The Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, once quipped that "An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." His wisdom has been on display daily during the coronavirus pandemic.
We have been swamped by "experts", telling us to stay home, wear masks and get the jab. Much of the advice of experts has been correct and we should listen to them. But we should not treat the expert class as some infallible clergy. Experts are human just like all of us and they make mistakes too.
It is right to listen to the health advice. It is wrong for leaders to naively and slavishly follow it.
The latest mistake of the experts is on display in the shortage of Rapid Antigen Tests (or RATs) for coronavirus. Few realise that one of the principal causes of this shortage is that our health experts took months to approve rapid tests for home use, even while they had been in use overseas since the start of last year.
Despite RATs now being more essential, and in just as short supply, as toilet paper, they were only approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration on 1 November, just two months ago.
The delay was hard to understand but the TGA's head, John Skerrit, explained that a reason for the delay was that other countries "have never been able to do the level of contact tracing. So if they miss a number of infections, it's unfortunate. Whereas Australia has been trying to track it and trace every infection today."
This tortured logic, however, has been destroyed by its first contact with reality. Now that we have opened up, COVID cases are at record levels and we can't contact trace every case, just like other countries. We could have managed the situation better though if the TGA had approved rapid tests earlier.
Fortunately, this mistake will be corrected quickly, as state and federal governments now get millions of more RATs imported into Australia.
Other mistakes from experts will likely be with us for longer. The Queensland Government followed the "health advice" and introduced a vaccine passport system on 17 December. Many have lost their jobs because of this policy. Some venues have shut in Central Queensland because of the requirements.
The vaccine mandates have done nothing to prevent coronavirus spread. Cases are surging here and other states with mandates as quickly as those in New South Wales. We have known for some time that while the vaccine works to reduce severe health outcomes to protect the person taking it, the vaccine does not stop people spreading the virus. The vaccine mandates should be removed immediately, and people's right to work and earn a living should be restored.
Since coronavirus began a concerning trend has emerged where academics that have a view different from the mainstream are banned or cancelled from facebook or twitter. This is having a terrible impact on the free debate which is what normally allows for experts to get it right more than not.
The latest example is Dr Robert Malone. Dr Malone invented many of the techniques that are used in mRNA technology, which is the basis of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. He himself is vaccinated. But because he has chosen to express concerns about some of the vaccine's side effects (especially on young people) he has been banned from twitter and labelled an "anti vaxxer".
(For anyone interested in Dr Malone's views, his recent interview with Joe Rogan on Spotify is worth listening to.)
We have the term "second opinion" for a reason. If we ban second opinions we will end scientific inquiry. The more we treat experts like a clergy, rather than an academy, the more mistakes we will make, and the more we will undermine respect for science.