Monday, March 26, 2007


Gracchi has a very thoughtful post up on the relevance of experts. The challenge is balancing the two concerns that these sections illustrate:

"To be uncharitable you might call it the Today program error. On the one side I have an eminent scientist who beleives in evolution, on the other a creationist who has never done any proper science who doesn't and I treat them equally. One though has done a huge ammount of experiments, rigorously tested out his theories and the other hasn't. Despite that the interviewer and the public adopt a posture somewhere in the middle.


I suppose to a certain extent what we see in society at the moment is too much respect for experts as magi, as mystical beings who divine truth in a mysterious way, and too little respect for the way that truth is manufactured."

This argument from Peter Frankln angered me when I first read it and might, by showing the other side of the coin, suggest the source of the 'experts' problem:

"Given Nigel Lawson’s record on economic stability, I’m pretty disinclined to accept his judgement on climate stability.


Twenty years ago Nigel Lawson decided that the best thing for Britain would be to shadow the Deutschmark. Twenty years later he is urging us to shadow the Chinese rate of carbon emissions. He is as wrong now as he was then."

"Some years ago Churchill decided that the best thing for Britain would be to return to the Gold Standard at the pre-war level. Now he is urging us to fight on against Nazi Germany. He is as wrong now as he was then". Plenty of politicians capable of sound judgement have fallen under the spell of fixed exchange rates and a strong pound. This is just lazy ad hominem.

The common problem is a perversion of accountability. People are being understood as black box 'truth machines' which have a certain efficiency. This efficiency is the likelihood than any particular statement they make will be correct. Such a method is lazy and the 'Today programme error' is a good term for it.

The only tonic is intelligence and regular fisking.

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