Tuesday, 4 April 2017

On expertise and experts

During the EU referendum debate PM David Cameron advocated that we all 'listen to the experts' (see here and here). Expert politician Mr Cameron and his expert colleague George Osborne thought they would win the referendum but got their politics wrong.

Experts, so called, can often be found - starkly differing in their views - on both sides of an issue. Both sides can't be right. Experts, so labelled, in certain fields (not least in economics, politics, ethics) often fail to deliver the goods that experts should ie expertise. 

Before the June 23 referendum on UK membership of the EU, many economic experts made very gloomy forecasts. These forecasts were wrong, as some of them have acknowledged (see here and here).

'Experts' built the unsinkable Titanic (which sank), the Hindenburg airship (which went up in flames), the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations (built in an earthquake prone zone and were hit by a tsunami caused by an earthquake) and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (which shook itself apart during a gale). 






The experts of the time, so their credentials indicated, said Darwin's thinking on evolution by natural selection was wrong. Experts of the time ignored or dismissed Wegener's theory of continental drift for many decades (Wegener not having the label of expert in the relevant branch of science). Now, evolution and continental drift are amongst the major scientific theories.
Plenty more examples are available. Lets retain a healthy scepticism about 'authorities' on complex areas of life, the experts. Lets always thoroughly test all claims to expertise - and be willing to listen to those whose expertise we may be able to verify but may not have the label expert. 

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