Mike the Mad Biologist

How Experts Really Speak

The Mad Biologist digs bloggers who are very mad. Before we get to the Mad blogger Grand Moff Texan (aka “The Asshole of the Gods. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”), I’ve noticed that the Punditocracy and the celebrity media have the disturbing habit of dismissing out of hand the measured opinions of bonafide experts (see global warming or anything on Fox News). What always amazes me is not the dismissal, but the utter arrogance that underlies it.

This doesn’t just apply to science-although we can all think of some real doozies. I think this arrogance is even worse when immediate matters of life and death, like the decision to go to war, are involved. There’s a crazy mindset in the mainstream media that the only people who should be listened to are those who got it wrong. I’ll turn it over to Grand Moff Texan, who unleashes the Asshole of the Gods at the “liberal hawks” (bold original):

Why am I so unimpressed with the respectable Democrat act? Why am I not taken in by the phony armchair geopolitics of the “liberal hawk”? Why do I not know my place as someone outside the halls of no doubt well educated power brokers? Well, like all the other regulars at Eschaton, I hold a Ph.D. I am intellectually intimidated by no one. Never have been. My training is in the historical application of religious and other discourses to the legitimation or de-legitimation of authority. I specialize in one country in one century, but I have to be able to teach matters spanning three continents over more than a thousand years. This makes me relatively bullshit proof. While I will always defer to the practical experience of the professional, I know what educated discourse sounds like and let me tell you, it’s not polite, it’s almost always confrontational. That’s how you weed out the weak from the start. People in the Natural Sciences shout a lot, for some reason. Medievalists and archeologists are notorious drinkers. Math people are strangely impatient. The literary types almost never say what they mean, but rather expect you to glean what they mean by asking yourself “why did they say that?”

And, what’s more, I’m an educator. All of us eggheads are equally engaged in the challenges of teaching (though some are more equal than others). What I know is useless unless I can apply it and pass it on. There is no excuse for not being able to explain anything to anyone, no matter their educational background. This is why I have nothing but black rage for the phony elitism of the pundits and the Democratic establishment: elitism is always a coward’s cop-out of an argument he can’t handle.

But, I guess, for phony intellectuals like George Will and Richard Cohen, we don’t look like the intellectuals they see in the movies, so they’re confused. They, at least, have the decency to act how they think an educated person would act.

Granted, experts can get it wrong, but many issues require detailed knowledge and specific skills. You can’t just get some ‘good folks’ together and build a light water reactor. If there is a reason why there are so few public intellectuals left, it is because expertise is no longer understood. So, instead we end up with idiotic discussions about how a given policy failed because of a lack of will, instead of flaws in execution or the policy itself.

note: while this sounds as if it applies only to the Iraq War, think about virtually every policy debate in the last decade. Nearly every single issue has had, on one or both sides, a ‘will-based’ position: the War on Drugs, the War on Poor, Single Women Welfare, or the War on Libidophiles. Idiocy, all of it.