COVID-19 has engulfed the media, including social media, as we all know. While I don’t post too much on FB, and blog super sparingly (I prefer to only write or post when I really have something to say), I’ve in particular hesitated to post things I’ve read about COVID-19, and to comment on any posting, thread, etc., regarding it.

It seems I am in a minority here – most folks are posting, re-posting, and talking like crazy about it. (Which is fine – I am an open conversation radicalist – anyone can talk all they want about the pandemic as far as I’m concerned!).

But there’s a specific reason I basically don’t post anything about it, nor engage in conversations about it. As I said to a friend on the topic, it’s because I know almost nothing about it.

I’m almost certainly in one of these two places, regarding the COVID-19 and pandemics in general:

If you are unfamiliar with this fascinating cognitive bias, I assume this is a fine primer.

I have low confidence in my grasp and understanding of this pandemic, and so I’m not even sure if it’s because I’m merely “average” in my knowledge, or perhaps I have way less even than the average person! Either way, I just don’t know – obviously I know some super basics, such as  that it has killed people, it has spread basically everywhere, its highly contagious, etc.

Dallin H. Oaks – a person I admire greatly – once wrote “perspective is the ability to see all relevant information in a meaningful relationship.” The problem with all the media reports and articles and talking about COVID-19 is that I feel I lack much foundational knowledge necessary to contextualize the many charts, facts, figures and information that has flooded the world in the past few months.

I’ve not read much about past outbreaks (SARS, MERS,) or about viruses in general, or pandemics in general! So my perspective and opinions must be kept to myself, for I really don’t have much confidence in them.

There are a few elements unrelated to medicine, but related to the pandemic I have more confidence in my level of knowledge –  economics, for example. So I have more confidence in my opinion on the stimulus checks. But that’s a minor footnote in the grand tale of COVID-19.

But I’m fairly open minded, fairly well read, and generally not a stupid person. I’ve read plenty about COVID-19 and the pandemic. But still I try to refrain from any real judgments about this or that regarding it.

With new, rapidly unfolding things like this, without any foundational knowledge it’s best to effectively withhold real judgement until many months after – perhaps at least a year. Right now it’s too emotional and controversial. As things settle, they will be analyzed more soberly by all, and for trustworthy publications (which can just as easily be caught up in the Dunning-Kruger effect!) to eventually disseminate more cold analyses of it all.

My expectation is that the best analyses will be aggregated from multiple areas of expertise. In other words – not just what medical experts say, and not just what macroeconomic experts say, etc. It will be a complex picture, as are most complex things. This is partially why I also can’t just accept arguments that appeal to authority claiming the WHO or the CDC says X, so that must therefore be the most comprehensive and correct conclusion for “what should be done.” It’s never that simple.

This seems especially the case when “experts” disagree so much anyway. Remember when that person from the CDC said months ago that the Coronavirus will inevitably come to the US, and then a few days later an official statement from the CDC contradicted that, and then yet another few days later some cases turned up in Washington state? I do.

At least two possibilities for where I am regarding global warming –

I have limited knowledge on meteorology, climatology, environmental science, geomatics, etc. But I am fascinated by the global warming debate, and I read pretty voraciously. This means I hilariously realize I know that I don’t know much, but have some level of confidence because I do know something about it. So, my first thought is that I’m on that downward slope of the Dunning-Kruger diagram. I do know a lot more about economics, and the global warming debate touches enough on that subject quite a bit, which is also why I feel justified in not putting myself on the actual Dunning-Kruger peak!

It’s also possible I am misinterpreting my own placement on the graph, and I’m on that right side circle. After all, when I speak with others about global warming, I frequently (though not always) find they are unfamiliar with  a large set of arguments and priors I believed were foundations to the debate. (A prime example being the temperature sensitivity to feedback loops, a crucial part of every IPCC report that alarmists I’ve spoken with don’t even seem to be aware of). I do read plenty about climate change in the media, and so combining these two things could imply I’m just barely on the upward slope, just to the right of “average.” The problem is that my sample size of talking to others about it is just way too small.

I may know more than some folks I’ve spoken with, but clearly I am just not very knowledgeable anyway. And the crazy thing about judging things like this, is that you can’t easily know where you are on it! So I list at least these two possibilities.

Roughly where I am regarding international security (and foreign affairs more generally) –

I’m a layman when it comes to international security, for sure. But a quick count of my library shows over 50 books I’ve read on the topic of war, military history, and international security (nearly all academic, not popular histories), plus another dozen or so that aren’t strictly on this topic, but touch on it in broader contexts. On top of this, I stay current with the writings of various foreign affairs analysts – I subscribe to MIT’s International Security, and Foreign Affairs, and regularly read sites like RAND, etc.

In short, I have a non-expert, but still wide ranging foundation of knowledge to build upon when I read related news. And I think this base of knowledge is much broader and deeper than the average person.

So, for example, before COVID-19 was a major thing, in late December 2019 and early January 2020 there was brief but widespread fear that a war would erupt between Iran and the US. I wrote about the situation in confidence, and I think that the brief history since then has proved my thoughts largely correct (despite a flaring up in just the past few weeks between US and IRGC navies). Missteps in such a situation are always possible, but the likelihood of real conflict remains low, as I detailed at the turn of the new year.

I’ve read extensively on Iran’s specific situation for well over a decade, including operational wargames about Iran’s actual capabilities in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, compared to the US. I’ve read plenty about how Iran strategically outmaneuvered the US in Iraq in the late 2000s and by the early 2010s had made Iraq heavily influenced by Iran – which is why rocket attacks on US positions from IRGC units can even happen in 2019! (Yes, a major failing of Bush, who did do plenty of good things, is letting Iran outwit him in terms of strategic influence over Iraq). The long and short of it, is that a hot war between the US and Iran remains highly unlikely, though not impossible. The #WW3 has already dramatically faded in popularity (probably due to COVID-19, but I believe it would have faded nearly as quickly even without the epidemic).

This is a topic I can talk about at length, even in the heat of controversy, because of prior knowledge. So I do!

Not so much COVID-19.  Where do you think you fit on the Dunning-Kruger graph on various topics?

Ever since I learned of the Dunning-Kruger concept years ago, I’ve tried my hardest to never be on that peak of stupidity. I’m sure there are some topics where I am right there, sitting. But I hope not many.