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September 01, 2014



Very good post. But I think a distinction should be made between sciences for which this is true and sciences for which it isn't. For instance, most people (bar conspiracy theorists) would never argue with a physicist, chemist or engineer (on questions related to these particular fields). But for some reason, everyone feels like they know THE answer to any problem when it comes to things like economics.

Very PC Plod

Most workplaces - including in the public sector - are fiercely top-down and anti-democratic even though employees might be local experts with genuinely useful knowledge."

Well no shit, it was ever thus. The Rotherham scandal and cover-up is a great example (note btw that 28 men have been arrested today in Keighley on grooming charges, and yes they are Moose Limbs).

Jim M.

everyone's opinion is equal, regardless of their knowledge.

I'm sure your tongue was firmly buried in your cheek as you typed this and I have set my irony-factor to maximum but this still made my teeth grate!

this made me chuckle though ... h/t Twitter.
The First Economist.



Why do you keep discussing knowledge, intellect and expertise (or the lack thereof) without reference to the expert literature on IQ? Anyone would think you were just asserting mere opinion.


"Why do you keep discussing knowledge, intellect and expertise (or the lack thereof) without reference to the expert literature on IQ?"

This may be the most stupid comment ever uttered on any webpage, and the competition is fierce so well done.

I first noticed this trend of replacing the 'expert' with the mouthy 'personality' in relation to climate denial. The media would have a climatologist debating with someone like Johnny Ball.


This explains why the urge by media to ridicule anthropogenic global warming is dealt with by inviting Nigel Lawson to represent the man in the pub's opinion.

Dave Timoney

Re "most people (bar conspiracy theorists) would never argue with a physicist, chemist or engineer (on questions related to these particular fields)". But they should.

Scientists are not afraid of argument, which serves to improve their own theories and interpretation of data. In fact, dreaming up alternative explanations, and then testing them, is key to the empirical method.

If we never questioned experts, we'd still be assuming that the barber knows best how to cure illness and the priest is an expert on the existence of God.

The issue highlighted by Chris is not "why do idiots get air-time" but why do particular idiots get air-time.

Deviation From the Mean


I am from the school that 100 people have better insight than 1 person. However, this assumes the 100 people are informed people. But outside the day job our society goes out of its way to misinform people and spread ignorance and idiocy.

So as society stands the views of 100 people are often just ignorance amplified.

I like your vision but to become complete we need a transformation of existing society.


I can't make out whether this is irony or not. But I think a quote from Zamyatin is apt:

"Philosophers of genius, children, and the people are equally wise — because they ask equally foolish questions"



you shoulda seen the lecture hall when the atmospheric physicist started talking about greenhouse gases ditto the chemist more agreement about han shooting first


difference between critical argument and blathering some scientists are nice and explain stuff re brian cox doesnt mean theyll value someone going on about water memory


Several themes here. I agree re 'false democracy'.

TV shows are just that - show, producers only need talking heads, what they say is irrelevant so long as air time is filled. Then the definition of expert is ex as in has-been and (s)pert as in drip-under-pressure. Then the old Whitehall dictum 'on-tap, never on-top'. Once upon a time Napoleon made the mathematician Laplace governor of some French region - it was a disaster. Laplace agonised over understanding every little detail and influence before a decision. Which probably explains why experts are seldom placed in charge.


Whoever said there is democratic, or the world is fair is naive. Those in power will continue to perpetual their power regardless of what is right.


To equate fiscal policy "expertise" with science expertise is laughable. To blame "austerity" for falling real wages is at best arguable. And in any case, falling real wages in Germany are said by many to be the root of their economic miracle of the last 15 years. Otherwise good post.


Is there genuinely a "Savageization" of media or are people like Chris just getting misty eyed for some kind of 70s TV utopia where intellects and philosophers knowledgeably discussed the issues of the day? Was it really like that in the old days?

I'd have thought the introduction of digital has allowed a greater number of reasonable intelligent and in-depth programming on channels like BBC4, BBC News, More4, Al Jazeera etc etc compared with the days of only having 3 channels running for a few hours each day.

Complaining about a program that goes out on the main channel on a Sunday morning is perhaps harsh.

Let me know, I'm too young to remember telly in the 70s and I was a kid who wasn't interested in high-brow programming in the 80s.

On Sunday I watched an in-depth documentary on the making of Parallel Lines. Refreshingly, they didn't ask the likes of Robbie Savage for his opinion, and largely stuck to interviews with the band members and producer. It was ace. I'm not sure this kind of program was common in the old days.


"And in any case, falling real wages in Germany are said by many to be the root of their economic miracle of the last 15 years."

Notice how vague the phrase "are said by many" is and how this vague phrase quickly transforms into an absolute truth.

Igor Belanov

The media often reinforce the power of 'experts' and insiders by their eagerness provide 'entertainment' by showing members of the public in their most ignorant or outspoken light when they do appear on TV and radio.
For example, you could get some knowledgeable and articulate football fans that would have a much more intelligent discussion than the usual pundits, but when supporters are shown they prefer to put on the sort of freaks who name their children after a cup-winning XI or who are so prejudiced that they make UKIP members look like Buddhist monks.

An Alien Visitor

"the public in their most ignorant or outspoken light when they do appear on TV and radio"

I don't fully agree with this. For example I rarely see on TV the tirade of racist and anti immigrant filth that usually comes out of the mouths of the average Brit.

I think the public are presented as a little bit stupid but well meaning.


How do I know an expert when I see one? If I meet a surgeon I have no way of knowing their expertise - I must assume it, I don't ask they be expert - competent will do. But in contentious matters - a legal case say - an expert will be someone who agrees with me. Remember the business of expert witnesses who found demonic abuse under every bed or that medical chap who had very authoritative (but wrong) views on cot deaths. Even in academe an expert may be chained to this or that school of thought. I think we need to be very careful and suspicious of 'experts', if we can find polar opposite expert opinions we might as well toss a coin.

Toby McGuire

Your article is very useful and have good knowledgeable content, thanks for the post.


They bung Savage on Match of the Day because in the minds of BBC producers he's likely to appeal to the proles. Articulate working class pundits like Lee Dixon and Danny Murphy must confuse them.

The ideological assumptions of the people who decide these things leads to a mentality where the views on a political/economic matter are gleaned from, a government spokesperson, someone from the CBI and possibly - from the 'Left', a Labour MP (rarely a trade unionist now).

The obsession with some supposed 'balance' also has serious implications for other matters. The MMR vaccine and climate change issues are two other classic cases in point - equal merit given to both sides, where this is totally unwarranted and misleading.

Another aspect is that the moral compass of these people is non-existent. Witness how many times the opinion of Alistair Campbell is sought. A man, at worst a war criminal, at best a liar with the blood of God knows how many people on his hands. Likewise, the appearance of the slimeball Neil Hamilton on various programmes.

Andrew Pearson

"the efficient market hypothesis tells us that millionaire fund managers are mostly thieves and parasites."

That's not entirely fair. It merely says that one cannot *reliably* beat the market. They could just be ridiculously lucky. Or they might have started out as multimillionaires.

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