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The Myth of the Expert

by Christopher Chantrill
August 06, 2009 at 9:52 am

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LAST WEEK Steve McIntyre of the Climate Audit website cracked the walls of the fortress at Britain’s Climatic Research Unit. A “mole” sent him a sample of global temperature data that CRU Director Dr. Phil Jones had refused to share with the climate audit community. By Sunday Christopher Booker had reported the news in the Daily Telegraph.

For some reason government scientists like Dr. Jones that get millions in government research grants are considered to be disinterested experts. Yet anyone who has ever taken a dime from an oil company is bought and paid for.

Of course that is nonsense. To politicians, scientists are just another interest group competing for favors. It’s pay to play. To get their grant money scientists need to deliver science that helps argue for bigger government. And they do, especially in the climate sciences.

Climate scientists like Michael Mann of Penn State University and the “Hockey Stick,” James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Phil Jones of CRU are not disinterested experts. It’s perfectly obvious when you watch Steve McIntyre audit their work. The climate scientists don’t respond to McIntyre like disinterested experts. They act like politicians looking for a fight.

It’s time that conservatives explode the Myth of the Expert and the disinterested scientist, because scientists are part of the problem. They are a vital part of the modern mega-state. It is their expertise and technique that makes the vast interlocking system of government patronage and social control possible.

The Germans were the first to understand the role that expertise could play in the game of political power. That’s why they opened the first research university in 1810. Two generations later the first research university in the US opened, Johns Hopkins University, and pretty soon every state in the Union had its flagship research university. Governments all over created panels of science advisors and battalions of social-science professionals to help them maintain administrative control and project political power. They rewarded their faithful servitors with National Science Foundations and billions in research grants.

The scientists and the experts returned the favor with plans to bring every detail of modern life under political and expert control, especially in health care, in education, and in the relief of the poor.

As we struggle out of the mess created by the affordable housing experts, we get to watch the president and Congress try to convert the plans of their health and climate experts into legislation. They want to control health care with a panel of experts, and they are trying to control the earth’s climate with an energy tax gussied up by experts to look like a market in carbon emission permits. Meanwhile their previous expert-led projects in education and welfare sink further and further into failure.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain that the unholy alliance between politicians and experts, with its tax-funded programs, its expert commissions, and its 1,000 page bills just doesn’t work. Solving problems with political power is too clumsy, too rigid, too unjust to work in the real world. Pretty soon the whole thing comes crashing down. But we are not yet at the point where the reigning elites have woken up to the new reality.

What should we call the moment when everything comes crashing down? How about The Tipping Point? It’s the moment, in a two second Blink of an eye, when some crazy Outlier of an idea or an entrepreneurial startup changes the world. Surely the point of Malcolm Gladwell’s three bestsellers is that the world cannot be domesticated into predictbale government bureaucratic administration.

It’s an irony that Gladwell works at the citadel of conventional liberal thinking, The New Yorker, yet writes bestsellers to show that the world doesn’t work in the bureaucratic liberal way.

Some conservative politicians are trying to move politics away from the bureaucratic mindset. Here’s Sam Coates at Britain’s Conservative Party:

Conservatives recognise that... not only that we can disperse information and decision-making away from the centre - but that we must... This understanding of what we call the post-bureaucratic age informs the Conservative approach to policy-making.

Conservative politicians are full of this talk of empowering people in their communities and distributing power away from the center. Yet why should anyone believe them? They are always talking like that. The truth is that they won’t give up power until we take it away from them.

But there is hope.

Back in the 1990s we heard a lot about Soccer Moms and the politicians who devised policies to appeal to them. In the post 9/11 Oughties we learned about Security Moms and the politicians who devised policies to appeal to them. That was top-down politics. Now we are beginning to hear about Tea-Party Moms who are organizing an anti-tax, anti-debt political movement using email, blogs, and Facebook. Call it bottom-up politics.

In the world of the future there will still be experts. They will get to come up with the bright ideas and implement cool technology like the interactive tools of Web 2.0. But when they are done it will be time to step back and let the people take control.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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