Coronavirus (8) – Groupthink by Experts and Advisory Boards

In our last post, we discussed groupthink by governments and health authorities. We will continue to have a look at involved experts and advisory boards. Earlier posts demonstrated that there are lots of examples of not explored possibilities, omitted information, and neglected statistics by experts. They were often trapped in the logic of their field of expertise; knowing all the details without being conscious of that the assumptions made in their own field of expertise. Caught in a logic bubble and often unable to escape. 

Self-censorship is closely intertwined with groupthink, for example, a positive air ionization recommendation was taken down from a site of a national virus control institute because it would imply that viruses are contained in aerosols, which was not in line with the official position of the institute. Thus, discussing that in public was regarded as something that must be avoided at all costs.

Here is a list of assumptions made by experts are:

  • herd immunity does exist,
  • the virus is only spread by air, not by aerosols,
  • children cannot be infected, nor can they infect others,
  • persons that are infected must show symptoms.
  • only the elderly with underlying medical problems are vulnerable,
  • face masks do not work,
  • you can only use mouth masks once,
  • young people experience only mild complaints,
  • air treatment systems, temperature and humidity do not contribute to the spreading of the virus,
  • complete or ¨smart lockdown¨ is preferable above testing, tracking, and isolation.

Really?

And the practice among experts and advisory bodies to put ¨facts¨ in question is strange. . .

Experts in the Advisory Boards have been canonized. Even the press no longer asks critical questions. It is even encouraged. Doubt is deliberately left out of the reports and is therefore factually political and not scientific. The advice of an Outbreak Management Teams is non-transparent and uncontrollable and therefore irrefutable. They are not accessible by the law of Freedom of Information. At the same time, how ironically, politics run away from responsibility and hide behind experts. Politicians like to hide behind “Science” as if it had a concrete position.

Groupthink by experts and advisory boards

Few, if any, institutions have made public the models on which they base their policy advice. It has been the prevalent thought for too long that the problem requires expertise from no one else apart from epidemiologists, microbiologists and virologists.

The UK uses SAGE, the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies, as a formal part of the UK government’s emergency response structure. The group consists of chief advisers who are mainly scientists and medics. The advisors “are at the pinnacle of a system of science and medical advice involving perhaps hundreds of technical specialists”.

The Government does not always agree with the advice given, scientists do not always agree either. Yet, the worrying aspect about the way the British Government is using the group is that the discussions have taken place behind closed doors. The responses to these critical voices have been that it is not necessary to allow dissenting voices to be heard.

It is assumed that advisors who disagree challenge groupthink. The idea is that advice from the chief medical officer, need to be supported, not questioned in public.

In hindsight, the approach to use the consensus advice from a number of technical experts has not been entirely successful. Regardless of how you measure the impact of coronavirus, the UK appears in the group of countries that has been hardest hit.

Sweden’s approach has relied on the expert advice of Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. Contrary to other countries, Sweden chose on the advice of Anders to not lockdown. In contrast, to the neighboring countries Norway and Denmark that chose to lock down, Sweden has had a much higher death rate in Covid-19. Most of the deaths have been in care homes, and it seems like the country famous for its welfare has failed to protect the elderly.

Anders admits that the country’s Public Health Agency: “knew that group was very fragile and that we would get a lot of deaths if they got infected. But we didn’t know that the disease would enter so easily and for the spread to be so big”.

He thinks that the strategy with relaxed social distancing has worked well, yet, the idea to reach herd immunity by using this approach has not so far been successful, only 14 per cent of the tested population has developed antibodies (June 2020). The underlying assumption behind the Swedish expert approach is that Covid-19 will be around for a long time. Thus, it was assumed that short-term lockdowns ultimately won’t help. The idea that has been used relied on the idea that governments need to come up with sustainable models for living with the virus.

An expert in an Advisory Board suggested that experts such as suggestions from psychologists, economists, and ethicists should be ignored since “the extra diabolical dilemmas they manage to come up with will end up the Minister-President. We can’t have that right now¨.

Different ways to discredit another person’s opinion has been seen repeatedly during the last couple of months. Saying empty phrases is one approach that has been used, for example,¨Together, let us now mainly spend the energy to restart society quickly and smartly on the basis of good analyzes and data and not on the basis of empty words.¨

Next

In our next and last post about the Corona crisis and groupthink we will have a look at the main stream press.

Related posts

  1. The Curse of Experts. In the history of science and  technology there are countless examples of experts, who were assumed to have a vision on what would be the cause of a problem, or what would be feasible or not, and were later proved to be absolutely wrong.
  2. Detrimental Social Agreements. You are not allowed to dissent, because that is ¨not responsible¨ and hinders arriving to a ¨joint solution¨. It would mean that you are not ¨united¨ and have notwithstanding that difference in opinions and interests? That is not ¨responsible¨. Would you accept this?
  3. Group Obedience. Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent. So encourage disagreement, a difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection, and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.
  4. Patterns in Medicine. Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias
Other sources
  1. Groupthink

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