President Herbert publishes op-ed in defense of medical expertise regarding COVID-19 vaccines


University of New England President James D. Herbert, Ph.D., has penned an op-ed for the Portland Press Herald defending medical expertise on the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines and discussing the psychological basis of bias against expertise.

President Herbert, an academic psychologist, has published extensively on pseudoscience and is an internationally recognized expert in cognitive behavior therapy.

In the “Maine Voices” column, “In defense of expertise, on vaccines and other complex matters,” published Jan. 29, Herbert says that, as humans, we naturally filter information to pay attention to data that support our pre-existing beliefs and ignore data that don’t.

“Because of the way our minds function, we are often quick to question or dismiss experts when their conclusions contradict our existing beliefs, are counterintuitive, are opposed by our friends or ideological circles or when they point to actions that seem burdensome,” he writes.

Herbert turns to a survey that reports nearly four in 10 Americans say they definitely or probably will not get a coronavirus vaccine, which he calls “a statistic that underscores the widespread lack of trust in experts in our society.”

According to Herbert, most of us rely on expertise without even knowing it. He states: “If our car engine is making a funny noise, we consult an auto mechanic rather than a dentist, and vice versa if we have a toothache.”

Given that, Herbert says we must learn to distinguish legitimate experts and then integrate their input in the context of our own value judgements to arrive at the best possible decisions, particularly when it comes to complex high-stakes matters like the pandemic.

“Ignoring expertise almost always dooms our decision-making to failure,” he asserts. “As tempting as it might be to trust our intuitions or friends on such matters … we must rely on legitimate experts. 

“Medical experts agree that COVID vaccines are safe and effective,” he concludes. “The health and prosperity of our families, friends and communities depend on our trusting these experts.”