Watch out for the Covid to Ukraine expert pivot
Members of the pandemic commentariat are trying to reinvent themselves
Less than two days after all of the UK’s remaining Covid restrictions were lifted, the news cycle has already moved on. And with it, so have the commentators.
After two years spent tirelessly opining on all things Covid, it might be tempting to believe that the Covid commentators would take this opportunity for a well-earned rest. But as quickly as the headlines moved on to the situation in Ukraine, the Covid pundits followed suit. Deftly switching from discussions on herd immunity, variants, and vaccine efficacy, Twitter feeds were quickly filled with threads about the comparative nuclear capabilities of Russia and the US, demands to shut down Russia Today — Russia’s state owned media channel — coupled with a history lesson of Russia and complaints that the UK government was doing nothing.
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Much like Covid, the Ukraine crisis is complex. People depend on experts as much as news outlets for reliable information, but crucially, this should not serve as an invitation for the Covid commentariat to try and maintain their relevance by giving the perception of being an authority on issues they know very little about. Expertise is not transferrable; in fact, it is the very opposite — the whole point of it is the mastery of one’s own field. The last thing we need is a nutritionist giving us a history lesson on the Mongolian Empire.
Even when the pandemic first started, many so-called Covid experts did not actually have much relevant expertise. As information about an unknown virus spread on social media, new figures, often academics, surfaced whose pre-Covid discipline had very little to do with medicine or infectious disease epidemiology. But still, they used their platform on Twitter and embraced the role of Covid expert in order to strengthen their criticism of government actions, and in many cases to lobby for policy changes. In the process they grew their follower counts by hundreds of thousands, and landed multiple appearances in the media and on TV.
But worryingly, the actual area of their expertise was barely mentioned. So long as they were making a political point, all the rest seemed to fall by the wayside. Everyone is, of course, entitled to hold a personal view. These issues affect us all, and it is important not to fall into the trap of credentialism. But there is a difference between giving a personal opinion and creating an impression of expertise. Such views should be caveated with uncertainty, and readers made aware of limitations in knowledge. To see these same Covid experts who, after spending 2 years offering simplistic solutions to the pandemic, wrapped in political posturing, and devoid of nuance or hesitation, now move to giving similarly simplistic explanations and advice regarding Ukraine, is deeply concerning.
So keep an eye on Covid pundits, who have gained massive platforms during the pandemic, now trying to prolong their time in the spotlight by laying down the law on the crisis in Eastern Europe.
To look on the bright side, at least they’ll stop hyperventilating over covid, but less flippantly it’s also a way for them to try and bury their bad predictions, wrong takes and involvement in whipping up hysteria.
” this should not serve as an invitation for the Covid commentariat to try and maintain their relevance by giving the perception of being an authority on issues they know very little about.”
I often wonder about us Unherd BTL (below the line) posters, wading through the universe of issues pronouncing judgement on them…..And what I wonder too – is do the article writers here – do they post BTL elsewhere in their spare time? As I suppose they are ‘Informed’. I watch true political experts talk – and wonder, Do they go online BTL somewhere and give their informed opinions there? Or are us BTL ers just the pub idiot rambling on about what he does not understand, or do we actually contribute, positively, to the discussion?
What do all those synonyns mean? I have just learned that MSM is Main …Media and now there is BTL..
Below The Line – ie where you and I are commenting
I think it’s more about the idiot who now has a voice….but very few hear.
I can’t wait for the Tom Chivers take on the Ukraine crisis here on Unherd, is it being badly and biasedly researched by buzzfeeds former finest as we speak?
I think Tom Chivers is no more….
Sorry, what do do you mean? Is he dead (I hope not)? Or just departed from this site?
Philosophically speaking, is there really any difference?
He seems to be gone from the site…
Interesting. I may be in the minority, but I rather enjoyed his articles
If a minority counts as one person then yes you are that person.
It was the BTL stuff that counted! I learned plenty from this.
That would be a pity – I always liked his extrapolations of loads of statistics into correlating of the truth; causation be da*ned.
His articles were fun.
Well he certainly pulled in shedloads of argument and opinion that went on for days and in that respect he was a very successful contributor.
His articles were extremely well researched I found, he always had plenty of statistics to back up his arguments. You may not have agreed with his findings, but you can’t deny he used all available information to give his opinions merit, much more so than many others who simply write their opinion as if it were fact
And I suppose you believe the statistics!
there’s lies, damned lies, statistics, and then theres Tom Chivers.
I hope this doesn’t mean we have to endure more of that awful Benjamin Butterworth. His inability to grasp even the basic issues regarding the ‘covid situation’ made him seem like a pointless addition to panels of the TV shows he appears on. His willingness to force his views onto other guests and the public at large, as though he is the font of all knowledge, makes for seriously gringeworthy TV.
I’d rather listen to the musings of the Chuckle Brothers on Ukraine than Benjamin Butterworth. Alas, one of intellectual giants that made up the Chuckle Brothers is now dead, but the remaining member would still tower above the cerebrally-challenged Butterworth.
I had a moment, listening to Butterworth on TalkRadio, where I willed Julia Hartley Brewer to reach across the virtual wall separating her talking head box from his and strangle him. Funny thing is, I actually believe she could do it.
Is that an old interview? Anyway, I looked it up and found out who that guy is. If I am not mistaken he is the jester who is on GBNews too from time to time, is he not? I always thought he is being interviewed as some kind of comic relief and/or to give the *impression* of impartiality.
Ah, I saw some of it. Didn’t really see the point of watching it all 😉
Strangely I had the opposite reaction, I wondered why Mr Butterworth didn’t reach across the virtual wall. But then they both seemed so civilised, so I guess that that’s not the sort of thing that they would do.
Well, I have been shocked by the opinions of a great many doctors and experts during Covid – especially when observing the money trail between big pharma and said experts.
Together with the failure of the media to present the truth has lead many of us to seek out information through wider reading and discussion and not just leave it to the ‘experts’.
And we have been proven right many times over so sorry Doc, I don’t care what you think.
I knew to start distrusting the narrative when I started hearing gut wrenching personal stories on National Public Radio in a similar manner as they did when trying to soften the public view on illegal immigration and gay marriage. If hack partisans are trying to tug at your heartstrings you know something is up.
Excellent point. I stopped listening to NPR some years ago–and I was addicted, a financial supporter and a commentator–because I came to the realisation that it was no longer news but ALL propaganda. I was a lifelong subscriber to The New York Times and I worked their (as a copy boy, not as a journalist) but I cancelled that too. They try to get me back with almost free introductory offers but I will never give them even a penny, on principle.
On my own small island, Professor Sam McConkey of the Royal College of Surgeons became the media’s go-to Covid expert, and to be fair, he is very knowledgeable. But when he started to make public utterances on just about anything, the power did go to his head a bit. His best one yet was the suggestion that all men should have to be licensed before they are allowed outside.
I noticed the exact thing you reference on the BBC. Supposed Corona experts–physicians, scientists, virologists–people who knew something about viruses–started spouting their sociological expertise about vaccine distribution, decrying the lack of “vaccine equity.”
For a time they tried to foist on us the rather ominous “No one is safe until everyone is safe” lie, but that didn’t really catch on. It seemed many people in the West were more interested in getting their jabs than in a “principled” stand of NOT getting jabbed until everyone in Africa had caught up.
Of course the “experts” hectored us for this selfishness!
Isn’t that a basic human flaw? Certainly with politicians.
Ah Benjamin Butterworth rears his unattractive head on here. I have wondered if anyone else finds him sneering, simpering, slimy,smug and stupid. All the while in the attire of a clown.
When I was a kid I heard a group of older men having a discussion and a comment came out:
“Opinions are like a$$holes, everyone’s got one.”
‘Expertise is not transferable’… opines a journalist.
The best part has been the commenters trying to live in both worlds. I’ve already seen some saying that this war is happening because of Ukraine’s low vaccine rate. I’m reasonably sure they are not being sarcastic. And for sure, we know Trudeau will revoke his support for Ukraine if he hears that.
Really? That’s a good one mate!
But an excellent point about Trudeau! I didn’t see that coming but you’re exactly right!
This article is a bit rich coming from “Amy.” We’re told she’s a junior NHS doctor and Unherd has given her anonymity to post articles here on a wide range of topics that are increasingly unrelated to her area of expertise.
Her articles about the reality of working on a covid ward, and the pressures of being a doctor in the NHS, were revealing and she was clearly writing from her area of expertise. I understand why she needed anonymity for those articles.
But she’s written anonymous articles across a range of subjects in the general area of health care policy and covid policy. She’s strayed far from her area of expertise as a junior physician and she’s obviously quite comfortable doing so. I don’t understand why she’s given anonymity for all her output. Surely that’s a privilege reserved for insiders breaking an important story, not someone who just wants to write opinion pieces without any possible chance of repercussions.
Thank you! I’ve pointed this out for some time, though you do a great job in this post.
Maybe AA should have been granted anonymity for certain posts on certain topics directly related to her job as a protection against retaliation. Maybe.
But she’s gone well out of her lane with many posts and she’s still anonymous. Perhaps her next anonymous post will be on the Russian invasion of Ukraine….
Thank you for this. I’ve been banging on for some time, and either no one noticed or hectored me for not wanting to “protect” AA.
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