that technocracy may remain in power.
“i won’t talk to you because you do not understand” is a weak dodge from those who keep getting it so systematically wrong.
the world is full of people who are very good at things. good at seeing patterns, good at handling data, good at assessing evidence and reaching conclusions.
and the world is highly networked now.
and that segment getting more and more access to the data.
and every problem is shallow to someone.
if you don’t know the answer, the best step is to show the problem to lots of people. someone in some far flung field will say, “oh, we have a problem like that in our field too. here’s how we solve it.”
this is the clear path for one seeking actual answers and the path no one seeking to prop up a phony baloney pool of purported knowledge would ever dare to tread. thus, “open data and inquiry” characterized by engagement not opprobrium is the shibboleth of sound science.
hiding behind a process of “peer review” by friendly fellow woo-woo aficionados to exclude debate and criticism from outsiders and pantomime adversarial assessment is just woo on top of woo. it generates the appearance of fact checking but is really its antithesis. only the guild gets to decide what can be approved and spoken of and these bodies exist to defend ideology and careers, not to pursue truths and paradigm shifts
and this is why the future will continue to be incredibly unkind to the siloed orthodoxies of self-anointed expertdom.
because the future is interdisciplinary.
the future lies in cross-pollination, not in protecting the genetic purity of the fragile hothouse flowers of academia.
and that means the future is ours.
the speed with which the crowd sourced public health and epidemiology movement coalesced out of 20 different disciplines finding and building off of one another was nothing short of dazzling.
it was inspiring.
this field made more progress in 2 years than in the prior 50.
a whole new underpinning in reality was generated for a debased antiquated discipline in nothing flat.
and credibility has shifted drastically.
we dropped the woo-woo and learned what worked for real.
now imagine what this can do in every other discipline.
and how bright that future could be.
and THAT is why we must be absolutists about reclaiming the public square and the freewheeling and adversarial discourse of progress.
collaborative media must be defended as an agora open to ALL ideas.
we stand at the cusp of something truly extraordinary and mere guilds and government must not be allowed to bar the path to it.
the time for kung fu theater is over.
this is our time.