Forbes Tells You Not To Think For Yourself

I have written about a couple of instances where Forbes has censored articles because they disagree with the “scientific consensus” (see here and here). As a result, it didn’t surprise me to find that they are now actively trying to discourage people from thinking for themselves. This discouragement comes in the form of a blog article written by Dr. Ethan Siegel, who holds an earned Ph.D. in astrophysics. It is entitled, “You Must Not ‘Do Your Own Research’ When It Comes To Science”.

Dr. Siegel believes that in order to assess any scientific statement, a person must have some expertise in the relevant field. Otherwise, the person’s “research” will only end up confirming what he or she already wants to believe. He writes:

It’s absolutely foolish to think that you, a non-expert who lacks the very scientific expertise necessary to evaluate the claims of experts, are going to do a better job than the actual, bona fide experts of separating truth from fiction or fraud. When we “do the research for ourselves,” we almost always wind up digging in deeper to our own knee-jerk positions, rather than deferring to the professional opinions of the consensus of experts.

He backs up this anti-science view by giving examples of how people deny the scientific consensus on issues like fluoridated drinking water, vaccination, and global warming (aka climate change). He then relates it all to the current pandemic. He says that rather than listening to the experts and obediently following whatever they tell you to do, some people are actually looking into the matter for themselves, and the results are devastating.

Of course, the entire premise of his article is that the “scientific consensus” is more likely to be correct than an individual doing his or her own research. As a scientist, I can tell you quite definitively that this just isn’t true. In fact, the majority of experts are just as likely to dig in deeper to their own knee-jerk opinions. Why? Because the idea of “scientific consensus” is a science-stopper. As soon as a “scientific consensus” is declared, lots of experts move on to research other things. After all, if “science” has already figured it out, why bother wasting time to make sure it is correct?

Even if some experts continue to research the issue in some way, the majority of scientists often ignore the data these experts uncover if it challenges the “scientific consensus.” Consider, for example, Bateman’s Principle, which I wrote about eight years ago. It was proposed in 1948, and it was quickly accepted by the majority of biologists. In fact, many elevated it to the status of a scientific law. There is only one problem: The principle is wrong, and Bateman’s original experiment that led him to develop it was fundamentally flawed.

Now, of course, that’s not a problem. Science is continually changing and correcting itself based on new information. Here’s the problem: When something is considered a part of the “scientific consensus,” it takes a lot longer to be corrected, because the majority of experts dig in deeper rather than admit that what they were taught and what they believe is wrong. In the case of Bateman’s Principle, for example, falsifying data appeared in 1990. However, because it was considered part of the “scientific consensus,” the majority of experts continued to believe the principle and teach it as fact to unsuspecting university students. It took another generation for scientists to actually re-evaluate the experiments Bateman did. When that finally happened, the “scientific consensus” started to change. While it is still taught as fact to many unsuspecting university students, those who are familiar with the relevant scientific literature know that it is incorrect. Why did it take 22 years for someone to re-evaluate Bateman’s Principle? Specifically because it was part of the “scientific consensus.” After all, when you slavishly follow the consensus (as Dr. Siegel says you must), you aren’t going to question it.

Furthermore, Dr. Siegel seems to think that when ignorant people like you and me do our own research, all we do is confirm our initial views. In my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth! I was an atheist who became a Christian specifically because I did my own research on the issue. I have collected the stories of many others who did the same. I regularly speak with students and parents who did their own research and changed their minds on an issue. In my opinion, I think that’s because most people want to believe things that are true, and most of them are good enough thinkers to be properly persuaded by the evidence.

Let’s bring this back to the current COVID-19 pandemic. In his anti-science article, Dr. Siegel decries the fact that people aren’t listening to the “scientific consensus.” Some question the use of masks. Others brazenly visit friends and family even though the “scientific consensus” tells you to hunker down in your household and avoid as much contact as possible with the outside world. What Dr. Siegel doesn’t even consider, of course, is that those actions have consequences, which the “scientific consensus” is currently ignoring. Yes, mask mandates have been shown to reduce infection rates by a small amount. At the same time, however, long-term use of masks also produces slight risks. Rather than attempting to evaluate the risks versus the benefits, the majority of experts have simply dug in deeper to their view that masks are necessary.

In the same way, while it is obvious that limiting your contact with the outside world will decrease your chance of being infected, the “scientific consensus” ignores the negative emotional and physical effects of isolation. I have a very good friend who is a medical doctor, and he says that in his experience, isolation has saved lives, but overall, it has caused more deaths. I have no idea whether or not he is right, but it’s certainly possible. Suicide rates are probably going to be much higher this year because of the pandemic. We also know that because they are afraid to be in contact with others, people are not getting routine medical care, which can lead to death.

Should you listen to the “scientific consensus” and wear a mask? I don’t know. I do when I am in public, but then again, I am rarely in a situation where I have to wear a mask for an extended amount of time. I only put myself in those situations when I think the benefit is worth the slight risk. Will I isolate myself? Only when I think the negative effects of the isolation are small. I still visit with some friends. I still attend funerals. I have spoken at two graduation ceremonies since the pandemic started. I have attended two live theater performances, both of which elevated my soul. I consider the negative effects of missing such events to be greater than the negative effects associated with an increased risk of infection. However, I don’t go to live church, because I like to be in church with my mother, and she is at great risk. Thus, I have her over to my home and watch church online with her, my wife, and my daughter (when she is home). In the case of church, then, I think that the negative consequences of not going to a live worship service are small when I can worship with my family in my home.

Dr. Siegel, of course, doesn’t want me to do these things. He thinks I should slavishly follow the “scientific consensus” without any rational thought at all. Am I just fooling myself into thinking that I am doing the right thing? Perhaps. Of course, if I followed the “scientific consensus,” I could also be fooling myself. As a scientist, I think the latter is just as likely as the former, so I will continue to think for myself, despite what Dr. Siegel suggests. Not only do I think my life will be better for it, I also think that science is more likely to progress faster when others do the same.

23 thoughts on “Forbes Tells You Not To Think For Yourself”

  1. Thank you for this link to the study on mask mandates:

    One sentence in that study stood out to me as indicating where we have gone wrong in how we addressed the pandemic in a free society:

    “Even though more states have issued such orders since the study was completed, it is critical to provide direct evidence on this question not only for public health authorities and governments but also for educating the public.”

    The issue is that scientists and health officials were at first focused primarily on influencing government policy, in order to influence public health and control the pandemic. They had it backwards. In a Democratic society they should have focused first on “educating the public”, then let the public educate their leaders, who in turn would enact public policy where needed with broad-based support and understanding. I’m sure the elite thought they were in a big hurry because the pandemic was spreading fast. But the consequences are widespread public distrust, as people who were compelled to wear masks and then given an explanation much later tend to “dig in their heels” indeed. Persuasion, not force, should have been the first resort. Effective pandemic requires influencing the behavior of the a large majority of people. Even in the rare event force is morally justified it’s just not possible on that scale, with that many people! People are going to think for themselves whether or not Forbes magazine gives them permission.

    Personally, this free-thinking American is happy to follow the lead of the experienced South Koreans and wear a mask in public. I think it helps.

  2. Thank you for your rational thoughts on this. As I follow the data on several different sites, and consider my own family and our needs with regards to this current situation I have come to my own conclusions and they don’t line up with the “scientific consensus” either. (And my thoughts on other controversial topics have changed as well. )

  3. Dr. Wile, I am a big fan of your books and an avid reader of your blog. I have never commented before because I generally agree with you on most issues, and that thread holds true here, but I do have a question (for my own edification, not for the purpose of starting an argument). Regarding the pandemic advice of experts, should we not take into account the potential negative effects our actions could have on others, not just ourselves? While going out into the world may not have many consequences for us, they could have consequences for others, which is what has been keeping me inside these past months. Jesus calls upon us to look after our neighbor, and in my opinion that includes taking what may be overly cautious steps. What I’m asking you here is this: how do you feel we should balance informed opinions from trusted sources (like yourself, in my case), the consequences our actions have on ourselves, and the consequences they have on others? To be clear, I’m again not looking for a fight, I’ve heard the scientific consensus on this issue and I’d like to do my own research, starting with asking you the above questions because I know and trust your opinions. Thank you for your time and God bless.

    1. We certainly should take into account the potential negative affects to others. That’s why I don’t take my mom to live church. I am worried about the negative consequences to her and the residents of her retirement home. That’s also why I wear a mask. The benefit seems to be slight, but nevertheless, it does slightly protect others. At the same time, however, I understand that me staying hunkered down in my house also has negative consequences for others, specifically those who will benefit from my interactions with them. I could choose to not bring my mother to my home for church to protect the others in her retirement home. However, her being lonely and isolated would have severe negative consequences for her. In my estimation, as long as we take precautions, those severe negative consequences are greater than the negative consequences of potentially exposing her fellow residents through my interactions with her.

      This is why I think it is so important to think for yourself on this issue. You and your family have certain needs, and you need to look after those needs. Yes, you need to worry about how that affects others, but you have to balance the risks. After all, I could save lives by never driving my car. By driving, I put other lives at risk. However, the negative consequences associated with not driving my car far exceed the negative consequences associated with possible car accidents. Thus, I drive, even though that puts others at risk (perhaps moreso than potentially exposing them to COVID-19). The same kind of reasoning should apply to the pandemic, but the majority of “experts” refuse to employ it.

  4. Please forgive me for commenting twice – the first comment was more about the linked article on masked mandates, this is about the Forbes article.

    If experts cannot explain their ideas and policy recommendations in a way that makes sense to patient, intelligent non-experts, then I submit that those experts do not understand themselves well enough yet. In such a case they need to go back to the drawing board and improve their own understanding first.

    If experts do not have sufficient evidence to persuade an honest skeptic then they need to gather more evidence.

    The tone of that article is “you must respect the hard work of experts who have labored in their respective fields for years and have come to a consensus.” Well such experts certainly have my attention and I’ll listen to them, but if the result of their years of labor and hard work is insufficient evidence and illogical arguments, then they need to keep laboring till they come up with something better. It’s results that persuade me, not hard work and consensus.

    For more than two thousand years doctors had a consensus that bloodletting was the way to treat illnesses. An approach with better results finally overturned that professional consensus. As Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

  5. Please don’t forget those of us who needed medical care and were denied it because we weren’t sick with COVID. The first week of March I needed testing for serious heart symptoms and every single test my cardiologist ordered was canceled or postponed because the hospitals shut down everything that wasn’t deemed ‘essential.’ Essential, meaning COVID patients only. And this in a rural area that had ZERO cases when I most needed testing. It was four months before the final test was permitted and performed. Scary times for anyone with an undiagnosed problem; I was among the lucky ones, my condition is now under control in spite of my governor’s “protection.”

  6. Dear Dr. Wile,
    I really enjoy your blog. Many times, I try to pin one of your articles to Pinterest, only to find that there is no related picture. It would really help if you put a pin-able, topic related picture, or at least a picture of a logo for your blog. I love to share your wonderful articles, and this would make it easier to do so. Thanks : )

    1. I am not sure I understand, Anna. Each of my articles usually has a picture in it. Facebook picks up that picture. I do not use Pinterest. It can’t pick up the picture with the article link? Is there somethign I need to do?

  7. You make some good points, but the major reason to question the “scientific consensus” is that money controls almost all of the research. If a company gets research that contradicts it’s narrative (ie potential for making money) then that research is not published and perhaps those researchers will not be hired again.

    1. That is demonstrably false. Scientific research causes huge financial losses all the time. From just last year, here are 15 clinical trials that showed the drugs being tested were either not safe or not effective. These trials were done by the very companies that spent millions developing the drugs. However, because of the honestly-reported results, they could not be approved and were a complete loss for the companies.

      2019’s top 15 clinical trial flops

      Note also that this is just the TOP 15. There are many others that cost companies millions of dollars just last year. I am sure there are some isolated cases where research is ignored because of money, but they are few and far between.

  8. Why does nobody consider that we shouldn’t be trying to slow the spread of the virus? It needs to spread if we ever want to reach herd immunity. We’ve never come close to overwhelming the hospitals. Wasn’t that the whole point of mitigation? To avoid overwhelming hospitals? I guess its beside the point of the article, but what gives

    1. I am not defending what has been done, but I will say that there were places where the hospitals were most definitely overwhelemd. Parts of New York, Florida, Texas, and California have all had overcrowding in hospitals because of COVID-19. In fact, my daughter runs a specialty shipping company, and she had to deliver a Portable Morgue Unit to New York at the end of March because the morques were also overwhelmed there. I can also say that the big issue is with the death rate. The Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 had more than 60 million cases in the U.S., but less than 13,000 people died. For COVID-19, there have been 10 times fewer cases, but more than 13 times as many deaths. When an infection doesn’t have a high death rate, herd immunity works well. However, when an infection has a high death rate, you end up sacrificing a lot of people to get herd immunity. To illustrate that, compare Sweden and Denmark. The countries are very similar and experienced the disease along the same timeline. However, they took different approaches. Sweden didn’t do much restriction, and it looks like they have herd immunity. They have had 56.98 deaths per 100,000 people. Denmark went the restriction route. They have had 10.71 deaths per 100,000. So more than 5 times as many people per capita died to get to herd immunity. The idea is that if we do a lot of restriction until a good treatment or a good prevention strategy can be found, we can reduce the number of deaths that it takes to get to herd immunity.

      Now I do think that there are better ways to handle the outbreak. South Korea seems to have done it best. They test a lot, and anyone who tests positive is quarantined, as are all those with whom they came into contact over the time where it is thought they were contagious. As a result, they have had only 0.59 deaths per 100,000, even though they have had the disease for the same length of time as the US, where there have been 52.93 deaths per 100,000.

      1. A small fraction of the first 2 trillion dollar “stimulus” bailout would have been sufficient to scale up our testing infrastructure and to test every person in the U.S. If that had been followed up by contact tracing and selective quarantine, we likely could have avoided shutting down our economy, saving us the need of the other trillions of dollars in “stimulus” bailouts. The expense of all the testing and tracing would have paid for itself many times over. It has been painful for me to watch the U.S. fight a 1918-type pandemic using 1918-level technology. It’s even more painful given that, like you said, South Korea has shown us a better example and their results are excellent. Even now, in NC and in most other places in the US they won’t test you unless you already have some symptoms! That’s not how you stop asymptomatic spread of the virus.

  9. I dont think comparing Sweden to Norway is a fair comparison at this point because Swedens pandemic is essentially over and Norways could continue for years since they have no immunity. South Korea, Norway, and New Zealand will have to maintain lockdowns forever to keep their low death rates. They’re waiting on a vaccine that may never come and may not be effective or safe when it does. Why not compare Sweden to NY, NJ, MA which are approaching herd immunity as well? They had lockdowns and compulsory mask rules. NY has 3x the death rate of Sweden. NY basically massacred the elderly population by requiring nursing homes to accept covid patients so Im not surprised they ran out of room at the morgue. They locked down the young healthy population and exposed the weak and elderly. The voodoo doctors in Michigan continue this practice even today.

    Requiring children to wear masks at school when a total of 40 children under 14yrs have died from covid makes no sense at all. We could easily reach herd immunity by allowing the virus to spread through the younger population without having to sacrifice the lives of older people.

    The link you provided estimates 10,000 extra cancer deaths due to the lockdowns, but I think that is grossly underestimated. Since April cancer diagnosis has dropped by half from 4000 per day to 2000 per day. There could be 300,000 people walking around with undiagnosed cancer because of all this madness. I sincerely believe we would have been better off if the government had done nothing at all.

    1. As I said, I am not defending what was done, and South Korea did it best. However, it is very unlikely that there will be no vaccine or other protective procedure. There are at least two very promising vaccines and one promising nasal preventative. Thus, lockdowns will not continue indefinitely.

      As I stated in my post, there are negative consequences to the lockdowns, and we have no idea whether or not they are worse than no lockdowns. I was simply explaining the reasoning employed.

      I plan on writing a detailed post comparing Sweden and Denmark next week. I think you are quite wrong in your assessment there.

  10. I know your article is about doing your own research and I totally agree that you SHOULD think for yourself if you can maintain an open mind and have access to reliable information. That being said though there is SOME truth to the position that you shouldn’t reject scientific evidence if you’re not an expert in the field. That does hold water when it comes to highly technical areas (like relativity or perhaps quantum theory ) which are not influenced by politics.

    But there’s the rub. This entire pandemic has been riddled with anti-Trump political overtones and you can’t dismiss that just because other countries do some of the same things we do and they don’t have a President Trump! 🙂 Can anyone tell me that the virus didn’t start in China? No. It did. Can anyone tell me that China does not have an anti-West, and by extension, an anti-Christ motivation in all they do? Of course you can’t. They do.

    So if you want to do your own thinking and research it ought to be with a focus on China. I notice that their death rate, as far as they claim, is one of the lowest and OUR infection and death numbers are THE highest. Why are ours so high? We’re not the biggest population. You can point out that China right from the start recommended HCQ as a treatment and they certainly use it themselves. So you can say they have plausible deniability. “Gee, we tried to tell you people what to do but you wouldn’t listen.” Soooo, why were all of these China influenced politicians (like Biden et. al.) so hot to discourage use of HCQ? Somebody was pushing them to discourage it, that’s why. Who could that somebody be, I ask myself?

    As far as research, you know what? You can only do your own research when you CAN get good information. I can’t. I rely on people like you, Christian PhD’s, to do good research and not just write blog articles. A recent worldwide study of HCQ usage showed that countries which adopted an early use and treatment with HCQ had a 78% lower death rate from the virus. Is this a valid study? How am I supposed to know! But this is where guys like you should be front and center. Instead, you’re all sitting on your hands, or hiding behind your desks writing non-informative blogs. You have the PhD. YOU (Christian scientists) are the people we need to do this and THIS is why God gave you the talent to earn those vaunted degrees. Use them and whatever influence you can muster to wring out the truth.

    1. I am sorry you find my blog non-informative. I have addressed HCQ and chloroquine phosphate (here and here), and the second link is the most informative I can be. The fact is that the jury is out on the drug’s effectiveness against COVID-19. Some studies indicate effectiveness, and some studies don’t. Right now, there is no way to know for sure.

      As far as following China, that isn’t relevant in my mind. Whether China deliberately caused this or not, it is a problem that we have. Whether or not China is doing something that makes it better for them doesn’t help if they aren’t willing to communicate it. Also, the Chinese population is different enough from ours that what works for them might not work for us. I am interested in what can be shown to work for us. That’s why I wrote about this possible treatment.

      I agree that it can be hard to find good information, but it is not impossible. While I do have a Ph.D., it has nothing to do with medicine or virology. In many ways, I am a layperson in this discussion. Nevertheless, I look at all the information I can find and by comparing what I read, I try to evaluate which information is better. I think anyone can do that.

  11. Jay, I generally like your blogs and think that you do a lot of good, just not in this most critical instance! Sure, you were quick to write about Raoult’s study but then you were quick to discount it because there wasn’t a control group. Well how about the HCQ study here:

    Here, they have a HUGE control group: the countries who don’t make early use of HCQ.
    You said you were sorry that I find your blogs uninformative (and I meant in the context of the virus and HCQ). Usually when people say that what they actually mean is that they’re not sorry at all and it’s just too bad if you don’t like what they say.

    Sure, I get that you’re not a virologist but you know, you got a PhD because you proved you’re a good researcher. Please don’t try to tell me that you don’t have access to a lot more science resources than I would have because you pay to have access to them. Furthermore, you’re used to being able to see through smoke screens. Sure, I could pay into a bunch of sites and download a bunch of papers but reading scientific papers is not my expertise and it is SURELY beyond the reach of most of your readers. So it’s not just about me. It’s about YOU. You are the one who’s (properly, IMO) stepped into the arena and I’m glad you have. But you need to be trying to generate good, hard information. You haven’t done that and I’m challenging you to do that.

    1. Once again, I am really sorry that you think I am not being informative in this critical instance. I mean that. However, I can’t write blogs that are scientifically irresponsible, and that’s what I would be doing if I commented further on HCQ. The studies are, indeed, mixed. I don’t think the study you linked has much merit, because a control group must be very similar to a treatment group. By using one set of countries as a control and another set as treatment, the authors are introducing huge variables that cannot be taken into account. They try to take some of them into account, but there simply isn’t enough information to do that in a reasonable way. Also, what about these studies, which use proper control groups and see no benefit?

      An analysis of all data available before August concluded, “Evidence on the benefits and harms of using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine to treat COVID-19 is very weak and conflicting.” (

      Once again, I am not sayinh HCQ doesn’t work. I am saying that right now, we cannot make a scientific statement about it, as the data themselves are in conflict.

      I am trying to generate good, hard information. Any lack of information isn’t because of a lack of resources. It’s because there are more questions than answers. Science isn’t something that provides definitive answers in a short time. Science is tentative and is always changing. It sometimes takes YEARS to come up with definitive scientific answers, and sometimes there are no definitive answers to give, even after decades of work.

  12. Once again, here we see a “mainstream” scientist using the argument from authority. If a creation scientist said we should trust his or her expertise (or even so much as states their credentials), the whole mainstream scientific community would be pointing their fingers and screaming “You’re using the argument from authority, you can’t do that!”

    Reminds me of the second chapter of Romans.

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