I’ve been trying to think of what to say in regards to Michael Gove claiming that people in this country have had enough of experts. This is mainly because I just don’t really know what to make of it. Does he really believe this, or was it just a slip of the tongue? Brian Cox has some stronger words. Today we probably have a better understanding of the world around us than at any time in human history. We therefore have an amazing opportunity to make informed decisions and – in my opinion – should aim to do so.
This requires talking to, and listening to, those who have relevant expertise. This, of course, do not mean that the evidence they present defines the decision that should be made; there will be many relevant factors some of which will be hard to quantify. It doesn’t mean that the experts have some kind of special place and get to decide what decisions should be made. They simply provide relevant information; how it is used is up to those who are in a position to actually make the decisions. They may even make the same decision had they recieved no information from experts; they’re still, however, better off with the information, than without it.
It’s possible (maybe even likely) that Michael Gove doesn’t really believe that we’re tired of experts, or that experts should be ignored. However, there is a valid concern that this is part of a trend to dismiss, or marginalise, experts. I’m currently reading Shawn Otto’s new book The War on Science, which John Abraham reviews in his article. Not only are there those who are ideologically pre-disposed to dismiss experts – because what they present challenges their world-views – there is also an issue with those who comment on science. Many have little in the way of actual scientific training, do not really understand how it works, and often think that there is no such thing as objective knowledge. This creates a situation in which all views are perceived as equally valid and can, therefore, legitimise views that have little, or no, validity.
Anyway, that’s all I was really going to say. As far as I’m concerned, it’s obvious that we should be willing to listen to relevant experts; being informed is clearly preferable to simply guessing. Those who don’t wish to do so, either have the arrogance to think that they somehow know better than experts, or are aware that what they’ll hear will probably be inconvenient, and so would rather not hear it. Neither possibility is particularly encouraging. I do think that we should recognise the importance of evidence-based decision making, while recognising that experts don’t have some kind of special place at the table; their role is simply to inform.