As COVID-19 cases and fatalities surge around the world, a parallel surge of predictions and recommendations are competing for our attention. Commentators race to weigh in on this pandemic moment, eager to satisfy a pressing human need: facing an epidemic of both enormous consequence and enormous uncertainty, we all crave answers. We want to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. We want the assurance of knowledge.
But which commentators should we trust? There are many voices, but they often fail to harmonize. Some even sing dangerous tunes. The cacophony requires us to weigh carefully which voices we should heed.
First and foremost, we should filter out those who are addressing issues beyond their intellectual training and competence. In philosophy, this phenomenon has a name: epistemic trespassing. It occurs when commentators holding real expertise in one field intrude into another, passing judgment where they lack crucial competence. Roaming into a field without expert-level insight, trespassers easily slip up.