Expert-skepticism as a political philosophy

The legislature in the Great State of Florida passed legislation that bans lab-grown meat and governor DeSantis just signed it into law. In under 24 hours, with the ink on the bill not dry yet, the whole Expert class published long walls of text explaining to us, mere mortals, why Florida is wrong. Scientific American called it evidence free. While the BBC titled the story as Ron DeSantis bans ‘global elite’ lab-grown meat – misleadingly suggesting that this is somehow DeSantis’ idea (it’s not), that Florida is somehow unique in this endeavor (it’s not) and that such a policy is the purview of conspiracist loons with fantasies about a global elite (it’s not). Oh, and let’s not forget the usual gaslighting – Why Florida banned a kind of meat that doesn’t really exist (If it doesn’t exist and it’s not happening, then why are you upset?). This reminds us about the bans on pornographic material in schools also passed by Florida legislature. We were told it’s silly because pornography doesn’t exist in public schools. As it turned out, it did exist. The same is true here: Lab-grown meat in fact does exist and is already being sold in the United States.

But the most important dynamic can be observed on Twitter X, where all of the techno-optimist shills influential accounts have nearly the same message. In fact three messages:

  • right wingers are bad because they’re not techno-optimists
  • right wingers are just like leftists because they ban stuff
  • right wingers have been bribed by Big Meat to pass a protectionist measure

The first two are utterly ridiculous because being a techno-optimist is not some universally understood moral good (quite the opposite, I would argue) and banning stuff doesn’t make one a leftist. As Milton Friedman was saying – to see if an idea holds water, take it to the limits. So, if banning stuff makes one a leftist, does that mean we shouldn’t be banning murder? If yes, then maybe being a leftist isn’t a bad thing. If banning murder doesn’t make one a leftist, then maybe banning stuff isn’t in and of itself a leftist position.

The third message of the big accounts on X is the classical conspiracism that’s fashionable in pseudo-elite circles. You see, the people who hate you don’t think you actually hold the policy positions you say you hold, even if you live them out and lead by example. In their mind, you, the pleb, are merely manipulated or straight-up bought-off by moneyed interests that happen to be in competition with them. So, in this case, people who support the lab meat ban are simply hunters or farmers who bought-off the politicians to protect their own interests.

The beauty of Twitter X, however, is that regular plebs can talk back and, as it turns out, few of them are farmers, let alone Big Meat representatives yet they either agree with Florida’s new policy, or slowly come to agree with it judging by who is against it.

So who is against Florida’s new policy? Techno-optimists, experts, vegans, investors in lab meat technology and the most ridiculous libertines with a fetish to being contrarians at all costs (some of those people’s hard drives and bank accounts should be audited, but that’s a story for another day). What to these have in common? They’re all very likely to support policy that makes the lives of regular people worse. They are, in internet lingo, non-frens.

In favor of the policy there’s mostly regular people (including more and more nominal leftists and liberals) whose political thinking is slowly evolving into something not named yet. I called it “expert-skepticism” but it could just as easily be called pro-science if that brand hadn’t already been confiscated by people who are anything but.

The screeching by the Experts isn’t landing anymore. In fact, more and more people straight-up say: If the Experts say lab grown meat is good, then it’s probably bad or at the very least not really that good.

Quite a lot of people are bringing up the experience with the pandemic hysteria – a topic where DeSantis’ skepticism was undoubtedly the superiour policy prescription and a topic the Experts would really love for all the rest of us to forget. Trouble is that and we won’t forget it precisely because it’s a moment where it was self-evident for almost everyone that the Experts are not just wrong, but malicious as well.

Just like with the Covid shots, the actual science on lab-grown meat is dubious. There’s reasonable concern that the end product might be suboptimal. There is also some proof that it may indeed be dangerous. Maybe these concerns are unfounded. But nobody can say yet and those who claim otherwise have a vested interest (be it ideological or financial) and thus can’t be trusted.

But those who support Florida’s measure don’t really care that much about the science behind it – nor should they. The very idea that we should do policy based on what marginal nerds think is preposterous. The opinion of scientists should be consulted occasionally when it’s absolutely required. This is not the case here.

Most people who support Florida’s measure are applying good ol’ fashioned common sense and experience. The government already tried to take away my freedoms based on flimsy “science” twice in the last 5 years: Once with the Covid shots and once with the silly car bans that include garden mowers in California or “green new deal” type of lunacy that created hundreds of thousands of new homeless people just in Germany alone – all on the altar of The Cimate and all based on dodgy science. So, under these conditions, those urging me, Joe the Voter, to now embrace lab grown meat have simply no credibility and, heuristically speaking, it is more likely than not that the correct decision is to do the opposite of what they advise.

Moreover, it doesn’t take a genius or a Harvard PhD to know that psychological reactance is a real phenomenon and that most people make decisions based on disgust. In the case of lab grown meat, not only is the disgust justified, but it just so happens to align with a lot of other interests (including the interest of real science itself).

Should obscure, unelected, unaccountable, billionaire-subsidized interests be allowed to experiment on our food supply? Enough people say no. You may disagree, but if the choice is between allowing lab grown meat unrestricted and banning it – the latter is the sensible choice in a context where no compromise is permitted.

The other side simply demands that you trust the Science and let them experiment with the food of your children. You may be okay with that, but enough people are simply not and convincing them otherwise will require a bit more than just calling them unevolved rubes, conspiracists or some other slur that ultimately still means Untermenschen.

The interests of “Big Agriculture” are just incidental to this discussion. The real debate is whether it should be permitted to introduce whatever the hell you want into the food supply of a nation, just because “scientists” say it’s okay now. At some point radioactive toothpaste was approved by scientists and those who warned against it were called cranks, luddites and all sorts of nasty names. Most of them were never compensated for the reputational damage they suffered as a result of being correct.

Maybe lab-grown meat is not like the radioactive toothpaste. But it may still be like Thalidomide. Most people today either don’t know this drug at all or only know it by the Thalidomide scandal. As it turns out, giving it out like candy over the counter for morning sickness ended up killing 10,000+ infants and maiming another several thousands for life. Only in Germany. Because in the late 1950s skepticism was still the norm. The FDA made the backwards and luddite decision of not allowing the German wonder-drug on the US market because they didn’t trust the German scientists. At the time, the decision was also “evidence-free” according to the techno-optimists of the time.

Today we know that Thalidomide is not straight-up poison, but it’s very dangerous and has some specific uses for good and is thus used only there while kept away from general use. If Thalidomide had been invented today, we would’ve likely killed hundreds of thousands of infants until there would’ve been a scandal because today, unlike the 1950s, skepticism towards Science is even rarer than it was 70 years ago.

And this is why, without conclusive data, the actual pro-science position is to be skeptical of the claims of experts and err on the side of caution.

Not all innovation is equal. Changing the type of lightbulb in the household is slightly easier to accept (since the very idea of a lightbulb isn’t exactly old) than totally upending our diets away from 100,000+ years of evolution.

Also, innovation is not value-neutral – no matter how much midwits scream otherwise. Even if the innovator intends it to be value-neutral, in the real world it won’t be. It can’t be. Because in the real world there’s people with interests and values. And lab-grown meat, at least for the time being, does not advance the values of normal people (frens) – in fact it hinders them. Lab-grown meat, for the time being, advances the interests of people who hate us (non-frens) and there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical of anything coming from the corner that hates you. Quite the opposite: It’s healthy.

By the way: This isn’t a Florida thing. Arizona is working on a similar policy. In Europe, Italy already banned this. The Romanian Senate passed a similar measure last year. Similar measures are being debated in Austria, France and Spain.

Maybe they’re all stupid or bought and paid for by Big Meat. But maybe not. Quality of food is far superiour in Europe to the good ol’ USA. So, again, heuristically speaking, it’s sensible to err on the side of caution when so many credentialed experts urge you to embrace a radical change that is quite literally unprecedented in history with a topic that is fundamental to human life.

Maybe this time the techno-optimists are right. If that’s the case, we can always change the law(s) again. But until then, it is more than reasonable to presume they’re wrong and act accordingly. Oh no… you won’t have the freedom to sell potential cancer. Yes, yes, the Scientists deboonked that. Here’s a link deboonking that crazy conspiracy theory. Oh, hold on, what does it say there?

Leading scientists agree that cultured meat products won’t give you cancer, but the industry doesn’t have the decades of data to prove it—so it’s trying to avoid the question instead.

Right. Then see you in a few decades when you got the data to prove it. Meanwhile, leave us alone, you demonic freaks!

Horia Sava
Techno-optimist in a previous life. Learned better in the meantime. Usually living in Tirana.