On Doing Your Own Research

It’s easy to laugh at the conspiracy theorists. But our expert classes aren’t entitled to blind trust.


One common mantra among anti-vaxxers, Q-Anoners, ivermectin advocates, and conspiracy theorists of all stripes is that people need to “do their own research”. Don’t be a sheep who believes whatever the CDC or the New York Times or some other variety of “expert” tells you. If something is important, you need to look into it yourself.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of pushback memes. This one takes a humorous poke at the inflated view many people have of their intellectual abilities.

While this one is a bit more intimidating:

And this one is pretty in-your-face:

I understand and mostly agree with the point these memes are trying to make: There is such a thing as expertise, and watching a YouTube video is no substitute for a lifetime of study. In fact, few ideas are so absurd that you can’t make a case for them that is good enough to sound convincing for half an hour — as I remember from reading Erich von Daniken’s “ancient astronaut” books back in the 1970s.

Medical issues are particularly tricky, because sometimes people just get well (or die) for no apparent reason. Whatever they happened to be doing at the time looks brilliant (or stupid), when in fact it might have had nothing to do with anything. That’s why scientists invented statistics and double-blind studies and so forth — so they wouldn’t be fooled by a handful of fluky cases, or by their own desire to see some pattern that isn’t really there.

All the same, I cringe when one of these memes appears on my social media feed, because I know how they’ll be received by the people they target. The experts are telling them: “Shut up, you dummy, and believe what you’re told.”

They’re going to take that message badly, and I actually don’t blame them. Because there is a real crisis of expertise in the world today, and it didn’t appear out of nowhere during the pandemic. It’s been building for a long time.

Liberal skepticism. Because the Trump administration was so hostile to expertise, we now tend to think of viewing experts skeptically as a left/right issue. But it’s not. Go back, for example, and look at liberal Chris Hayes’ 2012 book The Twilight of the Elites. Each chapter of that book covers a different area in which some trusted corps of experts failed the public that put its faith them: Intelligence experts (and the journalists who covered them) assured us that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Bankers drove the world economy into a ditch in 2008, largely because paper that turned out to be worthless was rated AAA. The Catholic priesthood, supposedly a guardian of morality for millions of Americans, was raping children and then covering it up.

Experts, it turns out, do have training and experience. But they also have class interests. Sometimes they’re looking out for themselves rather than for the rest of us.

More recently, we have discovered that military experts have been lying to us for years about the “progress” they’d made in promoting Afghan democracy and training an Afghan army to defend that democratic government.

It’s not hard to find economists who present capitalism as the only viable option for a modern economy, or who explain why we can’t afford to take care of all the sick people, or to prevent climate change from producing some apocalyptic future.

Such people are very good at talking down to the rest of us. But ordinary folks are less and less likely to take them seriously. And that’s good, sort of. You shouldn’t believe what people say just because they have a title or a degree.

If not expertise, what? So it’s not true that if you argue with a recognized expert, you’re automatically wrong. Unfortunately, though, recent events have shown us that a reflexive distrust of all experts creates even worse problems.

  • It’s hard to estimate how many Americans have died of Covid because we haven’t been willing to follow expert advice about vaccination, masking, quarantining, and so on. Constructing such an estimate would itself require expertise I don’t have. But simply comparing our death totals to Canada’s (713 deaths per million people versus our 2034) indicates it’s probably in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Our democracy is in trouble because large numbers of Americans are unwilling to accept election results, no matter how many times they get recounted by bipartisan panels of election supervisors.
  • The growing menace of hurricanes and wildfires is the price we pay because the world (of which the US is a major part, and needs to play a leading role) refuses to act on what climate scientists have been telling us since the 1970s.

Without widespread belief in experts, the truth becomes a matter of tribalism (one side believes in fighting Covid and the other doesn’t), intimidation (Republicans who know better don’t dare tell Trump’s personality cult that he lost), or wishful thinking (nobody wants to believe we have to change our lives to cut carbon emissions).

Which one of us is Galileo? The foundational myth of modern science (Galileo saying “and yet it moves“) expresses faith in a reality beyond the power of kings and popes. People who have trained their minds to be objective can see that reality, while others are stuck either following or rebelling against authority.

The question is: Who is Galileo in the current controversies? Is it the scientific experts who have spent their lives training to see clearly in these situations? Or is it the populists, who refuse to bow to the authority of the expert class, and insist on “doing their own research”?

Simply raising that question points to a more nuanced answer than just “Shut up and believe what you’re told.”

Take me, for example. This blog arises from distrust of experts. After the Saddam’s-weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco, I started looking deeper into the stories in the headlines. Because I was living in New Hampshire at the time, it was easy to go listen to the 2004 presidential candidates. Once I did, I noticed the media’s habit of fitting a speech into a predetermined narrative, rather than reporting what a candidate was actually saying. Then I started reading major court decisions (like the Massachusetts same-sex marriage decision of 2003), and interpreting them for myself.

In short, I was doing my own research. Some guy at CNN may have spent his whole life reporting on legal issues, but I was going to read the cases for myself.

When social media became a thing, and turned into an even bigger source of misinformation than the mainstream media had ever been, I began to look on this blog as a model for individual behavior: Don’t amplify claims without some amount of checking. (For example: In this weeks’ summary — the next post after this one — I was ready to blast Trump for ignoring all observances of 9-11. But then I discovered that he appeared by video at a rally organized by one of his supporters on the National Mall. I’m not shy about criticizing Trump, but facts are facts.) Listen to criticism from commenters and thank them when they catch one of your mistakes. Change your opinions when the facts change.

But also notice the things that I don’t do: When my wife got cancer, we didn’t design her treatment program by ourselves. We made value judgments about what kinds of sacrifices we were willing to make for her treatment (a lot, as it turned out), but left the technical details to our doctors. At one point we felt that a doctor was a little too eager to get my wife into his favorite clinical trial, so we got a second opinion and ultimately changed doctors. But we didn’t ditch Western medicine and count on Chinese herbs or something. (She’s still doing fine 25 years after the original diagnosis.)

On this blog, I may not trust the New York Times and Washington Post to decide what stories are important and what they mean, but I do trust them on basic facts. If the NYT puts quotes around some words, I believe that the named person actually said those words (though I may check the context). If the WaPo publishes the text of a court decision, I believe that really is the text. And so on.

I also trust the career people in the government to report statistics accurately. The political appointees may spin those numbers in all sorts of ways, but the bureaucrats in the cubicles are doing their best.

In the 18 years I’ve been blogging, that level of trust has never burned me.

Where I come from. So the question isn’t “Do you trust anybody?” You have to; the world is just too big to figure it all out for yourself. Instead, the question is who you trust, and what you trust them to do.

My background gives me certain advantages in answering those questions, because I have a foot in both camps. Originally, I was a mathematician. I got a Ph.D. from a big-name university and published a few articles in some prestigious research journals (though not for many years now). So I understand what it means to do actual research, and to know things that only a handful of other people know. At the same time, I am not a lawyer, a doctor, a political scientist, an economist, a climate scientist, or a professional journalist. So just about everything I discuss in this blog is something I view from the outside.

I don’t, for example, have any inside knowledge about public health or infectious diseases or climate science. But I do know a lot about the kind of people who go into the sciences, and about the social mores of the scientific community. So when I hear about some vast conspiracy to inflate the threat of Covid or climate change, I can only shake my head. I can picture how many people would necessarily be involved in such a conspiracy, and who many of them would have to be. It’s absurd.

In universities and labs all over the world, there are people who would love to be the one to expose the “hoax” of climate change, or to discover the simple solution that means none of us have to change our lifestyle. You couldn’t shut them up by shifting research funding, you’d need physical concentration camps, and maybe gas chambers. The rumors of people vanishing into those camps would spread far enough that I would hear them.

I haven’t.

Not all experts deserve our skepticism. Similarly, one of my best friends and two of my cousins are nurses. I know the mindset of people who go into medicine. So the idea that hospitals all over the country are faking deaths by the hundreds of thousands, or that ICUs are only pretending to be jammed with patients — it’s nuts.

If you’ve ever planned a surprise party, you know that conspiracies of just a dozen or so people can be hard to manage. Now imagine conspiracies that involve tens of thousands, most of whom were once motivated by ideals completely opposite to the goals of the conspiracy.

It doesn’t happen.

I have a rule of thumb that has served me well over the years: You don’t always have to follow the conventional wisdom, but when you don’t you should know why.

Lots of expert classes have earned our distrust. But some haven’t. They’re not all the same. And even the bankers and the priests have motives more specific than pure evil. If they wouldn’t benefit from some conspiracy, they’re probably not involved.

Know thyself. As you divide up the world between things you’re going to research yourself and things you’re going to trust to someone else, the most important question you need to answer is: What kind of research can you reasonably do? (Being trained to read mathematical proofs made it easy for me to read judicial opinions. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but it turned out that way.)

That’s what’s funny about the cartoon at the top: This guy thinks he credibly competes with the entire scientific community (and expects his wife to share that assessment of his abilities).

My Dad (who I think suspected from early in my life that he was raising a know-it-all) often said to me: “Everybody in the world knows something you don’t.” As I got older, I realized that the reverse is also true: Just about all of us have some experience that gives us a unique window on the world. You don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to see something most other people miss.

But at the same time, often our unique windows point in the wrong direction entirely. My window, for example, tells me very little about what Afghans are thinking right now. If I want to know, I’m going to have to trust somebody a little closer to the topic.

And if I’m going to be a source of information rather than misinformation, I’ll need to account for my biases. Tribalism, intimidation, and wishful thinking affect everybody. A factoid that matches my prior assumptions a little too closely is exactly the kind of thing I need to check before I pass it on. Puzzle pieces that fit together too easily have maybe been shaved a little; check it out.

So sure: Do your own research. But also learn your limitations, and train yourself to be a good researcher within those boundaries. Otherwise, you might be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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Comments

  • eganvarley  On September 13, 2021 at 11:02 am

    Intelligence experts, bankers, military experts, the Catholic priesthood?
    What they have in common is that they are not scientists. How can you compare them to biologists or climatologists?
    The difference with the so called “experts” (bankers, etc) in other domains is in the scientific method.

    • weeklysift  On September 13, 2021 at 1:06 pm

      Remember how much pressure Trump was putting on the CDC to approve a vaccine before the election? If an approval had come in as an October surprise, I wouldn’t have trusted it until I sought out opinions from several other medical experts.

      Every field has its politics and is susceptible to corruption.

    • Pink Photon  On September 13, 2021 at 2:15 pm

      I don’t think that only scientists can be experts, but some of your examples are questionable at best. The economy didn’t crash despite the fact that bankers, experts at keeping the economy stable, screwed up. It crashed because bankers, experts at making money for themselves, were trying to make money for themselves regardless of the effect on the economy as a whole.

      • weeklysift  On September 13, 2021 at 3:03 pm

        I’m not sure how to explain the failures of the bond-rating houses. They had an area of expertise and they just screwed it up.

      • Dale Moses  On September 13, 2021 at 4:08 pm

        I don’t have a PHD but i am pretty close to ABD and this one one of the things that I looked into, if not in a terribly technical manner.

        The problem of the bond rating houses is that they were, and are, private institutions. That is. The customer of a bond rating house is not the public who wants to properly evaluate a bond. The customer of a bond rating house is the bank selling the bond. The bank wants a high rating for the bond and can either massage the bond or massage the rating house in order to get it.

        Similarly, as private institutions they’re constrained by market forces. It is both cheaper to do a less through investigation (like say evaluating every property inside of a tranche of a MBS and the individual and correlated rates of default) and also more valuable for a bank that is buying the rating that the rating be done less thoroughly.

        There are more regulations on bond rating houses (though i will be damned if i can recite them) but i don’t believe they’re yet public institutions beholden to the bond purchaser rather than bond seller.

        There were also other problems. In that many of the clearing houses for these products were highly leveraged in ways that the rating agencies would not be able to evaluate. And these clearing houses failing (or potentially failing) or initiating a fire sale in order to prevent bankruptcy would have, let say, non-fundamental effects on the price of the security that would potentially trigger other sales (for various financial accounting reasons) and this would be outside the scope of what the rating agency would typically be doing. (whether or not they should is another question, but generally if the leverage rules had been more reasonable or less relaxed they shouldn’t have a need to examine them).

        Furthermore good and lawful financial/accounting practices can sometimes make it hard to reasonably exploit these types of situations and so… correct for this type of situation. I say good and lawful because the reason is to prevent general accounting fraud. When you own a bank you have leverage requirements and asset reporting requirements. You have a limit on leverage, which is to say that the total amount of money you have may be no more than some multiple of your net assets. And you must market the value of your assets to market. So if the value of your assets on the market falls you would be forced to sell assets and then repay your debts. This is important because without market to market leverage rules mean little(and leverage rules are very important), but it also means that you have a harder time buying a product that you believe is worth 1 dollar if its price is 80 cents so its harder to weather the storm if you’re correct about the actual value of your assets.

        There is some support for the latter interpretation in that the Fed instrument that bought up a bunch of failing MBS (by essentially printing money) ended up making a profit on those purchases. Which it should(for a rather tight definition of should meaning at the least unlikely) not have been able to do if the drop was purely a re-alignment to fundamentals and did not have a financial component.

      • Dale Moses  On September 13, 2021 at 4:12 pm

        Mark to Market. Not Market to Market. Not sure how i mistyped that but i can’t edit it. “And you must mark the value of your assets to (the) market (price)” and “This is important because without markto market leverage rules mean little”

  • D. Michael Wells  On September 13, 2021 at 11:18 am

    First, the positive: You have impressed me over the years as highly intelligent and a careful writer. However, I don’t really know what is the point of your essay. If it is the final paragraph, it is merely trite and obvious. You read the Massachusetts same sex opinion. Fine, but without legal training, you run the serious risk of not fully understanding it. I wouldn’t dream of expecting to understand your mathematics papers (assuming I could get through them). I believed (at the time) that the “intelligence experts” and “journalists” like Judith Miller, Michael Gordon, et al, were promoting a war. I could see the economic incentive for major news outlets to promote it. I distrusted Bush and his cabinet because of their HISTORY. I trust science, especially medical science, because it works. I don’t need to know what a cytokine is or how it functions and at my advanced age, probably couldn’t. Therefore, the idea that everyone could “do their own research” to reach their own conclusions about complex matters is fantasy. One can, and should, do an analysis of what incentives the authority has to shade the truth or examine evidence that contradicts their proposition. Example, Trump did attend a 9-11 memorial event (carefully selected) but not the one with the former presidents. Okay, but trivial.
    Finally, you write for people who read and think. I am convinced that many who claim to do their own research do neither.

  • Lawrence Page  On September 13, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Your reflections on trust remind me of Herman Melville’s examination of confidence in a similar time of American angst in 1857 In The Confidence-Man he portrays relations between “all kinds of that multiform pilgrim species, man” who make up with “pagan abandonment and assurance” “one cosmopolitan and confident tide” “aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle.” In their interactions, the characters reveal what they have faith in. The author’s intrusions serve as hints to the reader that the progress of the story is less important than the author’s relation to the reader’s confidence in what he understands. The text serves as a series of parables whose not unambiguous appearance requires the reader to examine his own values to make sense of the exchanges between characters.

    In his last prose work, he strikes at the heart of American confidence in money that beguiles their reasoning ability to distinguish truth from biased preconceptions.

  • Donna Victor  On September 13, 2021 at 11:46 am

    So I decided to “do my own” research on the mechanism of the mRNA vaccine. I have a background in Chemistry and some solid College level Science classes. I found this excellent (I suppose) article from NIH.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7918810/

    Got thru the abstract and introduction….then at #2 The design strategies a little less understanding…2.1 and that was the end of my research! Completely lost in the weeds. It does become who do you Trust. Certainly when it comes to Medicine.. the healing “arts”.. collaboration is essential for the best outcome. I can’t imagine the frustration of the Science community to people trusting absolute quacks and charlatans then promoting it with absolutely NO idea of what they are really promoting.

    • AC  On September 13, 2021 at 12:35 pm

      This is a tangent to your point, which I agree with, but you’ve done something really common that makes me uncomfortable when people link through to articles at nlm.nih.gov like you’ve done, which is to say that the research or article is “from” the NIH. I want to point it out so that anyone reading this better understands what the NIH URL means here. This is a link to an entry in PubMed, which is a library run by the NIH. If you get NIH funding for a paper, you’re required to add it to PubMed, but papers not funded by the NIH are also there. This particular paper wasn’t published by the NIH (in this case it’s the journal Vaccines, published by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute) and wasn’t authored by NIH employees (they’re at UPenn). The authors did receive funding from the NIH for the work.

      Why I think it matters: saying something is from the NIH can give people the idea that it’s somehow endorsed or vetted by them, but that’s not the case with everything in PubMed. I have a few papers in PubMed from my time as a graduate student on an NIH fellowship, and I believe they’re solid research worthy of your trust. They went through the regular peer review, but it it’s not like anyone at the NIH vetted the research once it was done. It was funded (partly) by the NIH but I wouldn’t really say the research was from the NIH. PubMed is an incredibly helpful resource for people wanting to read primary literature, but being listed there shouldn’t confer any special trustworthiness above that of being in a peer-reviewed journal (and journal quality varies a lot).

  • Lawrence Hardeman Page  On September 13, 2021 at 11:47 am

    Your reflections on trust remind me of Herman Melville’s examination of confidence in a similar time of American angst in 1857 In The Confidence-Man he portrays relations between “all kinds of that multiform pilgrim species, man” who make up with “pagan abandonment and assurance” “one cosmopolitan and confident tide” “aboard the favorite steamer Fidèle.” In their interactions, the characters reveal what they have faith in. The author’s intrusions serve as hints to the reader that the progress of the story is less important than the author’s relation to the reader’s confidence in what he understands. The text serves as a series of parables whose not unambiguous appearance requires the reader to examine his own values to make sense of the exchanges between characters.

    In his last prose work, he strikes at the heart of American confidence in money that beguiles their reasoning ability to distinguish truth from biased preconceptions.

  • David  On September 13, 2021 at 11:50 am

    In my experience, a solid mathematical & modeling background provides a decent BS filter. If an expert uses math or stats that is wrong, they lose credibility fast. And fancy models need to be checked against simple ones.

    That filter helped me identify the reliable experts rapidly, especially the ones who had sensible comments about aerosols a month or two after NYC shut down.

  • Anonymous  On September 13, 2021 at 11:51 am

    There is one crucial dimension about science and “fake news” that you don’t touch on: What does a person do about their “fake belief”.

    “Fake Belief” can be a number of things: Religion, vaccine hesitancy, Voting fraud, trickle down, or Ancient Astronaut theory. In the past, we have separated “fake belief” (religion) from politics.

    If I have “fake beliefs” but separate them from politics, then I’m a kooky person with kooky beliefs. If I have “fake beliefs” but use those fake beliefs as justification to commit insurrection, then Democracy is ruined.

    So why do people act politically about their “fake beliefs”? Because fear and the media makes everything “the most important issue”.

    If I believe in “Ancient Astronaut Theory” and call for political action to spend billions of dollars to contact aliens, then that is bad. Or if I say, “You must ALSO believe in my theory, or you will be removed from government funding”, that is also bad.

    Its not the “fake belief” that is the problem. Its that people take those fake beliefs and use politics to “prove” it or make it seem true.

  • Brian Miller  On September 13, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    You describe yourself as not being a professional journalist, but I think I rely on you for well thought-out opinions and attention to the most pressing matters of the day far more than any other media source. I wish you were getting paid lots for the work you do!

  • Ed Haertel  On September 13, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks, Doug–I appreciated “On Doing Your Own Research.” I don’t know if you follow the work of the Frameworks Institute, but I recommend it highly. Their recent report on messaging around vaccinations was helpful to me in highlighting some sensible, not completely wrong, but misapplied notions that a lot of people seem to have. Their recommended communication strategies are much wiser than “If you don’t believe the experts, you’re dumb.” You can find their report following a link from https://www.frameworksinstitute.org/publication/communicating-about-vaccination-in-the-united-states-a-frameworks-strategic-brief/

  • Will Fields  On September 13, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    I found it very disturbing that you would or could even use Chris Hays in a sentence that included the words experts and journalists. So he wrote a book and in it stated that the experts agreed there were weapons of mass destruction.

    I have not read the book but suspect he used those words to make a point as you did as well butt let us not omit the real experts which included Hans Blix who asserted with some 90 and some odd percentage of certainty that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But this information did not fit with the pre 9/11 plans to invade Iraq. Thinking people privy to this information would and could never put forward the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

    So is it not disingenuous to suggest that experts agreed there were weapons of mass destruction. Or is it a mistake to refer to those who would put that theory forward as experts.

    I hope I have I not misunderstood the point you were making. And I suspect I am very safe to assume that Chris Hays is no journalist but more of an MSNBC entertainer like Rachel Maddow and the bevy of their counterparts at FOX.

    • weeklysift  On September 13, 2021 at 3:09 pm

      I have a higher opinion of Chris Hayes than you do, but that’s not really relevant here. The point of mentioning his book is that at times liberals have made the kinds of criticisms of the expert class that we now associated with Trumpists.

  • Barbara Schleppenbach  On September 13, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    Genuine skepticism is, as you note, a laudable trait. Most of the do-my-own-research crowd uses that phrase disingenuously when their actual motivation is yet another tired iteration of “owning the libs.” Why they haven’t noticed how that’s turning out for them remains a mystery to me.

  • Graham Thorburn  On September 13, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    While I agree with the thrust of this argument, in my memory the WMD argument went exactly the opposite way. The experts consistently said that there was no evidence of WMDs, for which they were dismissed as traitors and patsies. Instead, ‘Coalition of the Willing’ governments everywhere attacked experts as being disconnected from reality, trapped in the hubris of expertise. So, yes, it WAS important in the beginning of the distrust of experts, not because they were proved to be wrong, but because the experts were right and were saying something that went against the desires of the political masters.

  • James R (Randy) Fromm  On September 15, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for this extended meditation on the ambivalence of expertise. I only just got around to it this morning and found it both enjoyable and educational. Not that I didn’t already have or share many of the ideas you presented but, rather, that I had not always thought of these things in this particular way. And that is just one of the reasons I read your work. Thank you for the time you put into it.

    Having some experience doing root cause analyses, it is clear that expertise can often be blinded by its own narrow vision in a particular set of fraught circumstances. The chagrin experts feel when shown their error, assuming they have the humility to accept your findings, means they learn from the experience, a sure sign their expertise is real while not infallible.

  • Dan Cusher  On September 15, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    I think you have a typo: “(713 deaths per 100K people versus our 2034)” – that should be per 1M people.

    • weeklysift  On September 16, 2021 at 11:54 am

      Damn, you’re right. I’ve made that mistake before, too.

  • Eric L  On September 20, 2021 at 4:57 am

    This is great. A few things I see missing from this analysis:

    Sometimes no one knows. That’s especially relevant now, when we might like to know the long term effects of the vaccine or the disease or whether next year’s variant will be worse or whether the vaccine will work against it. These questions aren’t answered by doing your own research, especially not if by that you mean read research someone has already done, and they aren’t answered by figuring out which expert out there would know the answer. Sometimes you have to deal with not having the answer. And you need to be honest about not having the answers, even when you believe that it is imperative to insist that X is the answer so that people will listen to you and make the decision they should ultimately you squander trust.

    The other thing is it makes a surprisingly big difference why you want to know. Back in the day I used to spend time online arguing with climate change deniers even though I was just a layman myself. A crop of studies came out about the uselessness of scientific information in persuasion, which tended to specifically study the effects of teaching people about climate change. One famous study found that if you have people a test about general scientific knowledge, and asked them whether climate change was real, among Democrats the more they knew about science the more they believed it was real but among Republicans the more they knew the more they were convinced it was fake. (Many other depressing studies like this have come out since – a recent one I saw claimed to show that the more you know about politics, the more your political orientation can be predicted from genetics.) Turns out knowledge is a useful tool for motivated reasoning! This was widely discussed in the online circles where I hung out, but another study I didn’t hear about until recently when I started paying attention to Julia Galef was that another study was done which instead tested people’s scientific*curiosity* (e.g. if you have a choice of reading material are you likely to pick up a science magazine?) and found an entirely different result – the more curious you are about science, the more you believe climate change is real, *especially* if you’re a Republican. So I take from this a few things relevant to this discussion. A difficulty is that we don’t know how to teach curiosity, but we do have ideas about how to unteach it, and telling people they should just listen to experts rather than have the arrogance to believe they could figure things out seems like one such way. As for whether you should do your own research, one question you should ask yourself is, is this a subject you’d love to know all sorts of things about? If not, definitely leave the research to the experts, preferably ones who are fascinated by all the details about their field that you find boring.

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