Public Health

How 'Cranks' Advance Science

A major lesson of the pandemic is that science is "not a priesthood," says Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer, a general surgeon and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


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"Don't believe the claim that the internet has corrupted our public discourse with misinformation," says Jeffrey A. Singer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and general surgeon in Phoenix, Arizona. "Experts don't have a monopoly on the search for truth."

In his recent article, "Against Scientific Gatekeeping," which appeared in Reason's May 2022 issue, Singer examined the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which those who broke with the establishment were branded cranks or accused of having blood on their hands. "The medical science priesthood has a long history of treating outside-the-box thinkers harshly," he writes.

Most theories turn out to be wrong—"American science fiction and fantasy writer Theodore Sturgeon said, '90 percent of everything is crap,'" Singer notes. "But the remaining 10 percent can be important," which is one of the major lessons of the pandemic.

"Science should be a profession, not a priesthood."

Photo Credits: Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (Great Britain); National Institute of Oceanography of Great Britain; Great Britain. Colonial Office. Discovery Committee, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons; Dr. Dalia Ibrahim, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; BSIP/Newscom; Gavin Kent Mirrorpix/Newscom; Dr. Laughlin Dawes, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Tamar Hayardeni, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Gupta 1 Sharkpixs/ZUMApress/Newscom; PLOS Video Channel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (for iondannis photo); Abaca Press/Berzane; Nasser/Abaca/Sipa USA/Newscom; Internet Archive,; Envato Elements.

Music Credits: "Blue Race," by Out of Flux, via Artlist; "Ant," by Evgeny Bardyuzha via Artlist.

Written by Natalie Dowzicky and Jeffrey A. Singer; narrated by Singer; edited by Regan Taylor; camera by Benjamin Gaskell.

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  1. Fauci must answer for his crimes against humanity

      1. Fauci for sure. How many times has he advocated vaccines now, despite everything we know, how deep the lies go, the ironclad documentary evidence compiled by Dinesh D’Souza and others using cutting edge technology to identify consistent patterns of 5G activity in proximity to non-purebloods?

        “Using observed weekly numbers of infections, deaths and vaccinations for each state, the dashboard displays an alternative scenario: What if the pace of vaccinations at the point of highest demand last spring for each state was sustained, until vaccination coverage reached 85, 90, or 100 percent of the adult population? ... between January 2021 and April 2022, vaccines could have prevented at least 318,000 Covid-19 deaths. This means that at least every second person who died from Covid-19 since vaccines became available might have been saved by getting the shot”

  2. "Experts don't have a monopoly on the search for truth."

    Fauci does.

    Oh wait, you said "experts".

    1. Right, Saint Fauci is no mere expert. He is The Science!

  3. Nice, Arizona. We really do produce on the best people.

    1. Difficulty. Mark Kelly.

  4. A major lesson of the pandemic is that science is "not a priesthood," says Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer

    Blasphemy! REEEEE!!!!!!

  5. No, science is not a priesthood. But it is also difficult to do well. Not many people have the training and the expertise and the experience to *deeply* understand a particular scientific discipline. And, since scientific literacy is so woefully terrible in this country among the general population, it is easy for charlatans to fool people with science-y looking presentations and arguments.

    1. Like Fauci and Brix!

      1. I'd like to hurl a Brix at Fauci's head.

      2. That's how I interpret his post.

    2. By "charlatans", do you mean the entire federal health establishment?

      1. why limit to health?

      2. yes, medical "experts" are in the same category as "scientists"

    3. Your continued soft authoritarian obsession with experts is a big blind spot for you.

      To be clear, even "experts" in a scientific field might be interesting to listen to, but they are not infallible. Most deep scientists don't even understand basic statistical practices, which has resulted in an embarrassing number of deeply technical papers being thrown out. Many scientists making computer models are bad coders, and many of their findings have also been thrown out after code review.

      This is most pressing when you are talking about epidemiological studies where bias is difficult to detect and statistical mistakes can cause vastly unreliable results.

      But even moreso, it is inarguable that the Medical Establishment was not performing science over the last 2 years, they were cherrypicking to find the justifications to do what they always wanted to do.

      1. A lot of modern science is simply p value hunting to get published and it is a huge problem.

        If you compare enough variables in search of something that passes a threshold, eventually you get a false positive.

      2. There are some extremely intelligent people, scientists at Cern, who are much smarter than I'll ever be, who once claimed they measure particles moving significant faster than the speed of light, despite that being impossible. They presented their findings (this is over a decade ago) and talked about what this means for every scientific model we use and the potential future for humanity.

        Turns out they had some minor miscalibration on the devices they were using to measure the distance. Because these are scientists, and they know how to use the equipment, but not every conceivable error that could happen with the equipment because that's not their expertise.

        1. Let's not pretend we're talking about particle hunting with CERN. The covid debate is around stuff like how to count covid deaths by vaccinated or not vaccinated. It isn't Higgs boson stuff.

      3. "the Medical Establishment ... were cherrypicking to find the justifications to do what they always wanted to do"

        The entire healthcare profession! For how long did this entire profession in every country of the world fantasize about long grueling shifts watching patients die on ventilators and performing amputations? How they rubbed their miserable little hands together at the opportunity, and then engineered the entire thing.

    4. Science self selects not through experts but through replication and derivation of principles. You prefer to defer to people instead of science.

    5. It's no more difficult to do well than engineering, medicine, teaching or any of a thousand other professions above the skill level of janitor. But, yes, the lack of scientific literacy in the general population is deeply lamentable.

    6. Emergency powers vested in non-elected officials is the real problem.

      Without emergency powers then Fauci or other biased scientists with agendas are just people with opinions that voters can choose to listen to - or not -when voting for their representative leaders.

      As long as modern communication systems are intact legislators can meet anywhere in person or online any time of day or night anywhere in the world.

      All COVID rules should have been voted on by legislators who have to answer to voters.

    7. It’s not really that hard. With science, you test stuff in different ways to see if it’s true. You let other people test stuff that you’ve tested, to make sure you’ve done it right. If you won’t let anyone do testing or talk about evidence and testing, it’s probably not science.

      If someone gives you “ Answers“ Without corroborating testing, or even allowing themselves to be questioned they’re either Bill Nye or Fauci – not a scientist, even a researchers bottle washer should know to do better, unless their funding is on the line.

  6. Actual practitioners of science are not the priests like Fauci looking to be in front of a camera. Some of these priests may have scientific credentials but likely have not set foot in a lab, examined a patient, or even read a research article in years. All they know is that they speak the truth because they are science “experts” according to those who put them there and that’s their job…

  7. Scientists are wrong a lot. That's how science works. You learn from being wrong as well as from being right. It's all about knowledge.

    Government "scientists," like most people in government, are hostile towards anyone who says they're wrong. That's because power comes from never admitting fault. It's all about power. Knowledge that could weaken that power must be suppressed.

    Because of this everything that a government scientist says must be suspect. They could know they're wrong and causing harm, but they don't care because it's all about keeping and expanding their power.

  8. Every major scientific breakthrough occurs when the consensus is proven wrong. The scientific method involves theories, experiments, and data, not voting by panels of experts or edicts from on high.

    See Galileo, Einstein, etc.

    1. Right. But those theories, experiments, and data tend to be supplied by scientists working in that particular field, not by politicians, think-tankers, journalists or bloggers.

    2. One of the reasons why contrarian narratives about science being untrustworthy are painfully wrong. Scientists make their names finding things that are new and challenging assumptions; contrarians believe some culture has emerged across all scientific activity globally that manages to suppress the natural desire of humans (and labs and universities) to achieve fame and success, and as a result there is only groupthink and fraud and the evidence and data that scientists collect cannot be trusted or consulted. We must instead defer to political authorities and power.

  9. It it reasonable to criticise those scientists who claim some kind of infallibility. But I can't say I noted too many of those who were sceptical of Fauci et al being just as sceptical of the ivermectinites or the Hydroxychloroquintets. On the contrary.

    And what's the proportion of cranks who were right versus those who were wrong?

    1. But I can't say I noted too many of those who were sceptical of Fauci et al being just as sceptical of the ivermectinites or the Hydroxychloroquintets.

      That's what happens when people judge science by politics.

      And what's the proportion of cranks who were right versus those who were wrong?

      Again, that's based upon politics. There are tens of millions of people who still believe ivermectin is a cure and the vaccine is a hoax.

      One person's crank is another person's oracle. All depends on who they voted for.

    2. But I can't say I noted too many of those who were sceptical of Fauci et al being just as sceptical of the ivermectinites or the Hydroxychloroquintets.

      There could be some kind of selection bias there. I won't deny that there are many people who are sure ivermectin is a good treatment for covid. But I think there are a lot of people like me who aren't sure it works, but aren't sure it doesn't either. And are mostly just shocked and confused at how strongly and quickly any use or suggestion that a well known and quite safe drug might be a valid treatment has been suppressed. In an emergency situation, shouldn't it be encouraged to try any reasonably safe drug that seems like it might have some benefit? Instead we mostly got "wait until you are too sick to breathe and then go to the hospital" and pretty much nothing else.

      1. That you describe ivermectin as "quite safe" illustrates the issue. At standard dosage for de-worming, it is indeed. At the dosages claimed necessary to treat Covid - its safety was not known when it began to be promoted.

        So you were misled. By whom, and why?

        1. It isnt used to treat covid, it is used to prevent viral loads requiring hospitalization from early intervention. Like most antivirals.

          Ypure the one pushing lies here.

          1. That's a treatment, idiot.

      2. "well known and quite safe drug might be a valid treatment has been suppressed"

        Aren't you confusing media grievance stories for reality? What "suppression" do you speak of?

        Do you think it deeply unjust that the FDA looks for repeatable effectiveness in studies before approving medications that tax the liver etc?

    3. "And what's the proportion of cranks who were right versus those who were wrong?"

      Completely irrelevant.

      To evaluate a scientific claim, you should look at data, facts, and logic not the political affiliation of where a statement comes from.

      1. Nope. It tells you what initial probability there is of a crank being right. Bayes, etc..

  10. "Science should be a profession, not a priesthood."

    Science is fucking neither of those things. Science is a specific process. People can certainly use it in the course of their profession, and some people are going to be extremely focused on using it exclusively to garner more information, but it's just a methodology. You don't have to be a scientist to do science, and if you did, science wouldn't have any value.

    1. " Science is a specific process. "

      But medicine is not science. It draws from science, of course, but it also draws from theatre in a vital way that physics and chemistry do not. Theatre is all about artifice and the suspension of disbelief, hence the white coats and stethoscope costumes and props in the medical world.

  11. Oh thank goodness... the Cato Institute is here to offer sage thoughts on crank science. I look forward to the thoughtful perspective on this deep subject from Pat Michaels. Also a good opportunity to help people understand that greenhouse warming is a misinformed poppycock advanced by fraudulent actors at compromised agencies like NOAA and NATO, and that Cato's sponsors in the fossil fuel industry deserve broad, adoring government protection for innovative levels of pollution.

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