We use cookies to track usage and preferences. See Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
GB
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the United Kingdom version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2017 > The crisis of expertise

The crisis of expertise

Academic elites are finding it harder to be heard. But is that because of how they talk down to non-specialists? And how solid is their much-vaunted evidence base anyway?
© HOGARTH, WILLIAM (1697-1764) / PRIVATE COLLECTION / THE STAPLETON COLLECTION / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

Using evidence to assess the outcomes of policies is a vital part of good governance. Whether it is examining how a Budget will affect those on low incomes, or how well fishing quotas are managing stocks, no one but the most bumptious ideologue would deny it. The plastering of demonstrably dodgy statistics on the side of the Brexit battle bus last year stoked indignation on the part of many who think of themselves as rational and wellinformed. The arrival of Donald Trump, an American president who feels no compunction about disseminating falsehood, has further darkened the mood among the liberal intelligentsia. There is a strong sense that the forces of reason must now rise up and see off the purveyors of the “post-truth” world.

Helen Jackson is an economist.

Paul Ormerod is an economist who is a partner at Volterra Partners consultancy

We must, however, also grapple with one other contemporary reality. Underlying the great turmoil of politics at the moment is precisely the view that “the experts” are less trustworthy and objective than they purport to be. Rather, their considered opinions are seen as a self-reinforcing apparatus for putting themselves beyond challenge—to advance their holders’ status, their careers or, most damaging of all, their political views over those of the less-educated classes. The great popular suspicion is that an elite deploys its long years of schooling and “the evidence base” to make itself sound more knowledgeable as it rationalises the policies it was going to prefer all along.

Is that a fair charge? Well, that is an empirical question, and definitive evidence for answering it is in short supply. What we can usefully do, however, is interrogate where the “evidence base” comes from, and how solid it is.

Back in 2010 we wrote a piece arguing that an over-emphasis on empirical evidence in political rhetoric was alienating the public. The increasing reliance on the expert stamp of authority was eroding a sense of shared values between governors and the governed. Unless you were familiar with the latest nuance in academic evidence, we warned, you were automatically unqualified to have a valid opinion.

READ MORE
Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Prospect Magazine - August 2017
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - August 2017
£4.99
Or 499 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only £ 1.92 per issue
SAVE
62%
Was £33.99
Now £22.99
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only £ 2.99 per issue
SAVE
40%
£2.99
Or 299 points

View Issues

About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s August issue: Adam Tooze, Helen Thompson, Ben Chu, Julian Baggini, Tom Clark and Hepzibah Anderson reveal the secret history of the banking crisis and its impact over the last decade. Tooze examines the secret history itself, suggesting the work done to repair the world’s finances could mean another crisis is just around the corner. Chu asks why more people at the top of the banks that failed haven’t faced more serious repercussions, and Anderson shows how post-crash Britain has retreated into cosiness. Elsewhere in the issue Alison Wolf asks whether universities are doing any good, and David Goldblatt explores how the decision to take football off free-to-view television in Argentina could backfire for the government. Also in this issue: Kasia Boddy asks why writers are still addicted to watching boxing despite falling viewing figures, Andrew Dickson profiles Tom Stoppard, Stephen Bush explains how Jeremy Corbyn learned to compromise and David Omand outlines the cyber-security challenges facing the UK and the wider world.
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points