Why you can't just ignore the CIA report on Russia hacking
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Last week, it was revealed that the CIA had concluded that Russia was responsible for the hack of Democratic National Committee emails. Furthermore, they had done so in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE (like me, admittedly) jumped on this news and generally accepted its veracity. Supporters of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE (led by Trump, himself) openly questioned the CIA's findings.

If the CIA had concluded that Clinton had promised favors to international potentates who donated to the Clinton Foundation, I suspect that reactions to the quality of the analysis would have been reversed.


But whether the CIA is good at its job is not a partisan issue. Or at least, it shouldn't be.

How we treat the conclusions of experts has become increasingly partisan and the 2016 election has accelerated this trend at warp speed. The potential long-term damage of this trend is deeply consequential.

Experts are not entirely blameless, as too often they assert their conclusions with greater confidence than their underlying analysis merits. This is particularly true when experts are making predictions about the future rather than explaining what has happened in the past. When these experts use their platform to gain personal attention, they further diminish the credibility of experts everywhere.

But expertise does matter. When 97 percent of scientists agree that humans have contributed to climate change, that means something. Sure, scientific consensus can be wrong. Skeptics of consensus always love to claim that they are Galileo or Darwin, but it is important to remember that these examples represent a once-per-century phenomenon.

Social science or intelligence analysis will never produce conclusions that are as certain as science. But that uncertainty is not an excuse to dismiss the enterprise of expert analysis in non-scientific fields altogether.

If it were, we might as well choose our public policies at random. More than 200 years of post-Enlightenment reasoning have taught us that instead of randomness, we should use the scientific method and critical thinking to make decisions. That is what experts give us.

Are experts biased? Sure. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely. Economists tend to see things through the lens of their training. So do lawyers and so do intelligence experts at the CIA.

But an effectively functioning bureaucracy sets up its analytical process by asking a large number of people to weigh in on a decision, and making sure they all get heard. This can lead to groupthink, but again, this is a reason to examine conclusions more carefully, not simply dismiss them as the president-elect did with the CIA conclusions.

If I'm being honest with myself, I don't know for sure if the CIA conclusion about Russian interference with the election is correct. But neither do you. And most alarmingly, as he skips out on his daily intelligence briefings, neither does the president-elect.

The fact that a group of experts that knows better than you, I or Trump thinks that the "political equivalent of 9/11," as former CIA Director Michael Morell described it, could have happened means that we should examine the question in much more detail and have other independent experts conduct their own analysis.

Any other conclusion is the equivalent of saying, I don't care what experts say, I don't need those vegetables, I'll just eat Twinkies.

Good luck with that.

Stuart Shapiro is an associate professor and director of the Public Policy Program at Rutgers University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.