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Peter Weber at The Week: America doesn’t trust its experts anymore

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Maybe it shouldn’t.

Here. And what a disgrace Weber thinks it is:

Where mistrust in experts is probably of most consequence, however, is climate change. Now, the numbers on this aren’t as tilted away from the experts as you might think, given the tenor of the political debate. In March, Gallup reported that 57 percent of Americans believe that pollution and other human activities are making the Earth warmer, versus 40 percent who blame natural causes.

That’s not as high as the 97 percent of climate scientists who subscribe to human-influenced climate change, but it’s pretty good considering that 89 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial and 155 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origins of Species, a plurality of Americans — 42 percent — believe that “God created humans in present form.” A 2009 report from Pew found that, once again, 97 percent of scientists agreed that “humans and other living things have evolved over time” (though 8 percent of them also agreed that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today”).

The numbers in these two examples show pretty stark partisan differences — on climate change, for example, 41 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats sided with human-affected warming. But mistrust in experts, even scientific experts, isn’t just a conservative/Republican thing. Plenty of parents opting out of vaccinations (despite the overwhelming consensus of public health experts) and public school (taught by well-trained educators) are liberals, and liberal-tarian Portland, Oregon, keeps on voting down fluoridating its drinking water.

This typical product of “journalists, your moral and intellectual superiors” thinking shows no awareness of two key issues:

1. Many of the greatest human disasters in the last century were caused by experts. It was top experts, social elites, and intellectuals who said there was nothing to fear from Hitler. Just for example. Books have doubtless been written on the problem. BA77, are you there? 😉

2. Most experts have a vested interest in what they say. That does not make them dishonest. But it does mean that they are just as likely to suffer from confirmation bias as the public is, maybe more so. More is at stake for them.

Many people can sense that something is wrong even if they don’t know enough to articulate it. See, for example, the ridiculous situation in evolutionary biology, badly in need of reform but afraid to reform due to ID. So presumably they force stuff on students in school that they know is problematic, then wonder why people don’t trust them.

So David Barash can cheerfully front religious unbelief in his evolutionary biology class (“the Talk”) while reform in his discipline can’t happen because colleagues fear ID.

And Peter Weber actually thinks it’s a problem if vast numbers of people just mistrust the  lot of them?

No wonder Weber’s whole industry is tanking. It is much easier today than ever to find independent experts.

Bottom line: 1) Survivors don’t “trust” experts. They evaluate them. 2) Trust can’t be demanded; it must be earned.

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9 Replies to “Peter Weber at The Week: America doesn’t trust its experts anymore

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    Study Suggests More People Willing to Believe in ESP When Told It’s Been Scientifically Disproven:
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/201.....ng-to.html

    The public has good reason to be suspicious of scientists:

    Why Most Published Research Findings Are False
    http://www.plosmedicine.org/ar.....ed.0020124

  2. 2
    ciphertext says:

    I don’t see this as a problem. I think it is an example that more people are skeptical of claims being made from authority figures. Maybe that is caused by cynicism, maybe from a failure to “see” results, etc….

    So, it becomes a scenario akin to visiting with a medical practitioner. You get one opinion, then visit another practitioner to receive another practitioner. Continuing until such time that you are confident in the opinion. I think the populace sees only a single “opinion” but isn’t able to find a second or third opinion.

    Thoughts?

  3. 3
    News says:

    ciphertext, there has actually never been a better time than now to find alternative opinion, via the Internet.

    The result is that one must be prudent in judging an opinion. There is no law against imprudence, but it can be pretty costly.

    The traditional media (now withering) typically cannot see this. They blame skepticism on stupidity. They avoid the knowledge that most of us can find out what is going on much more efficiently than in the past.

    You and I can discover that even Nature can see there is something wrong in evolutionary biology. So when some local Darwin in the schools lobbyist mounts a soapbox to announce that there is no conflict between God and Darwin, we rightly sense that something is wrong in the school system too.

    That was just so NOT happening in 1974.

  4. 4
    ciphertext says:

    News,

    I agree that information is more easily attainable, I still think a large majority of people still rely upon MSM sources (even online) to provide them with opinions and alternatives. I’m not a social scientist, and cannot point to any meaningful research to show a correlation. However, I think that those who actively seek the alternative opinion are those who are most inclined to be “critical thinkers” in the classically educated sense of critical thinking. Yes, alternatives abound, but it is easier just to take the MSM’s word for it. After all, your neighbors won’t deride you too harshly if someone on ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC, etc… promotes the idea. However, if you espouse a particular view from some little known “Dr. So-and-so” then you aren’t likely to curry many points from your neighbor.

    I see the OP as being a net positive. We are beginning to question more rather than simply take as “gospel” what is given to us via the MSM.

    That can only be a good thing. Unless of course we aren’t willing to be a critical thinker, and instead only be a critic! 🙂

  5. 5
    mahuna says:

    I’m not sure why people keep bringing up warnings about Hitler. There were also decades of warnings about Stalin, who killed (was responsible for the deaths of) 25-50 million people, including 15 million Ukrainians. And warnings on Mao, who killed 100 million Chinese (think about that again: 100 MILLION Chinese…). Or even the those really polite Japanese folks who killed 25 million Chinese. But, hey, mistakes were made, and Mao was a Poet.

    It is much more common for the Experts themselves to tell us we shouldn’t worry about some problem that a “Not Part of the In-Crowd” expert reports. Little things like wind farms killing more birds and bats than anyone can count.

    So you always have to wait a decade or 2 before the then-current experts can tell you what REALLY was the problem.

  6. 6
    anthropic says:

    “In March, Gallup reported that 57 percent of Americans believe that pollution and other human activities are making the Earth warmer, versus 40 percent who blame natural causes.”

    By phrasing the question this way, even climate skeptics such as myself might agree. And I do.

    But the relevant question is not whether human activities contribute to warming. Rather, is this warming catastrophic? Are the benefits from restricting CO2 emissions worth the costs?

    If Gallup had asked those questions, it would find that 57 percent figure shrinking to something much less impressive.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    I think this study is incorrectly weighted in counting politicians as “experts.”

  8. 8
    phoodoo says:

    Yet, its the people who call themselves “skeptics” who are the ones who don’t think we should question anything.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    Many of the greatest human disasters in the last century were caused by experts. It was top experts, social elites, and intellectuals who said there was nothing to fear from Hitler. Just for example. Books have doubtless been written on the problem. BA77, are you there?

    Weikart would be your go to man on that topic:

    From Darwin To Hitler – Richard Weikart – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_5EwYpLD6A

    From Darwin To Hitler – Weikart’s main website
    http://darwintohitler.com/

    Richard Weikart and Ben Stein – EXPELLED – useless eaters – video (5:00 minute mark)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=_mo3VRBHAzo#t=291

    Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress – book
    http://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-.....0230618073

    The Biology of the Second Reich: Social Darwinism and the Origins of World War 1 – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n900e80R30

    as to the so called ‘elites and intellectuals’ supporting Hitler’s overall ideology, Hitler is said to have ‘owed a debt’ to American elites and intellectuals for providing the initial pseudo-scientific foundation for his ‘survival of the fittest’ racial ideology.

    Hitler’s debt to America – 2004
    Excerpt: Germany had certainly developed its own body of eugenic knowledge and library of publications. Yet German readers still closely followed American eugenic accomplishments as the model: biological courts, forced sterilisation, detention for the socially inadequate, debates on euthanasia. As America’s elite were describing the socially worthless and the ancestrally unfit as “bacteria,” “vermin,” “mongrels” and “subhuman”, a superior race of Nordics was increasingly seen as the answer to the globe’s eugenic problems. US laws, eugenic investigations and ideology became blueprints for Germany’s rising tide of race biologists and race-based hatemongers.
    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/feb/06/race.usa

    In fact, the overall ideological stance of the liberal ‘elites and intellectuals’ in academia has been termed a ‘war on humans’ by Wesley J. Smith

    The War on Humans – new mini-documentary – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWcEYYj_-rg

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