Brendan O’Neill posted what he says is a speech he gave at QED, and I guess is what he said on that panel. It’s a bizarro rant about expertise and what a bad thing it is. This is apparently because expertise is undemocratic.
So the idea that we need more expertise in politics is not actually a new one. It’s been around for a long time, and it has always been on the wrong side of the debate about democracy, in my view. Because it’s an idea which tends to depict ordinary people as not sufficiently enlightened for serious political debate, especially on really complicated matters like war or law and so on.
This outlook survives today, in the widespread belief that we need more expertise and less ideology in politics; more science, less passion; more cool-headed, educated people like David Nutt, and fewer nutters from the mass of the population who think they know everything but don’t actually know very much at all.
The only difference today is that where once it was fat old Tories and stiff American officials who said politics is better done by experts, today it is young rationalists and humanists who say politics needs more expert input and less playing to the public gallery, less populism, less ill-informed passion or wrongheaded ideology.
He’s mashing things together there, probably on purpose. Especially he’s mashing together the people or citizenry as a whole, and expertise in the process of government and administration. That’s ludicrous. It’s perfectly possible to include expertise in the process of government and administration without excluding the people or citizenry in general on the grounds of non-expertise.
What we have today is a situation where evidence and expertise are the main drivers of policy. For many complicated historical reasons, politicians no longer feel they have the moral or electoral authority to make judgements or decisions, and so they outsource their authority to scientists and other researchers. They call upon these people to provide them with authority, to provide them with a good, strong, peer-reviewed justification for taking a certain course of action, often a course of action they had already decided upon but felt too morally denuded to push forward.
When politics and science mix in this way, both of them suffer, I think. We end up with evidence-driven policy and policy-driven science, neither of which is a very good thing.
There see it’s that kind of thing that makes me think he doesn’t mean a word of anything he says, he just says it to create a stir. Come on. Evidence-driven policy is not a good thing? Policy should carefully exclude evidence?
I don’t believe him.