Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The "War on Experts"

Much of my research deals with the development of public policy in Canada in the post-World War II era. A key theme that crops up regularly, particularly in the 1950s through to the 1970s, is the "rise of the expert" as governments and citizens increasingly turned to professionals who were considered "expert" in their fields to guide the development of policy.

In recent years, it seems that just the opposite is taking place. Conservative governments and movements have been taking aim at the "pointy-headed eggheads" and dismissing evidence and analysis, relying instead on "gut", "common sense" and just plain old "because-I-said-so"ism. It's extremely troubling for anyone who advocated a rational approach to the development of our society.

With that in mind, take a gander at Andrew Coyne's latest column. He seems to see a silver lining in the relative failure of these anti-expertise politics to take hold. I'm less convinced that we aren't just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and that worse is yet to come. If you're not feeling depressed yet, check out this piece by Paul Wells.

They used to say that when the revolution comes, first they'll round up all the historians. Perhaps what we weren't informed is that the statisticians will be pre-emptively undermined.

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At 12:53 p.m., Anonymous Eamon said...

Great post!!!

This is something I've been wrestling with for some time as it is also a concern in the public administration sphere... civil servants, who are often experts, are increasingly being ripped apart for having a professional opinion; a trend that has been noted many times in the public administration literature.

Traditionally, you never knew who these people were; they simply gave their opinion and presented the informed options to a government. However, over the last twenty years or so it has become more common to drag these people into the spotlight, and when things go wrong, blame them. They are duty bound, for the most part, to not speak against the government (hence the resignation of the Stats Can guy).

It kills me. The people who we elect are, in many cases, not particularly educated in many of the issues they must make decisions on, and now it has become clear that they don't want to be educated. It is insane. I've seen it at every level (though it is soo much mroe obvious at the federal level).


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