The end of implicit trust
Once upon a time, there were prime time scientific programs on national TV channels. The scientists were national icons: be they Mr Wizard, Cousteau, Attenborough, the Professor Proton of the era. We shared then a moment of national communion, actually an implicit vision of what a better tomorrow would be thanks to all the progress done. This was not US, China, France, UK or the USSR, it was everywhere.
Today, adding a scientist to your expert panel is a trademark of ‘serious’ news, a validation of the knowledge shared… even if it is a virologist. As a viewer, if you don’t like the sound of what you hear or see, you can just zap to the next news channel! It is as serious, and the people on it have as many PhDs as on the previous channel. If you zap often enough, you will certainly find a doctorate opinion that matches your own. Deep down however, don’t you know that you just wanted to hear your own truth confirmed?
Our trust in science and factual research eroded.
As highlighted in an earlier blog, over the past months, we lost implicit trust in many institutions. Magnified, amplified by the disjointed approach to COVID19, our trust in science and factual research eroded. This distrust creeps up on all intellectual authorities. An easy way out has been to blame this erosion on the widespread availability of any information, knowledge, or fake news, or because of the dark web, etc….
Such an explanation is just condescending and rather insulting. It boils down to “the people cannot be trusted with the truth”. The institutions themselves, who had this implicit trust, can only blame themselves for losing it. That would be the starting point of rebuilding this trust, the only possible foundation of any future projects with any global scope.
As a failsafe for this loss of trust, the answer proposed was to establish ‘quality certificates’. In science, only “peer-reviewed” studies were to be trusted as a safeguard against charlatanism. ..It always sounded a bit too much like the old boys’ and girls’ club trying to keep a lid on it, but fair enough, after all, they are the experts. Well, it turns out to be not the magic standard expected.
To blame the erosion of trust on the widespread availability of information, knowledge or fake news is just condescending and rather insulting.
Again, take Corona: the peer-reviewed “research” on hydroxychloroquine published by the Lancet was certainly retracted. But only after an open letter published in the Guardian, of all things. The Lancet editor himself admits that it was a “fraud”. Sure, the Lancet reacted with new rules, now enshrined into the published research guidelines. However, are you reassured that the new “peers” will be any better, neutral or more competent than the previous peers? When the editor of the Lancet himself admits in the same interview that they may have got excited over pulling one over Trump, …not much to add, really. The experts can only blame themselves for having lost implicit trust.
The basic scientific principle of non-contradiction seems gone. You can tune in whichever factual reality fits you. A thing seems to be able to be and not be at the same time: vaccine can work and not, at the same time, like the Russian vaccine Sputnik. Covid could be a lab leak and could not, at the same time and in the same sentence. Relativism is philosophically understandable for cultures – for sciences much less. Of course, there always must be scientific debate; it is part of the scientific process and progress. But that means facts versus facts, theories versus theories first,.. not conflicting personal agendas and careers.
Medicine is the most striking example, but it is not the only one, nor the most insidious. We are moving from implicit trust to implicit distrust in experts, in established intellectual authorities, in scientists, but also in politicians and doctors.
Implicit trust means that we should have references that we consider the benchmark.
Implicit trust means that we should have references that we consider the benchmark.These have to be factual and neutral. The basis of the benchmark should be education and science, if never perfect, it sets a reference frame to fall back on.
The fact that this reference frame is becoming more and more just another possible truth, is largely thanks to the own efforts of established intellectual authorities.
If the frame of reference disappear, then indeed, there is no limit to any outwardly ‘logical idea’ coming forward, from a flat Earth, a secret army of lizard people, or Bill’s chips in Covax vaccines. Do not blame the public then.
The erosion of a shared frame of reference, the erosion of implicit trust, is not due to a sudden lowering of our collective brain power, but comes from the ever evolving, often contradictory benchmarks presented to us by people in position of authority. This creates a much more dangerous reality than out and out lizard people theories or any other fake news theories. It is not only in its consequences, but its origins that we must wake up to.
This loss of trust does not originate with the public, but with the self-styled intellectual authorities.
The loss of implicit trust comes from a widening gap between mission statements (i.e. the benchmarks, the reference frame) and actions,.. sometimes sprinkled with some self-interest dust.
In public speeches, in mission statements, in job descriptions, we are presented with a mental, scientific and political frame of reference that proclaims a higher purpose, duty, service and truth. However, when compared to the actual actions taken, the decisions made, we can only see a speak of a rather different reality.
As an example, ask yourself, did the WHO live up to its own motto? Did it “[..]WHO leads global efforts to expand universal health coverage. We direct and coordinate the world’s response to health emergencies.”
There is a widening discrepancy between mission statements and actual decisions, between words and actions.
Or, nearer to home: across Europe, we spent trillions every year for “the best healthcare system in the world”. All of UK, France, Belgium, Germany thought that they indeed had the best “healthcare system in the world”. After March/April 2020, it does seem… contradictory at best. Yet, the mantras, the missions statement, the claims to authority remain unchanged.
Lets move for a moment out of masks and Covid. European institutions were stunned by Brexit. Today, Europe is spitting blood at Poland for stating the obvious, that a national voted constitution supersedes a foreign law. The President of the European Commission can claim whatever self-serving jurisprudence, this, as the European constitution, was voted out of the window in 2005. Now, it is true that it was fished back, stealthily reinstated and even extended without any voted mandate by (quite literally) a “group of wise men”. Now, that is a very strange conception of “democracy”. If you do not trust or value your own public, democratic votes are just a charade. Still, the mission statement remains. Why wonder why voters turnout collapses?
If you do not trust or value your own public, democratic votes are just a charade.
Trust goes both ways. Breach of trust as well.
It would be easy to argue about personal failings, shortcomings, personal interests of one or the other public figure,… it does happen, but the most prevalent and insidious is the underlying mechanical outcome. What used to be a common shared agenda led by accountable individuals, is now often an underlying agenda led without any personal accountability. If you are not ready to stand by your decisions, if failure has no impact, what is the legitimacy of the authority, intellectual or otherwise?
This is, naturally, the refusal of personal risk. Decisions are ‘collective’, taken in the ‘collective interest’, so what could go wrong? Even if it does go wrong, as it did last year, then everyone in the collective was wrong. This is literally the argument peddled across Europe. As an added bonus, if you are a Belgian politician, you are entitled to judge your own decisions: I am certain that the Belgian Health Minister at the time, Maggie De Block, will certainly find many faults in her own decisions last year… Red Guard self-criticism at its peak. Credibility, what?
Naturally, it will seem to the public that it is all about vested self-interest – actually a logical and rational reasoning. While it is logical for a business person to max out his own interest, it seems rather un-natural to read “you would do the same in my position” as a subliminal message from doctors, politicians or intellectual authorities. How many times did you hear over the past years: “How could we know”, “Fake it until you make it”, “Embrace failure”, “That was what we were told to do”?
How does it not lead to a general distrust? It is not that implicit trust is not built, it is actively eroded by the very authorities that should embody it.
CONSEQUENCE: LOSS OF TRUST MEANS THAT THE WRONG DECISION IS TAKEN or THE RIGHT ONE IGNORED
If you know that you lost implicit trust, how will you than explain decisions to the public, that you don’t believe to be able to listen to the right arguments anyway? How to be trusted if you don’t trust?
Take an example: the UK study of the (mis)management of the early Covid crisis in 2020 (at least, not done by the health minister himself…) showed the very direct impact of this. We all have in mind the details of the progression: masks were unnecessary, even dangerous in March 2020, until they were mandatory in April 2020. But, what was revealed is that lockdown was delayed purely because there was doubt that people would follow orders. Actually, you know what, we massively did, bar of course a few knuckleheads, some celebrities and the odd minister. Will the public, us, trust them and follow orders silently though? Looking at Sydney’s reaction in similar circumstances, doubtful.
Further than eroding trust, and stretching the social bond, the erosion of trust can lead directly to the wrong decision: apart from a few countries, vaccines had to be enforced to go beyond a 60% line as far as I can see..
Without mutual implicit trust, how to tackle overwhelming challenges such as climate change?
Why does it actually matter? Lets talk about the next challenges we will all face – and I am not talking about rising pasta prices. Without mutual implicit trust, how to tackle overwhelming challenges such as climate change? We are asked to believe the ‘science’ of climate change, sometimes rudely… but ok. We could choose between the boomer science of the Club of Rome 1972 (TLDR the End is Nigh), to the millennial one (TLDR: the End is Nigh-er, glue yourself to the M25 and show your t*ts on Oxford Street). Will it be nuclear, wind, ethanol… what will we support, what will we drive, what will be decided when?
Finally, assuming that the right decision is taken, who can we trust to measure and communicate? Do you trust the data on pollution and the measures taken so far? Would you trust any national figures published? Well, last time around, it’s individuals that actually traced back the figures on Covid,…
WHAT TO DO?
To re-create a common vision, a common timeline, one common human saga, we need first to rebuild this implicit trust layer.
Ha ha.., trust the WHO to show the way, expensively I might add. OK, OK… s*t happens guys, 2020 was bad, lets rebound. Lets open the drawers and re-pitch ourselves with the malaria vaccine, a topic that can create a broad holistic support.. Global disease? Check. Kids? Check. Add Africa for good measure? Check. Should be a winner! Well, wrong! 1 hour wonder news. It appears that the malaria vaccine was approved by the EMA since 2015 apparently, and is only efficient at 36% after 4 years, but hey, par for course.
It may seem basic, but recreating credibility for these science, education and political entities is the foundation to recreate a common human timeline, a human saga, and not some self-serving half-baked “buzz”. Leave that to the social media entertainers, sorry, influencers ofc!
Avoid whitewashing and buzz.
If we know what not to do, then what should be done? Well, using a completely different domain, what and how does business deal with this?
Compare these both groups of individual: Gates vs Jobs, and Musk vs Bezos. Now look at the background on which they both competed. The global software infrastructure, closed or open, versus… hmmm, flying to the moon it seems, maybe Mars at a pinch. One competitive group outdid each other to deliver the best product, the other one outdid each other to … well, build their own legend, innit? How did they act?
The first group was all about rollout/roadmaps/user experience and setting out a clear vision of where they saw humanity going. For the second, contemporary group, there is an idea, a vision of sorts, but not really a momentum for the common man or woman. How come? We can clearly define the individual values of the first group… the second group, much less. So momentum starts when it is possible to identify clearly not only the ‘where to’, but also an implicit ‘how to’.
Momentum starts when it is possible to identify the ‘where to’ but also an implicit ‘how to’.
Losing implicit trust is not only about banning fake news, debunking conspiracy theories and crop circles. It should be a signal to re-build a social, societal, cultural and historical common future, starting with re-energising explicit personal values. To truly reset a vision for humankind, we need a storyline without backseat drivers, shared and shareable to all.
How precisely? That’s another story and article,