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Thursday, March 16, 2017

What’s the Role of Experts in the Public Debate?

Jonathan Portes:

What’s the role of experts in the public debate?: What’s the role of experts in the public debate?  And how should the media (and politicians) use them?  I’m assuming we’re talking here primarily about economists and other social scientists, not physicists or biotechnologists – although they shouldn’t assume they’re immune either, as some of the debates around climate change or vaccines show..
I think we have three really important functions. ...
First, to explain our basic concepts and most important insights in plain English. ...
Second is to call bullshit.  [gives example] ... For better or worse, a large part of my job is in fact intellectual garbage disposal.
Third, perhaps most difficult and where the element of judgement comes in, is in synthesising the consensus of other experts on a difficult topic, where there may not be one right answer, on topics from the minimum wage to the pros and cons of grammar schools, putting it in context, and explaining why it does, or doesn’t, matter.  And this is perhaps where politicians and the public need us most.
I’m going to give a specific example...
That doesn’t mean experts – and economists in particular – don’t need to do much better. We need not to present forecasts as fact, and call out politicians – and yes, I’m thinking of George Osborne here – who present them as such. We need to explain what we know and what we don’t know. Experts shouldn’t make political choices. But you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t – make political choices without experts.

    Posted by on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 12:26 PM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (8)


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