The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Expertise Debased Is Expertise Rejected

Posted on | September 5, 2011 | 23 Comments

by Smitty

Over at Ars Technica, John Timmer gives us a variation on argument from authority for why we are supposed to respect that one guy who was the ambassador to Bulungi or someplace:

“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” With that tweet, Jon Huntsman set himself apart from every other candidate in the Republican primary field. Despite his phrasing, Huntsman, who is barely registering in most polls, was clearly hoping that the public would believe most other candidates to be a bit loopy by contrast.

Agreeing with the scientific community has become a key issue in recent presidential campaigns. Evolution came up at a debate during the previous Republican primary season, and Rick Perry, the current front runner, was put on the spot about it at a recent campaign event (he flubbed his answer on several levels). And, as Huntsman’s tweet suggests, the reality of climate change has been a hot topic.

Evolution is utterly irrelevant to the election for at least three reasons:

  • Whatever is occuring happens at a frequency that is orders of magnitude slower than anything were handling in the current economic crisis.
  • Until there is a repeatable experiment that goes from the periodic table of elements to reproducing life, it’s really all so much speuculation. Not that I think reality was trotted out in 144 hours either, mind you. Just that I’m not even betting a cup of coffee that the theory du jour is accurate.
  • The last several presidents have conclusively demonstrated that you just don’t require much detailed knowledge at all to sit in the Oval Office. Caring about evolution, one way or another, is a difference that makes no difference. If the genesis of life is an election issue, then we should as well rate candidates based upon their knowledge of eschatology. The thumping sounds you heard at the mention of the subject were the heads of half the readers of this post hitting desks around the world.

This is not an anti-science post. We need to fund research, both to improve society, and keep scientists off the street. We wouldn’t want them getting together, cooking data, and creating a large scare, for example. . .Global Unobtainium Contamination. GUC could, you know, throw the climate under the bus. Affect your complexion. Inflate the currency. Horrible stuff. We must regulate Unobtanium! Credits for Unobtanium markets are the only way we can manage this foul scourge, lest it trigger a spate of Michael Moore documentaries.

It’s a reasonable concern. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for a candidate who rejects science and expertise, and as a voter, I’d like to have a viable choice between two qualified candidates. At the moment, it’s looking like I won’t.

My biggest concern is that, ultimately, Huntsman may be wrong. We’re in an environment where economic concerns will almost certainly dominate the election. And the campaigns will be covered by a press that cares more about the strategy of what a candidate said than its accuracy, a press that thinks it achieves balance by pretending there are two sides on every issue that merit serious consideration. In that environment, it’s entirely possible that the US electorate may not recognize or care much about the implications of a few scientific questions.

Besides, a candidate who rejects science can apparently use that position to attract the support of somewhere above a quarter of the electorate. That’s not a bad start for a presidential campaign.

What candidate in the last decade or two has said: “I reject science.”? Who gets to pick the experts? Doesn’t the crashed economy sort of argue that most of the experts need to turn in their pigskins? “. . .economic concerns will almost certainly dominate the election.” You make it sound like being concerned about the economy is a bad thing. We’ve had a system that says running peacetime federal deficits is a good thing. Also good, Quantitative Easing. It’s theft, John, against which lack of integrity your mewling about taking science seriously seems at least ironic, if not laughable.
Have you ever noticed that, with the glaring exception of quantum chemist Angela Merkel, scientists just don’t get into politics? Pols are predominantly lawyers, with a minority of doctors, and the occasional Allen West that our system cannot suppress (yay!).

Are scientists in general just too smart for politics, or simply not suitable? Or have research scientists become just another constituency that kicks back a certain percentage of grant money to the ‘proper’ candidates?

Why does society appear to suck so much, with so many rooms of purportedly smart people? Same as it ever was, same as it ever was. . .


23 Responses to “Expertise Debased Is Expertise Rejected”

  1. Experts Are Way Over Rated « That Mr. G Guy's Blog
    September 5th, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    […] Expertise Debased Is Expertise Rejected. […]

  2. Anamika
    September 5th, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

    . If the genesis of life is an election issue, then we should as well rate candidates based upon their knowledge of eschatology.

    Yes, this is the latest ‘twist’ on right-wing-nut Xtianity… and it is a deep topic. I suggest this as reading for anyone who wants to know when to duck:

    It is SO BAD… and it is being accepted uncritically by the brain-dead GOP.

    Also see: Creationism evolves by jerks

  3. sford528
    September 5th, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    Who is Jon Huntsman?

  4. Mike
    September 5th, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    Linked and quoted

    Funny thing about experts…

  5. Anonymous
    September 5th, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    An ex is a has been, and a spurt is a drip under pressure…

  6. The COB
    September 5th, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    Many experts are especially willing to defer to other “experts” in areas outside their core competency. Therefore scientists are at least as likely as the average voter to be misled by politically selected “experts” in areas (even scientific ones) where they have no particular expertise.

    Based on participation rates, scientists and engineers are much more comfortable as consultants for the administrative state than they are as political candidates.

  7. Mortimer Snerd
    September 5th, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

    I subscribe to the Big Bang theory: In the beginning there was nothing.  Which exploded.

  8. Anonymous
    September 5th, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    My hubs is a scientist.  He’d make a lousy politician because he bases his decisions on facts and evidence, not who knows whom.  I suspect that’s a common “flaw” among most scientists.

  9. JeffS
    September 5th, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    Tsk tsk, Anamika, tsk tsk!

    Linking to an Al Jazeera anti-Christian (but I repeat myself) opinion piece?  Written by an editor of a Los Angeles news rag?  While expressing contempt for a religion that is common in Western civilization, as well as older than Islam? 

    This is hardly the way to influence opinions anywhere, let alone on this blog. 

    Not to mention, your hatred, it’s heat can be felt on computer monitors everywhere!

    Tsk tsk, Anamika, tsk tsk!

  10. JeffS
    September 5th, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

    I had to Bing the name myself.  I hear he’s running for President…

  11. Anonymous
    September 5th, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    He’s the demonrats short position on the zero’s reelection.

  12. Chuck Coffer
    September 5th, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    A sure fire way to convince me you’re a dumbass is to bleat some shit about how you “believe in” evolution. That’s like saying you believe in the weather. It’s a complete non sequitur. As far as the horse shit about global warming goes, why does this prick choose to believe some “scientists” over others? Answer: political convenience. We already have a gutless turd in the White House. We don’t need another one.

  13. Anonymous
    September 5th, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    Unfortunately for far too many scientists the facts are that there is plenty of money to be had in supporting the “right kind of science”.

  14. Adjoran
    September 5th, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

    At least you are open about hating America and Christianity.  Too bad the rest of the Democratic Party isn’t as fearless as you about revealing their true beliefs.

  15. Adjoran
    September 5th, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    I’m pretty sure he was a TV Game Show host in the ’80s.

  16. DaveO
    September 5th, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

    Who controls the grant ($$$) controls the academic.

    Huntsman is this cycle’s McCain – claiming the title of Maverick but really just an as$ with cash.

  17. Anonymous
    September 5th, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

    “Huntsman is this cycle’s McCain ”

    He’s not even that.

  18. McGehee
    September 5th, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

    Well, Huntsman is the joke McCain should have been.

  19. Anonymous
    September 6th, 2011 @ 2:29 am

    Even more unfortunately, the majority of those scientists work for public institutions. My hubs works for private industry, and while it’s not perfect, it has nothing to fall back on when its product fails because of supporting the “right kind” of science. Scientists at public institutions suffer no consequences from bad science.

  20. Tennwriter
    September 6th, 2011 @ 3:38 am

    Its nice that Huntsman realizes that AGW and Eveeelution are part of the same bag.  Unfortunately, he’s not up on the science enough to realize that both are full of hype and hoax and hilarity. 

  21. jordin
    September 6th, 2011 @ 4:32 am

    I wonder if Huntsman knows that Palin believes in evolution and global warming too.

  22. Paul Joslin
    September 6th, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

    Nobel Prize winning energy secretary Chu says we need $5 gallon taxes on gasoline, must be right, because, hey, physics is complicated!  Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says, well, almost any nonsense you can imagine, must be right, because, hey, economics is a science.  Nobel Prize winning President Obama wins for not being GW Bush in Foreign Policy, but hey, actually, he is!

  23. Tennwriter
    September 6th, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    Are you suggesting that the Arch-Bishops of Liberal Credentia are not to be taken seriously when they speak ex cathedra? Heretic!!  Burn him, but in an enviromentally sensitive manner!