Today’s question for debate: are credentials (broadly defined) a useful way to judge opinions in our increasingly post-fact America? Post your views in the comments.
One criticism that’s come up lately in comment concerns my reliance on “credentials” of people providing information and analysis. To which I plead Guilty!
That’s evident in many ways on this website. Citations of authors include a brief description (usually of their institutional affiliation and position). Guest posts have detailed “about the author” sections. Evidence is often weighted by the credentials of the author, both in posts and discussions. Experts are often defended in comments, often to the surprise of their critics (insulting experts appears to be regarded by some as a sacred thing, immune to rebuttal).
Is that a bad thing when discussing matters of vital public policy? When discussing treatment of your child’s illness, are you interested in the healer’s credentials, and degree of expert approval of the treatment used? The debates about climate science and economics have made me even more aware about the importance of credentials in scientific discussions. I have grown more careful about this over time, sticking closer to credentialed sources (broadly defined).
Taking this one step further, debates about scientific matters usually hold my interest mostly to the extent that they’re somewhat anchored in the professional literature. That’s one reason the debate, which raged so hot in comments, about modern monetary theory (MMT) quickly lost my interest.
Of course the consensus view among scientists is often wrong. Science is a social process, not something ordained by God. Mistakes get made. Data trails and theories often lead to dead ends. Social imperatives distort science, as Stephen Jay Gould documented in his books. Science is as corrupt (in large and small ways) as everything else on this planet. Most importantly, new paradigms often (not always) arise on the fringes of science — as insurgent challengers. But science remains the best guide we have to understand the world.
These are my epistemological values.
Looking on a larger scale, I’m shocked by the contempt expressed in comments about economists and climate scientists. In the latter, contempt by both sides of the debate. Here comments show “warmistas'” contempt for climate scientists (who are good only when agreeing with their views, and are fools and charlatans otherwise). In comments on skeptical websites (eg, Anthony Watts) we see the equivalent anti-science views. Is this growing? Is anti-intellectualism returning in force to America?
Opinions differ on these matters, of course. Let’s hear your view.
For More Information
Posts on the FM website debating climate change issues:
- A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
- Is anthropogenic global warming a scientific debate, or a matter of religious belief?, 22 November 2008
- Another pro-global warming comment, effective PR at work!, 1 December 2008
- The definitive rebuttal to skepticism about global warming!, 10 December 2008
- My Favorite: High school science facts prove global warming! Skeptical scientists humiliated by this revelation!, 31 December 2008
- A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
- Is it possible to debate climate change with true believers? See the replies to Thursday’s post., 5 February 2012