Biased “Expertise” Is Worse Than Worthless

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Posted: Nov 12, 2020 9:03 AM
Biased “Expertise” Is Worse Than Worthless

Source: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Few institutions, habits or presumptions have survived the rolling conflagration that has been 2020 without getting a little singed. But few have been razed as thoroughly – burned down to the subbasement timbers and then entombed in concrete from a great height – as claims about the wisdom and reliability of purported “experts.”

This cataclysm, too, can largely be lain at the feet of the totalizing left. Its capture of both higher education and what now passes for the American news media has ensured that almost any assertions that “the experts advise” something waver somewhere between misinformation and fraud.

Instances of expert failure are everywhere this year. The polling “experts” were astonishingly wrong. The epidemiology experts declared so many times that the sky would fall if anyone dared to creep out his front door that vast swathes of the country have lost all faith in them, while another significant tranche has been frightened into immobility by what turns out in effect to be a particularly virulent flu for almost all but the elderly and ill.  

Part of the reason that recourse to expertise has lost its luster is that so-called experts never seem to lose their jobs or status – even when they turn out to be really, really wrong. Neil Ferguson, whose error-filled model played a central role in propelling the western overreaction to COVID-19, and who himself violated the lockdowns he recommended for amorous assignations, is still treated as an honored and reliable font of knowledge. In the next election cycle, the same pollsters who keep getting their polls wrong in the same ways will most certainly be brought back out to spout the same nonsense. And that nonsense will almost certainly favor the chances of the same side, while stacking the odds against the opponents.

And it’s this fundamental bias – running straight throughout the “expert opinion” system – that has turned resort to expert opinion from a real search for knowledgeable guidance into just another avenue for partisan grandstanding and power-seeking by the left.

The problem is related to – perhaps it’s just a corollary of – the misuse of science. As I discussed in this space recently, science cannot dictate policy because making policy requires that the decision-makers weigh non-scientific values – such as liberty, equality, security and prosperity –  against one another in making plans. People who claim otherwise have no idea either how science works or what policy is – or they know, and are destroying public understanding of vital discipline for petty political advantage.

Likewise, in any discipline other than the hard sciences – that is to say, in any discipline in which human values and preferences play any role, which is most of them – conclusions are necessarily based in part upon the premises and predicate understandings that the analyst brings to the study, so that even an expert in that discipline is an expert “from a certain point of view.” 

The closer a discipline gets to interacting with policy making or opinion setting, the more that point of view matters. A historian’s political outlook will play little role in his recital of the events leading up to the battle of Chancellorsville. It will matter immensely when suggesting policy responses to a new contagion or in determining how to weight the raw results of a presidential poll.

As a result, honest resort to expertise in highly political or contentious matters requires assembling and reporting fully on the opinions of the best minds in the field from all of the relevant political and cultural outlooks.

That, though, almost never happens anymore. The fault lies first with the universities. These are supposed to be the institutions where experts of all outlooks in all of the academic disciplines and professions can flourish and spar in the spirit of good-natured advancement of knowledge. They are in fact, in this epoch, almost entirely the reverse. Even in fairly conservative states, leftwing faculty massively outweigh even the moderates, far less those brave few conservatives and libertarians who dare to step out of their closets. And, still unsatisfied, those leftwing majorities are working hard to make even the expression of a conservative or libertarian opinion grounds for discipline or dismissal.

As a result, the “expertise” offered by most modern faculties cannot be honored as genuine expertise in a field, but only expertise in the far-left outlook in that field. Just as when some idiot on TV or on Twitter blathers that a disliked opinion is “hateful,” or preens “that’s just ignorant; you need to educate yourself,” all they’re really saying is “I am incapable of understanding or respecting differing viewpoints.”

And, of course, both TV and Twitter thoroughly amplify the problem. 

Most of the “news” media is far to the left, without any meaningful counterbalance. Even Fox News’s decision desk on election night was run by a Biden donor and supporter, and it appeared that his lieutenants leant the same way. Not led jointly by a Biden and a Trump supporter, so that both of the relevant viewpoints and outlooks were represented. Just the leftward one. With results that I think will have ramifications for that network’s future.

And Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Google’s active attempts to silence expertise from a right-of-center viewpoint need hardly be rehashed here. The dread beast social media is social in the same way that wars are civil.

Until higher education, the former news media and “social” <blergh> either return to objectivity or include active and vibrant outposts as representative of right-of-center outlooks as the current ones are of the middle-to-far left, public claims to “expertise” are worthless. 

If you’re not sure what biases supposed experts begin with, and upon what they base their claims, assume that they’re just leftwing partisans and treat them accordingly. If these institutions won’t even try to be honest and objective or genuinely representative, we’re right to treat them as liars.

Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Deputy Director of its Free Enterprise Project.