David Leonhardt on logic

On the Josh Barro Very Serious podcast, all about making use of expert knowledge, here’s David Leonhardt of the New York Times:

Don’t go to the nihilist place of ‘Well, there’s no such thing as a fact’, right? And ‘We can all pick our experts on climate change.’ And ‘Maybe it’s happening or maybe it’s not.’ Or, ‘Maybe communism works or maybe it doesn’t…’

I would just tell people: Don’t think that everything is a 50/50 issue. It’s true that there are often [expert] divides but it’s often true that the weight of the evidence often lines up more strongly for one argument than another.

I do think in terms of tips for people who are not journalists or academics, I think logic is an underused tool. And I think too often people are saying ‘Wait is there a peer reviewed study that proves this point?’ And OK if there is we should take that seriously. But listen to the argument that people are making and ask yourself if it made sense. Early on in the pandemic when the CDC and other experts told us not to wear masks, it didn’t make any logical sense. There’s a reason doctors and nurses wear masks in hospitals. There’s a reason why societies in Asia that have been battling contagious viruses a lot recently put a lot of emphasis on masks. Use logic. Ask yourself where does the evidence line up. And recognize that people — all of us — are going to more heavily weight evidence that fits our priors but that every question is not simply a coin flip and that you actually can find useful knowledge. And often logic is your best tool for sorting through who’s full of it and who’s actually saying stuff that makes sense.

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