We claim to be intelligent and scientific, so why do we invoke CDC authority? Who died and made the Centers for Disease Control God?
When I saw this story about sleep requirements for optimal health and functioning, I didn’t expect to post about it. But the way the story ended reminded me of how the media often assumes that centralized authority somehow determines truth. I posted yesterday about how, contrary to media assumptions, the Ebola emergency is not an argument for increased centralized power.
In this case, the story (summarized at Newser.com) was not about Ebola but sleep. Scientists, using a rather complex and convoluted study, have deduced that men need 7.8 hours of sleep and women need 7.6 hours of sleep. Of course, this contradicts the findings of other scientists. Thus:
But other recent research suggests the magic amount of sleep might actually be closer to seven hours than eight. Which figure to go with? The CDC might be able to help; it plans to issue new guidelines, possibly as soon as next year.
Read that last sentence again? How does “issuing guidelines” help anyone resolve an issue of fact?
This isn’t an issue like Daylight Savings Time or time zones that can be helped by authority (though in the case of time zones, they were originally developed by private competing railroad companies, not by government). This is a question of fact. The only way to determine whether 7 or 7.8 hours (or some other amount) is the right number of hours of sleep is to investigate for you.
But that’s not how the writer puts it: the CDC will “help” us by giving us new guidelines. The CDC speaks ex cathedra I guess, and their pronouncements are infallible and authoritative.
That’s superstition, not science.
And yet that is how we talk about and treat a government bureaucracy! We need them to tell us what to believe. It makes no sense. We know that there are scientists all over the nation and all over the world outside the CDC. We know that sometimes groups come to premature conclusions. Yet somehow the CDC is the universal arbitrator of the correct amount of sleep?
That makes no sense. And it is dangerous. Most times, when someone makes a scientific pronouncement, we know to look at his data, his arguments, and also the sponsors of his study. Is he arriving at the conclusions that his sponsors desire of him?
But by posing as the neutral referee of science, we have created a source of information that companies will be highly motivated to gain influence over. Precisely because they claim to be neutral, they give businesses an incentive to gain control of their findings.
Far from being a protection against false information, such a government agency is prone to become a source of propaganda.