Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Political Fight Over Expertise

I didn't realize for a long time that (bureaucratic?) expertise is one of the things that the right and the left disagree about. (But when I learned that there was a heated right-vs.-left battle over phonics vs. whole-language approaches to reading, I realized that the RvL fight was waaay more thoroughgoing than I had ever realized...)*
   I was always with the technocrats. Now I incline toward thinking that, outside the relatively hard sciences, experts are more likely than not to be wrong most of the time, except with respect to pretty simple questions.
   Maybe I was always with the technocrats because I am--or until recently was--a liberal. Maybe the causal arrow goes the other way. Maybe there's a third, common cause, etc. To some extent I was overly-optimistic about science, failing to understand how easily it can be tripped up by bias.
   But, also: now I incline toward thinking that, given the pervasive bias in academia and the cultural superstructure, experts outside the relatively hard sciences are just about as likely to be giving you a tarted-up version of that bias as they are to be giving you a reliable, independent judgment based on expertise. Climatology isn't even above suspicion in my book anymore--though I'd bet with the expert consensus if forced to bet. By the time you get to sociology, I expect you're usually getting the bias thing. (Which is in no way to say that there's not good sociology.)
   Recent developments like those concerning academic opinions on things like race and "gender" are downright surreal. There's no doubt that new consensus was forged on those topics on the basis of political preferences. Then the consensus is appealed to by journalists, Wikipedia, and all that, then taken for granted by all right-thinking persons...then dissent from it starts becoming risky...
   I also have a suspicion that views on expertise are second-order opinions that tend to be, like those about Constitutional interpretation and states' rights--driven by convenience and first-order opinions. If the experts tend to say what you want them to say, then you trust expertise. If the states are more likely to do what you want that the Feds, then you're for states rights...on that issue.
   But I dunno. If anybody knows of anything good to read on this kind of thing, I'd be happy to learn about it.

*Incidentally, I was taught phonics, it's one of the few things I can actually pretty vividly remember learning in grade school, and I distinctly remember thinking it was awesome. And I've aced the reading/linguistic part of every standardized test I've ever taken. So I reckon I'm a phonics man...


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