Expertise and punditry

by John Quiggin on July 7, 2017

I concluded my post “Against Epistocracy” with the question “Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide?”. This is, I think, a fatal flaw in any system proposing to replacing democracy with rule by a well-informed elite, or any kind of putative aristocracy. But even in a democratic system, we have to make decisions about who should decide things. In many cases, we would like to call on expert advice, and that brings us back to the question “who, if anybody, is an expert on a given topic”. I don’t have a complete answer, but I think it’s helpful to distinguish between experts and pundits or, better, between expertise and punditry.

An easily accessible example is that of forecasting election outcomes. For a long time, this was the domain of pundits, the archetypal example being David Broder, the last (AFAICT) holder of the office of Dean of the Washington Press Corps*. Pundits like Broder and his Australian equivalents (the closest would be Laurie Oakes) drew on their deep connection with the American (or Australian) people to make pronouncements about the way their people were likely to vote.

Political pundits were pretty much put out of the business of electoral forecasting when experts (Nate Silver in the US and psephbloggers like Peter Brent and William Bowe in Australia) arrived on the scene. The experts applied statistical tools to poll results, ignored the temptation to analyse shifts within the margin of error or to extrapolate trends and generally did a much better job.

As a first approximation, expertise involves command of a body of knowledge on a given topic that is based on a coherent (if sometimes implicit) theory and validated by evidence. It can be as concrete and specific as a plumber’s knowledge of how to fix a leaky pipe or as abstract as a mathematicians ability to check the correctness of a proof. Expertise is not infallible, but it’s almost always better than the alternative.

By contrast, successful punditry requires knowledge of specific facts relevant to the topic in question and, ideally, a capacity for intuitive insight, combined with the rhetorical gifts necessary to present these as a source of authoritative knowledge. The most important of these is a capacity to make statements that look like testable predictions but in fact cover all possibilities. Failing this, a social environment in which established pundits are never called to account for their errors will do the trick.

I just saw this review of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols which is obviously relevant. A crucial requirement for a successful defence of expertise is that we avoid defending authority based on mere punditry.

I’ll leave it to readers to discuss which areas of public policy discussions are dominated by expertise, which by punditry, and which by conflict between the two.

  • As a working academic, I’ve been trained to be wary of anyone with the title “Dean”, but others seem to think it’s an honorific.

{ 38 comments }

1

Matt 07.07.17 at 8:33 am

People interested in “rule of experts” type questions could do a lot worse than to spend time considering administrative law. (At least, administrative law as it’s practiced in the US. I’m less sure about other countries, though I’m quickly learning about some aspects related to workplace law in Australia. It’s too soon for me to draw conclusions about that, but it _seems_ like something similar applies.) This is an area where, with the death of the “non-delegation doctrine” and Chevron deference, we do get something approaching a type of rule by experts, although admittedly a limited sort. People seriously interested in these questions would do well to look at these issues carefully and think about whether they would like the power of administrative agencies expanded or deepened or not, and how so, if so. These are the real cases to build on. When I noticed that Brennan had what I’d consider a pretty simplistic discussion of such matters was when I decided I probably didn’t need to spend much time on the book. (Then again, I’m the sort of philosopher who wants real cases dealt with much more than most are.)

2

soullite 07.07.17 at 10:59 am

So, this is the hill the Left wants to die on, preventing people they don’t like from voting?

I guess civil war is really inevitable, then. God help you sick sons of bitches.

3

John Quiggin 07.07.17 at 12:50 pm

@2 You seem to be in the wrong thread, and to have your orientation out by 180 degrees, which possibly explains why you are on the wrong side.

4

engels 07.07.17 at 1:45 pm

Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide?”.

I’m against ‘epistocracy’ but I don’t know if this is a clincher. Don’t all systems of intellectual authority get over this problem somehow. Eg ‘who gets to decide’ who is a doctor, physicist, climate scientist…

5

bianca steele 07.07.17 at 2:08 pm

I’ve “read” Nichols’ book (on audiobook), and towards the end he gets to the kind of expertise he thinks isn’t really expertise and that we should ignore. Not surprisingly, perhaps, given the person the earlier parts of the book show him to be (someone who picks up on all the conservative hates and moreover thinks “feminists!” is a crowd-pleaser), what he doesn’t like is academics who overstep the bounds of their disciplines and start making prescriptions. Mostly these are liberals.

He also insists that if you doubt the advice of a thoroughly incompetent dentist, and you are not a dentist yourself, you are behaving irrationally, which I feel suggests someone who likes thinking about “Screwtape” more than he likes his teeth.

There are a few passages that aren’t stupid but enough flailing is probably guaranteed to produce a certain amount of truth.

6

nastywoman 07.07.17 at 2:15 pm

– now I have to ask -(like NPR who tweeted the declaration of independence) – does any of what you write have to do with the rumor that the founding fathers of the United States really didn’t like ‘well informed voters’?
And that they really feared that a bunch of jerks -(or ‘the mob’?) one day could elect a Von Clownstick.

Or is this only… coincidental that this reminds me on an article I once read in one of our newspapers which said:
‘An unruly mob certainly could not be entrusted with the power to govern. The important matters of governance could not possibly be left up to common people. Eee gads! The commoners? Of course not. They would surely bungle it. The whole thing would become a huge mess. The commoners would elect awful candidates and create terrible rules that would be disastrous for society and everything would quickly devolve into a giant calamity.’
No no, the important matters of governance must be reserved to an elite group of nobles who are most capable of handling matters of such significance.
Just consider the identities of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia that produced the United States Constitution. Either all or nearly all of them were white, male, wealthy, well-educated and privileged.
These founding fathers were terrified of democracy and terrified of the notion of true power residing in the hands of the people. In fact, one of their greatest fears was that of class warfare. Even back then, wealth inequality existed in America. Only a small class of aristocrats were wealthy, and the vast majority of the population was poor or middle class.’

Oh…. ‘calamity’?

7

John 07.07.17 at 2:38 pm

It might be worth pointing out that the question “who gets to decide who gets to decide” is a problem that concerns not only proposals for an epistocracy but nearly all other forms of democracy as well. It has been sometimes called the paradox of democracy and relates to the problem of how we democratically legitimate the boundaries of a democracy (i.e. who is a member of “the people” and who isn’t). Oftentimes, this question is answered with appeals to “the nation” or a pre-political notion of “the people,” and neither practice seems to accord very closely with our notions of a fair democratic process. While I share your concerns about proposals for an epistocracy, there is a deeper issue (though perhaps not a “fatal flaw”) for democracy here that should not go unnoticed.

8

Evan Neely 07.07.17 at 3:01 pm

@3 But he does raise an important question: if certain types of people unwittingly self-nominate as worthy of exclusion from the right to vote, would that work?

9

ScottA 07.07.17 at 3:15 pm

+5 for “As a working academic, I’ve been trained to be wary of anyone with the title “Dean”, but others seem to think it’s an honorific.” Or as the kids these days say, “Points!”

10

novakant 07.07.17 at 3:48 pm

expertise involves command of a body of knowledge on a given topic that is based on a coherent (if sometimes implicit) theory and validated by evidence. (…) Expertise is not infallible, but it’s almost always better than the alternative.

Knowledge is of course preferable to ignorance, but knowledge is also used to exercise power, most experts have some sort of an agenda, even if it’s only unacknowledged bias – and they can be flat out wrong in many of their judgements.

Bernard Lewis fits the description of “Middle East expert” but good heavens, he’s crazy and doesn’t know a thing really.

So it seems we need to define expertise in a much more rigorous manner or otherwise the argument falls flat.

11

L2P 07.07.17 at 4:09 pm

I think one issue here is that some areas are so broad that even “expertise” can end up being little different from punditry. Taxation, for example. There’s lots of experts in tax; CPAs and LLMs with years of experience, economists focusing on tax issues, and so on. And they are experts, in their area. But leave that area and they’re just blowing smoke.

If you ask an economist working on tax and trade issues whether raising a local business tax in a specific way will be “good” or “bad” for the local economy is useless, and they should say they really have no idea, just some intuitions. They could spend some time and get that expertise pretty quickly, given their background, but that background itself doesn’t give them any useful insights. Local taxation issues are just very, very different than international taxation issues.

But that guy sure looks like he (and yeah, it’s going to be a he) looks like he should know the answer, and so he’s asked, and he’s going to give an answer. But you might as well ask David Brooks as far as true expertise is concerned.

12

Anarcissie 07.07.17 at 5:22 pm

‘I’ll leave it to readers to discuss which areas of public policy discussions are dominated by expertise, which by punditry, and which by conflict between the two.’

Don’t forget the gorilla in the background — the priesthood of all believers.

13

Dipper 07.07.17 at 6:45 pm

Most folks on here will know this, but in the UK one of the roles of the Upper House is to have experts appointed to it to shape UK law. There are all sorts of folks in there – actors, writers, entrepreneurs, academics, masses of bishops, lay-people – and they get to shape the laws. The appointments are usually by the government of the day but once made are for life.

One of the “observations” of members of the House of Lords is that when laws come to them from the Commons they are often in poor shape and the Lords have to spend a lot of time making the intent fully reflected in the final law.

A consequence of having a House filled with appointed experts is that it is clear the elected chamber is the primary chamber, so there are few cases of the Lords preventing a government from implementing its manifesto.

Obviously there is lots of debate about an elected second chamber but personally I’m quite happy with how it functions.

14

alfredlordbleep 07.07.17 at 6:50 pm

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/07/07/expertise-and-punditry/#comment-713117
Just consider the identities of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia that produced the United States Constitution. Either all or nearly all of them were white, male, wealthy, well-educated and privileged. These founding fathers were terrified of democracy and terrified of the notion of true power residing in the hands of the people. In fact, one of their greatest fears was that of class warfare. Even back then, wealth inequality existed in America.

Maybe terrified after 1789.

15

Manta 07.07.17 at 7:13 pm

I think the relevant distinction is not between people, but between fields of knowledge.
Some fields of knowledge (say, medicine or “hard” sciences) can claim, based on their results, to be successful and that the communities of their practitioners to deserve deference in their judgements.

Some others (say, psychology or haruspicy), don’t enjoy such claims.

16

rogergathmann 07.07.17 at 7:14 pm

I would think epistocracy would not only be undemocratic – obviously – but would pollute the sources of knowledge themselves.
I could make an argument based on the institutional structure of sensemaking, but I’m more inclined to argument from cases, here. So: take the case of shaken baby syndrome. This was put on the map, legally, by the case of Louise Woodward, a British nanny who was convicted for homicide for shaking a baby in her charge, in 1997. By 2007, one of the lead prosecution witnesses, Patrick Barnes, recanted his testimony. By 2017, a clear split developed between doctors who are positive that the syndrome is just as it was described in 1997, and that those who are responsible should be jailed, and those who think the science has moved on. In such an atmosphere, doing science is going to mean taking a side in a power struggle. To pretend this isn’t so is to wish away the objective social conditions in which science happens in favor of an objectivity that is a dependent artifact. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/14/shaken-baby-syndrome-science-doctor-challenging-theory-infant-waney-squier

17

bianca steele 07.07.17 at 8:03 pm

On reflection, “stupid” sounds harsh. At many points in the book, reasonable points are raised. On the other hand, I’ve looked at my notes and can’t find anything like “this is really good!” but only “this is wrong,” “this undermines his own argument” and “he doesn’t address any of these questions that arise pretty immediately out of the text.” A few “he has no basis to be asserting these things.” There is one, maybe two “this discussion is important but in this context no one will notice it” and one “well I think this is dubious but I’ve seen it elsewhere (on the other hand I can’t think of a situation where I’d feel comfortable citing the discussion here as the basis for an argument on the subject).” And maybe we needed a conservative defense of big-K Knowledge as a counterpoint to the usual “shopcraft is true philosophy” we often get (though Crawford defends big-K Knowledge in his own way), especially since acolytes of the latter seem vanishingly rare.

One difference between Brennan and Nichols, however, might be that Brennan presumably takes the goals of political decisions to be matters for experts. Nichols does not. He clearly takes these to be matters for political choice, out of the hands of those with expertise, who shouldn’t be responsible for deciding what is and is not done, only for telling voters and politicians what they should think. And of course only about half of Nichols’ argument is about politics.

18

John Quiggin 07.07.17 at 9:28 pm

Novakant @10 You’re misreading me, or I’m not expressing myself well. Bernard Lewis is exactly the kind of person I had in mind when describing a pundit ” knowledge of specific facts relevant to the topic in question and, ideally, a capacity for intuitive insight, combined with the rhetorical gifts necessary to present these as a source of authoritative knowledge.”

If there is any body of systematic knowledge about Middle Eastern politics, based on theory and backed up by evidence, I’m not aware of it. Certainly I haven’t found it by reading Bernard Lewis.

19

bruce wilder 07.07.17 at 9:35 pm

I want to believe that real expertise does not require social deference; am I completely wrong in supposing that the OP implicitly imagines that social deference associated with socially validated expertise passes a cost-benefit test in practically every case?

We rely on and defer to expertise, I presume, in the main on efficiency considerations: it is expensive or impractical to convey information relevant to many important choices, so we specialize, and follow advice or even delegate choices to others and then trust those choices, at least until some output or consequence of those choices is shown to be harmful, and society presses for reform, replacing the experts, punishing the malfeasance, etc.

We generally do not know the answer. This can be hard to accept: the unfathomable ignorance that leads people to be wrong about everything in the limit. Everything we do will be shown to be a mistake sooner or later or will become a mistake if we carry on long enough on a given line. We only learn from error, so we can scarcely complain if learning requires mistakes for both informational and motivational reasons.

In this context, it seems to me that automatic deference in politics to expertise can only increase the harm from postponing learning. Esoteric dogmas and opaque or manipulative narratives are a sign of intellectual degeneration. What is needed is not deference, but genuine critical thinking. It is necessary to ask, is this true? how do we know this? With an expectation of a logically valid argument or objectively observable evidence in reply, not a demand for deference to credentials, status or authority, nor complaints about some other tribe’s intellectual sin and prejudice.

20

arnold 07.07.17 at 11:41 pm

The positive shot (across the bow) is some people believe in themselves…
The negative is some don’t believe in themselves…

So lets correct this by educating everyone to believe in themselves before they can believe in someone else and sign an oath…they believe in themselves…then we all can vote…

21

Alex K. 07.07.17 at 11:48 pm

In cultures that throughly imbibed the Enlightenment spirit it can be hard to accept that real expertise in vast areas of the social world is simply not available. But accept it we must.

Once we accepted this, the question becomes: How can a system be designed so that input from (supposed) experts on an ongoing basis is not needed, or at least have the needed input minimized?

The answer is not very mysterious, we have to rely on very general rules, rules that have stood the test of time, rules that have a built in mechanism for dealing with changes in the circumstances. We do know one such mechanism, namely the market system based on property rights; a system based on trial and error which does not need centralized expertise for it to run.

There are other general rules: “No War,” or more realistically, a very high threshold for war. If we are high on Enlightenment fumes, we are tempted to believe that we have plenty of knowledge and expertise to run a war that achieves its objective with minimal collateral damage. But no such knowledge exists, and the heuristic of extremely high threshold for engaging in wars beats the war “experts” in a landslide.

There are exceptions to not relying on experts.
1) Setting up a system of general rules might require expertise. In fact, we can be sure that there will be mistakes in setting up such a system, so the goal would be to get the system right eventually, so that expertise is not needed on an ongoing basis.

2) Even in subjects that are very far from being a science, like in economics, we can still find here and there some actual knowledge about avoiding unforced errors. Such actual knowledge is pretty far from forming a complete system, it’s more like a few patches of knowledge, but we would do well to take note of those.

3) Other exceptions are actual hard sciences (e..g. no social science whatsoever) and domains that are actually about erudition more than about predicting things (e.g. law)

Then there is the political question of how to get from here to there. The advantage of aiming for a system that minimizes the need for ongoing expertise is that you can afford to wait out the ebbs and flows of democratic politics and play the long game in trying to convince people about being right. Indeed, one of the main points of such a system is that it would not depend that much on the democratic system to get things right.

Democracy can be relied on to vote out people responsible for horrible outcomes. Democracy also has the power to bestow legitimacy on the chosen government, avoiding civil war. Those are extremely valuable functions of democracy and we can’t do without them. But relying on democracy to select a council of experts to guide things on an ongoing basis is sheer lunacy.

22

PatinIowa 07.08.17 at 2:37 am

Nastywoman@6

It’s a poser. The founders would surely have loathed President Trump, for all sorts of reasons.

But–at least partly–Trump won because fewer of the people the founders had the least respect for (to the point of denying their humanity altogether) showed up in smaller numbers than the previous election.

Weird, eh?

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/12/black-voter-turnout-fell-in-2016-even-as-a-record-number-of-americans-cast-ballots/

23

PatinIowa 07.08.17 at 2:38 am

I apologize for the grammatical screw up above.

I have faith y’all can parse it.

And so, to bed.

24

Raven Onthill 07.08.17 at 3:35 am

I think professional licensing in the building disciplines might be a successful example of this.

Seven years ago I wrote a post speculating about licensing econometricians. It wrapped up:

Would there perhaps be some value in modeling an econometrics professional license on engineering or architectural licenses? Milton Friedman would be spinning in his grave if he could see this–he regarded professional licensing as a protection racket, pure and simple. But in fact licensing engineers and architects has worked out fairly well from the viewpoint of public safety, even when very large amounts of money are involved. Could that success perhaps be duplicated in econometrics?

The two posts on this, one on economics as a science and the second on licensing econometricians are here:
http://adviceunasked.blogspot.com/2010/04/economics-as-science-paul-krugman-as.html
http://adviceunasked.blogspot.com/2010/04/licensing-econometricians.html

25

nastywoman 07.08.17 at 3:58 am

@14
‘Maybe terrified after 1789.’

Terrified about what?
August 7 – The United States Department of War is established.
or –
September 2 – The United States Department of the Treasury is established.
or –
Thomas Jefferson returns from Europe, bringing the first macaroni machine to the United States.

26

nastywoman 07.08.17 at 8:08 am

@22
‘The founders would surely have loathed President Trump, for all sorts of reasons.’

which makes the thought of a ‘epistocracy’ so interesting? – and as there might be an argument for Platos ideal – Trump nearly perfectly represents it – or:
How do you deal with refugees and I tell you if I’m in favor of a ‘epistocracy’ – or what’s about calling it a ‘Dictatorship of the Good’ – directly translated from ‘Die Diktatur des Guten’ of the jewish author Viola Roggenkamp.

27

Joe 07.08.17 at 8:18 am

@1 Do you have any recommendations of books for non-legal experts to look at re administrative law? In addition to your point, this seems to be a recurring topic the last few years, with a frustrating tendency of the media not to bring in explanations of context from legal experts. e.g. Is Adrian Vermeule’s book worth jumping into or is it too idiosyncratic?

28

bjk 07.08.17 at 10:14 am

Why is it that expertise is defined entirely in cognitive terms? There are plenty of forms of expertise that don’t take the form of knowledge that can be put down on paper. It would seem like people on the left would be particularly open to that view. “How can you as a white male understand the burden that POC suffer everyday” etc is a form of this argument, as is the right wing argument that knowledge is distributed across society, not in experts. So left and right can unite against the rule of cognitive elitists who don’t adequately credit experiential (in the broadest sense) knowledge. All you have to lose is your peer reviewed, double blind biases. There is all sorts of knowledge out there, that’s why it’s useful to aggregate that knowledge in elections.

29

bianca steele 07.08.17 at 4:01 pm

bruce wilder @ 19

The development of the Internet in past decades, I think it’s fair to say, has been a double movement where part has been incorporated into commercial media and the rest has been tamed–out of its previous Wild-West frontier state–by the introduction of rules like “social deference.” This has probably happened in all times and places whenever a new form of socializing appeared. Resistance, in this regard, is, most likely, as they say, futile.

What you call “intellectual degeneration” may be an attempt to explain this evolution in more ontological terms, or perhaps simply to find a way to cope with it.

30

John Quiggin 07.08.17 at 9:30 pm

AlexK @21: A lot of this is right, but you are overselling markets. My long-in-progress book, Economics in Two Lessons is about where markets work and where they don’t.

31

DCA 07.09.17 at 12:28 am

Bernard Lewis exemplifies a common situation, namely he is both expert and pundit, depending on the topic. On certain aspects of Ottoman history he is an expert, on Middle Eastern history he is sort of an expert, and on the future of the Middle East he is a pundit. And, as in many cases, he has evolved with time as his punditry has been rewarded.

32

Dion Lohman 07.09.17 at 3:41 am

Actually, with the acceleration of knowledge gathering and implementation derived from cybernetics and AI, you may–in the not too distant future–have expertise or starve, so the decision will be left to evolutionary forces, and democracy and epistocracy, and all other patterns of social ordering will be left to the same forces that make the opportunistic MRSA invade hospitals, and certain species to flourish in transplanted areas without enemies. After all, in a meritocracy, it isnt the philosopher king ultimately, the enlightened noble, or the populist riff-raff that anyone will give a damn about–it will be those whose hardware and software can keep evolving fast enough to deal with the nightmares of the technical idol run amok.

33

engels 07.09.17 at 11:54 am

Speaking of expertise and punditry, yesterday’s YouGov poll puts Corbyn’s Labour Party on 46%. It seems somehow relevant that a leading left-of-centre academic blog staffed by political philosophers, political scientists and sociologists among others not only failed to see that particular earthquake coming but as far as I am aware has yet to acknowledge it.

34

anon/portly 07.09.17 at 5:40 pm

For a long time, [forecasting election outcomes] was the domain of pundits, the archetypal example being David Broder…. Pundits like Broder … drew on their deep connection with the … people to make pronouncements about the way their people were likely to vote. [They] were pretty much put out of the business of electoral forecasting when experts (Nate Silver in the US…) arrived on the scene.

Well, perhaps I’m wrong, but I would have said that “forecasting election outcomes” was and is essentially the domain of polls and pollsters, not pundits (before) and not experts like Silver (now). I think Broder and his ilk would be better described as interpreting election outcomes, not forecasting them.

Here is an example of Broder from 2010:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/27/AR2010102706920.html

Technically, he does seem to be making a forecast, but obviously his suggestion that the GOP would pick up “50 or so” in the House and then not win the Senate was a reflection of the polls. His later point that the GOP gaining 41 or more seats (they needed 41 to have a double-digit lead) would be “doing very well” I see as part of his interpretative gloss, not so much a forecast that the GOP would underperform their polls.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, most people I think thought that Trump had pulled some sort of an upset, so Nate Silver’s carefully made point that a Trump victory would be unsurprising was, as far I could tell, completely ignored, and had almost zero impact. For example in comments here at CT, I believe that some commenters actually congratulated the commenter “kidneystones” for his pre-election predictions (which varied quite a bit in terms of margin, IIRC) of a Trump victory, as if those predictions were in some sense insightful and contrary to what an expert (e.g. Silver) would have been telling you.

Perhaps John Quiggin can adduce an example of David Broder making a true polls-be-damned prediction at some point before some election; I am doubtful. On the other hand, I’ll bet he can find plenty of “the polls: what they mean” type columns. I do recall (hazily) Peggy Noonan predicting a Republican upset (Romney or McCain, I think) where she actually said the polls would be turn out to be wrong.

35

bruce wilder 07.10.17 at 2:31 pm

engels @ 33

Henry, Gellner, Mair and Europe has a couple of paragraphs on point.

36

Raven 07.10.17 at 5:51 pm

John, I really hate to be the gloomy cynic at the party and thus live up to the stereotype of my ’nym, but so often in the USA (and currently) things go in the opposite direction of letting the best-informed decide.

I take it you’re not old enough to recall the 1950s with its McCarthyism and gray-flannel conformism, or an ignorance-worship that lasted at the very top until Sputnik went up in 1957, at which point officialdom finally conceded Americans should maybe strive to learn things too, and pushed education programs.

However, many other Americans never agreed, and bitterly resented that decision. As Isaac Asimov wrote in Newsweek in 1980: There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

You saw that very strong faction in power during the George W. Bush administration, for instance removing from the Grand Canyon pamphlets any suggestion that millions of years of geological processes (rather than the creative Hand of God) formed the landmark.

You saw it in the state governments (including Florida’s) banning the use of the term “climate change” even as rising seas encroach on the coastline and weather events grow more powerful, all driven by the heat.

Are the experts more influential than the pundits, even yet? Gosh, Nate Silver’s done excellent reporting, but has he had more influence on any election than, say, George W. Bush’s cousin at Fox News in 2000, John Prescott Ellis, who was the first to call Florida for Bush? (And, as it turned out, had been sharing exit-poll data with W and Jeb by phone, against network rules.)

After all, the very difference between “expert” and “pundit” is that the latter is an expert “frequently called on to give opinions to the public” — which means, if you’re drawing the distinction between the two, the former is not, thus lacks the same influence.

37

Anarcissie 07.10.17 at 6:53 pm

Raven 07.10.17 at 5:51 pm @ 36 —
I wasn’t sure about the distinction here between the expert and the pundit. It seems to me that the pundit is a person who is somehow supposed to be an expert, a public expert, but often fakes the role. And this is what we should expect, because ‘for the public’ means ‘display’, and when display is what matters, fakery is an almost irresistible temptation for many. Especially when money and other powers are involved: cost-benefit analysis shows that faking it is often cheaper than making it.

Behind our pundit there stand categories and ranks of other experts, with maybe better cred, but they, too, must engage in display. They may have better displays, such as masses of statistics or inside knowledge, but they are still displays, subject to the same temptation. Those who spend too much time on product quality are likely to have poor sales.

And behind them all stands the great, hulking, indeed, infinite mass of human ignorance.

38

Raven 07.11.17 at 12:22 am

Anarcissie @ 37: Just last night my wife and I re-watched The Music Man, in which Professor Henry Hill displays his, um, punditry to the citizens of River City….

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