Who Needs Experts?

The world’s elites claim the right to govern by virtue of their technical and bureaucratic expertise. One can think of historical eras when an elite’s claim to govern by virtue of its superior skills and its record of success would be plausible. Unfortunately, we are not living in one of them.

One of many cases in point: Oxford University head ‘embarrassed’ Michael Gove is an alumnus. Michael Gove is a prominent British politician. He has held a number of posts in Conservative administrations, including Education Secretary and Justice Secretary. Currently he is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Among other things, he advocated for Brexit. So why is the vice-chancellor of Oxford University embarrassed that Gove is an alumnus?

In a candid speech Professor Louise Richardson said the “war on wokeness” was a problem for institutions and blamed populists, politicians and parts of the media for perpetuating the view that universities are “bastions of snowflakes”.

The war on wokeness is a problem for institutions? Most of us would say that wokeness is a problem for institutions.

Speaking on a panel alongside vice-chancellors from across the world at Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit, Richardson said: “Michael Gove, the British cabinet minister who I am embarrassed to confess we educated, famously said after it was pointed out to him by a journalist that all the experts opposed Brexit, he said: ‘Oh we’ve had enough of experts.’

Amen!

“With the vaccine, it seems like the public can’t get enough of experts. Many of our scientists have become household names. We have demonstrated through the vaccine work and the development of therapeutics and so on just how much universities can contribute and that’s enormously helpful to our cause.”

Of course, when “experts” said that Brexit would destroy Britain’s economy, they were wrong and Michael Gove was right. But declining to follow the lead of “experts” is heresy, and I suppose it only makes matters worse if the experts turn out to be manifestly wrong.

As for covid, the experts have not been unanimous on much of anything, and many of them (like the execrable Dr. Fauci) have changed their minds repeatedly, seemingly functioning more as politicians than scientists. The bottom line is that if many millions of people in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere have become skeptical of the credibility of alleged experts, it is with good reason.

I share that skeptical attitude, in part because of my own experience. As a trial lawyer, I both worked with and cross-examined hundreds, likely thousands, of experts in various fields. Many of them had extraordinarily impressive credentials. My experience was that experts are like everyone else. Some know what they are talking about, others don’t. Some back up their opinions with sound data and careful reasoning, while others crumble under adverse examination. Deferring to someone merely because he or she is a credentialed expert would be a terrible, and sometimes potentially suicidal, practice. Don’t do it.

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