Public Cynicism Towards Experts

Following on from Michael Gove saying:

“People in this country have had enough of experts,”

Read in passing:

Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.

“We have a reversal of traditional influence. It is going not top-down, but sideways.”

I think that’s true. The less I trust “authorities” and  “experts”, the more I trust ordinary people. I also pay much more attention these days to commenters on my blog, and to other bloggers, than I do to renowned pundits.

On the same topic, TV science pundit Brian Cox:

his famous perma-grin faltered only when the subject of public cynicism towards professional expertise came up.

“It’s entirely wrong, and it’s the road back to the cave. The way we got out of the caves and into modern civilisation is through the process of understanding and thinking. Those things were not done by gut instinct. Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something. You’re not necessarily right – but you’re more likely to be right than someone who’s not spent their life studying it.”

Unfortunately, I think most self-styled experts these days actually are people with vested interests in something. How many people spend their entire lives studying any one thing? Most researchers these days are employees that are paid to study one thing one day, something else the next, depending on who’s paying them. And they have a vested interest in keeping their jobs. The only truly independent researchers are the ones who aren’t being paid. And how many of them are there?

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About Frank Davis

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18 Responses to Public Cynicism Towards Experts

  1. Lepercolonist says:

    “The only truly independent researchers are the ones who aren’t being paid. And how many of them are there?”

    Paid experts for legal testimony are a prime example of testifying in court for their bloated asking price. Most of these experts state that their opinion is settled science.

    From The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers :

    A revolution is taking place in the courtroom as long accepted forensic methods are challenged under the Daubert/Kumho Tire standard of scientific reliability. Courts have excluded expert testimony regarding handwriting analysis, field sobriety tests, hair, bite mark and voice identification.

    Ballistics evidence, or most specifically “toolmark analysis,” the comparison of markings imparted to ammunition by firearms, will be next, and for good reason. Unlike DNA or fingerprints, markings left by an individual gun on ammunition fired through it are neither unique nor permanent.

    https://afte.org/uploads/documents/swggun-lamagna-response.pdf

  2. waltc says:

    Post script: why Trump might think there’s more profit in a no-smoking hotel seems to be born out in the link I gave yesterday where people are complaining that at several other hotels they were forced to accept a smoking room bec all the non smoking rooms were booked. This says to me that a majority may prefer nonsmoking rooms and that smoking rooms (surprisingly) seem to go begging. The brainwashing of Americans seems to be complete.

    • garyk30 says:

      I doubt that Trump directly manages any of his hotels, that would be done by on- site people.
      They would be the ones setting the policies.
      Trump’s only concern would be bottom line.

      • nisakiman says:

        Yes, I think you’re probably right there, Gary. That sort of stuff is minutiae that he wouldn’t get involved in. He probably doesn’t give a shit either way as long as the profits are rolling in.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Now I do have a question:
      “Smoking in multifamily housing is a huge problem,” says O’Toole. “About two-thirds of people living in multifamily housing are unwillingly exposed to smoking during an average year. So our detector will allow people who are property management companies, co-op boards and condo associations to ensure that everybody’s living up to their agreement in places that don’t allow smoking.”
      Would anybody want to live in such flimsy buildings? And, worse even, it’s ok to snitch on your neigbours when they do something LEGAL?

  3. Rose says:

    The only truly independent researchers are the ones who aren’t being paid. And how many of them are there?

    Thanks to the internet, probably quite a few.
    It would take a lifetime to sort out if we still had to rely on trudging round libraries day after day.
    Someone, somewhere at some time has generally answered the question you are asking today and as the paper records were put online some years ago to free up space, I knew where to look if ever I needed anything..

    Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation
    January 17, 1961

    “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
    http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

    Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together

  4. Manfred says:

    “Those things were not done by gut instinct.”
    Emergence from the caves and progress into the future were accomplished precisely on that – gut instinct, insight and common sense. These always trumped superstition, habit and blind faith and they still do. The ‘process of understanding and thinking’ alludes obliquely (in academic ‘code’) to the scientific method. But … we weren’t graced with that until in essence the dawn of the 20th Century. The disingenuousness of Brian Cox is his studious and dishonest avoidance of post-modern ‘science’, a fashionably tortured approach dependent on the precautionary principle not on evidence, and therefore subject to the vagaries of fashion and politics and as a consequence, roundly rejected by those that instinctively led us from the caves with gut instinct, insight and common sense, of which thankfully, there are many.

    • Rose says:

      I was thinking about that only this morning after reading Frank’ post.

      Post-Normal Science, the Precautionary Principle and the Ethics of Integrity – 1997
      Laura Westra

      Abstract
      ” Present laws and regulations even in democratic countries are not sufficient to prevent the grave environmental threats we face. Further, even environmental ethics, when they remain anthropocentric cannot propose a better approach.
      I argue that, taking in considerations the precautionary principle, and adopting the perspective of post-normal science, the ethics of integrity suggest a better way to reduce ecological threats and promote the human good globally”

      “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely practiced by the States according to their capabilities.
      Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific uncertainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent environmental damage.

      This principle clearly indicates that, because of the gravity and the urgency of the many environmental problems and crises that face us, it is sufficient to be aware of the threats, even before the scientific certainty might be available,to indicate priority action on the part of policymakers.

      This principle is introduced as an agent of change in order to counter the arguments of those who would appeal to scientific uncertainty, or to disagreements among experts, as a delaying tactic and as a reason to postpone action.”
      http://www.springerlink.com/content/h2870733078384h2/

      This is why these people can run rings around politicians, they keep changing the goalposts without telling anyone.

      • garyk30 says:

        The Precautionary Principle would mandate that until they can prove beyond a doubt that what they propose to do will cause no harm, they must not d it.😳😳

  5. garyk30 says:

    Being an ‘expert’ only implies knowledge of some subject.

    It does not imply skill in applying that knowledge.

    A grammar teacher may have a great knowledge of grammar and still be a lousy and hated teacher.

    Also, way too many experts are way to eager to give opinions on subjects that are outside of their field of expertise,

    Movie stars and climate science come to mind.

    On many subjects I have more trust in the accumulated wisdom of millions of people over thousands of generations than the self granted wisdom of politicians.

    The ‘Wisdom of the Ages’ will seek systematic solutions to social problems, politicians and other elites try to force immediate solutions, no matter what the cost.

    Costs that they never have to pay or suffer under.

    They use the term ‘Rights’ to refer to what are actually only ‘Preferences’ and ignore the costs that others must pay to provide such items.

    Experts use undefined terms such as ‘adequate housing’, equality, diversity, social justice, fare share, a livable wage.

    All of these are preferences that must be achieved immediately; that the costs must be taken from other areas does not concern the ‘experts’.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Being an ‘expert’ only implies knowledge of some subject.

      It does not imply skill in applying that knowledge.

      Interesting aspect. Knowledge of some subject is usually acquired following study and regurgitation of things laid down. However wrong they may be.
      Classic example is dietary fat. 50 years on we finally discover that we actually do NEED fat for e.g. the fat soluble vitamins to be taken up by our body.

      “Experts” do get it wrong. Virtually all the time…

      Experts use undefined terms such as ‘adequate housing’, equality, diversity, social justice, fare share, a livable wage.
      Undefined, indeed.

      All of these are preferences that must be achieved immediately; that the costs must be taken from other areas does not concern the ‘experts’.
      Because in “expert’s” view these other areas are “unimportant”?

  6. garyk30 says:

    I think that $(US)250,000 is a livable wage; but, I never have had the skills or expertise to be paid that much. I certainly never felt the govt should mandate such a wage for me.

  7. beobrigitte says:

    On the same topic, TV science pundit Brian Cox:

    his famous perma-grin faltered only when the subject of public cynicism towards professional expertise came up.

    “It’s entirely wrong, and it’s the road back to the cave. The way we got out of the caves and into modern civilisation is through the process of understanding and thinking. Those things were not done by gut instinct.
    Well, my gut instinct tells me that ‘thinking and understanding’ doesn’t happen much. Modern civilization ….. What exactly is meant by this? Does it mean a system of moremoremoremore quickerquickerquicker and politicians being sock puppets of whatever lobby group decides that it’s time to get people to conform with whatever means they choose?
    Where is this thing called balance?

    Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something.
    I spent my life studying (amongst other things) life. And since I am much older than quite a number of these “experts” surely it is appropriate for me to point out that at the very bottom of the list of things necessary for life are “experts”.

    You’re not necessarily right – but you’re more likely to be right than someone who’s not spent their life studying it.
    So it’s not about all the times these self-styled “experts” get it wrong?

  8. Tony says:

    I think, at the risk of being a bit repetitive, that it is all about ‘belief in (expert) authority’ as opposed to ‘belief in evidence’. For example, in the McTear vs ITL court case, ITL’s expert witnesses cited and explained their case using evidence. The anti-smoking cartel (ostensibly for McTear) simply quoted themselves as ‘the experts’ and made no attempt to provide real evidence.

    As for Brian Cox, if we believe the ‘climate science experts’ that he favours, we really will end up living in caves again. Or as Professor John Brignel put it “They will not be satisfied until they have you shivering in a cave, sipping thin gruel.”

    http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/zealots.htm

  9. Pingback: Cnuts Like Cox – Library of Libraries

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