The Democratization of Science

Terry Newell in The Huffington Post:

ScreenHunter_01 May. 12 12.24 As the world became more complex, and as problems became more global, we were willing to defer to expertise. We knew that we could not know enough. But what if we can't trust that expertise? That's the question that seems to loom over us now like an icicle perched over the front door.

We may rightfully lay some of our distrust at the feet of the experts themselves. Whether through ignorance or hubris, they have sometimes promised more than they could deliver and sometimes delivered things they never promised. Some of our loss of confidence in expertise may be due to our own overly optimistic expectations, and some may come from the general decline in trust that has hit nearly every American institution since the twin failures of Vietnam and Watergate.

There are no doubt other contributors. Our politics now seems to look to expertise more to buttress arguments than to answer questions. The result is that we use science to support value preferences, blurring the important distinction between science and morality. Our media, in giving attention to attacks on scientific work, may inadvertently (and in the partisan media, intentionally) elevate them in the public consciousness and foster the impression that all science is suspect. Our educational system, by failing in its job to teach us how to understand and properly evaluate the work of scientists, makes us inaccurate judges of the claims of expertise at best and cynics of those claims at worst. What we cannot understand, we become willing to question – or ignore.

Experts have fallen from the lofty perch on which we placed them.

More here. [Thanks to Mustafa Ibrahim.]