Podcast: The 3WHH, on “Do ‘Experts’ Know Anything?”

My happy place!

I make a triumphant return as host this week, and after some of the ritual lover’s quarrel over whisky (including a celebration of my happy place—see nearby pic), Lucretia and I get down to the main business, which is slagging the left, and taking on the problem of “scientific expertise” in modern government.

We begin with an update on the egregious 1619 Project, with a look at a long essay from Princeton University’s eminent historian Sean Wilentz that appeared, for some strange reason, in a Czech publication. Actually not so strange: as Wilentz explains in the article, an orthodoxy has grown up around the 1619 Project that effectively bans any criticism of it in leading academic publications, let alone the New York Times. Wilentz, a high-octane liberal, goes through some amazing stories of the bad faith of New York Times editors and many academics (including the American Historical Review), but as Lucretia points out, he exhibits terminal cluelessness about how his brand of weak-minded liberalism paved the way for the extremism of the 1619 Project that Wilentz now thinks is deeply flawed.

From here we have a good laugh at how progressives propose to re-write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in the pages of Democracy: A Journal of [Bad] Ideas. Yet somehow when you suggest to progressives that they hate the American Founding and our Constitution, they get very upset, despite this obvious confession.

But the main event this week is a reflection on “scientific expertise” in government, whose defects were on full display this week especially with the confusion of the FDA over COVID vaccine booster shots, and several other aspects of the whole sorry COVID story. We enlist two surprising witnesses: the old socialist warhorse Harold Laski, who wrote a terrific attack on “scientific expertise” in government way back in 1931, entitled “The Limitations of the Expert.” (This link may be behind a paywall for most readers.) And then we also take in similar cautions from Hans Morgenthau, in a mid-1960s essay “Science and Political Power.” (Also behind a paywall, unfortunately.) But we offer key highlights from both essays, culminating with a reminder of the key part of President Eisenhower’s farewell address:

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. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system-ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

You know what to do now: listen here, or if you doubt our expertise, seek out the superior wisdom of our hosts at Ricochet.

Responses