The first two parts of this series presented counterarguments to the justifications for the administrative state and decried how blind dependence upon experts erodes self-confidence within society. This is not to deny that true experts exist. Certainly, they do. This article will analyze and categorize experts.
The problem is that we feel a need for them. We seldom really do, but we should appreciate skilled experts. These people devote the lion’s share of their life to one pursuit. Consider an Olympic gymnast. One slip on the balance beam and years of work go down the drain in an instant. The skill of NFL players is truly phenomenal, but even the best risk debilitating injuries.
On the other hand, many knowledge-based “experts” are charlatans.
When it comes to expert knowledge, remember that experts don’t agree. We should use their knowledge, but not their conclusions. Instead of relying on our own perceptions, we look first to experts before making any decision. This leads to dependence and a shallowness that was not present in previous generations of Americans, who had the wisdom of universal skepticism and self-reliance. They didn’t need someone to tell them when canned food was bad; they could tell. Useful knowledge for everyday life was handed down from one generation to the next. Many “experts” today are working very hard to destroy this kind of traditional knowledge and replace it with contrivances. It is beyond the scope of this article to expound on the reasons for this phenomenon but suffice it to say that the extreme nature of it is compromising the very foundations of our society. One of the dangerous side effects is that we have grown to trust strangers over people we know well and who typically have our backs.
I tell everyone that I started writing Stability, Justice, and Clarity thinking we needed to fix government, but I finished writing it knowing that we needed to fix society. Any repair of our government is only temporary unless the people demand it be permanent. As Aristotle laid out, it is the excellence and values of the ruler that dictates good government. In self-governance, that means the people must excel and have good values. Talking about rationalized virtue with bad priorities (virtue signaling) doesn’t cut it. It is the real behavior and values of the people that matters. A society without good and common values will tear itself apart.
We obviously have a problem.
Chapter Eleven of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is titled “The End of Truth.” It is an important step for a totalitarian regime to make the people believe they are of one mind with the state. To accomplish this, “truth” must become whatever the state says it is.
Epistemic (alethic) relativism has been used to convince us that no absolute truth exists. The philosophy is a worthy academic exercise; however, like many a theory, this relativism fails miserably when applied to reality. Although it is certainly true that we may not know what the truth is, it is a singularity. Two or more things can be true at once, but not if they contradict each other. In the aggregate, there is only one set of facts that are really true, and they must be consistent with each other. Science is the search for that truth, and the way we progress is by sorting out the contradictions to get closer to it. The search for truth never ends, so anyone who even utters the term “settled science” is a political beast, not a true scientist.
An Expert on Experts
K. Anders Ericsson was acknowledged as the expert on human expertise and performance. Where Aristotle emphasized habit, Ericsson came to the conclusion that a true expert had to push beyond his/her habitual comfort zone. He enumerated three forms of practice:1
Naïve practice is exactly what it seems to be—just repetition. On the other hand, both purposeful and deliberate practice emphasize improvement. Both get the learner out of his/her comfort zone, but deliberate practice is only applicable to a field where a discernable difference can be made between a novice and an expert. in addition, deliberate practice requires feedback from a coach or teacher.
Consider a field where such discernment is obvious – like climatology.
The biggest driver of current geopolitics is “climate change.” It is the foundational issue that is driving many otherwise intelligent human beings who would enjoy liberty and freedom to willingly give up their rights for a perceived survival need. Even worse, they want to force you to give up your liberty. Fear is the most powerful of all motivators, and there is also a lot of money in fear. Unless this fear within a large segment of the population is quelled, the resulting desperation will lead us to a totalitarian state. The goal should not be to disprove a changing climate; the goal needs to be bringing sanity back into the discourse. Fear must be displaced with a sense of confidence that catastrophe is not inevitable. Barring an extraterrestrial phenomenon, like the Sun exploding, mankind will have time to adapt and survive anything the climate can throw at us. The challenge is to diffuse fear.
With respect to regarding someone as an expert on the subject, consider Richard Lindzen and Judith Curry. They are both climate scientists from academia. Lindzen is at MIT, and Curry was a department head at Georgia Tech. They both divide climate experts into three categories. Where they have a common view is that there are Chicken Little experts. Lindzen properly attributes this group as having either a political or financial agenda. Without adequate depth, these folks declare “the sky is falling” (literally). This group drowns out the other two groups who are trying to practice actual science and find truth. In an interview with John Stossel, Curry explained the difficulty faced by anyone trying to perform honest science on the subject.2
Whereas Lindzen’s other two groups align according to whether they believe man is the problem or not, Curry divides them more in line with Ericsson’s view on practice. Her first group hasn’t spent their careers studying climate, but they have the STEM knowledge to at least follow the arguments.3 The other, very small group have spent their careers studying climate.
Taxonomy of Experts
Given Ericsson’s practice taxonomy and Curry’s categories, a useful classification of experts emerges:
Demagogues: Shallow political leaders who tap into the baser instincts of humanity—specifically, fear and prejudice. Their repeated protestations are naïve practice.
Expounders: Those who can digest and honestly communicate our current state of understanding. This is a parallel to Ericsson’s purposeful practice.
Specialists: Those who have committed their lives to the study of climate. They have the best grasp of the real nature of climate. They have clearly practiced deliberately.
It is important to note Lindzen claims that neither of his groups of real scientists believe we are headed to the catastrophe being demagogued.4 Granted that this is the “consensus fallacy,” but it demonstrates that the hysteria is not originating from specialists.5 The only concern Curry has about climate is the instability of the Antarctic ice sheet. Even then, the projection is that we would have hundreds of years to adapt to the changes its collapse would cause.
As it has been throughout recorded history, it is the demagogues who cause all the trouble. They are false experts (prophets). Unfortunately, the demagogues of climate hysteria have monopoly power on research funding, paper publishing, and the media. This is both shrinking the number of specialists and silencing them.
Demagogues have been so successful that a large segment of the population uses “climate change” in casual conversation as an irrefutable fact. In her conversation with Stossel, Curry points out that cancel culture started with climate change. Our most important challenge to achieving a brighter future is dissuading the climate hype. Doom and gloom are self-fulfilling, and it is invisibly driving a lot of irrational behavior.
The truth is that the only evidence of a climate crisis comes from computer models. And computer modeling has severe forecasting limitations, referred to as “forecast degradation.” All one need do is take note of how the projected path of hurricanes changes as time progresses. In truth, no one has a crystal ball, and the further we project the less accuracy there is. The notion of projecting climate out a century is ludicrous. Climate is merely a larger perspective of weather, and bad weather has always been with us.
History repeats itself?
As noted above, the hysteria about “climate change” is the preeminent social problem today. It is irrationally driven by fear. Quelling fear is difficult on any level, but on this issue the insidious problem to be addressed is that it rolls off many tongues like it’s an unquestionable fact. It is a living example of the “End of Truth” that Hayek witnessed in central Europe. Desperation is what has always driven a people to give up their rights and accept tyranny. Will history repeat itself, or will we be able to restore truth?
The quest for restoring honesty is not confined to climate hysteria. The Internet, rife with experts of all kinds, has expanded the problem.