Musings of a Recovering Lutheran: When experts fail
O LORD, God of my salvation,
         I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
         Incline Your ear to my cry. 

Psalm 88:1-2 (NKJV)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

When experts fail

Arnold Kling has a good essay on the failure of expert opinion in the realm of public policy.

Key quote:

Expertise becomes problematic when it is linked to power. First, it creates a problem for democratic governance. The elected officials who are accountable to voters lack the competence to make well-informed decisions. And, the experts to whom legislators cede authority are unelected. The citizens who are affected by the decisions of these experts have no input into their selection, evaluation, or removal.

A second problem with linking expertise to power is that it diminishes the diversity and competitive pressure faced by the experts.

I would add another problem to the list: experts often disagree among themselves about the basic nature of a problem, the facts about the problem, and the possible solutions. The notion there is one single "expert" opinion about any given issue is usually false. This problem becomes especially acute when the issue is scientific in nature.

Disagreement among scientific experts is not the problem. The problem is when a biased, scientifically illiterate media picks one side as the One Sacred Truth and ignores (or even demonizes) all other competing opinions.

If you ever read a newspaper story or watch a news report that uses phrases like "scientific consensus" or "a majority of scientists believe ..." it is safe to assume the reporter is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Consensus is not science. Scientific theories are not voted on, they gain or lose credibility by the weight of evidence - something many journalists do not seem to understand or prefer to ignore.

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