Who can you trust?

The cost of politicising expertise and crying wolf for years is that sooner or later a real wolf emerges, argues Claire Fox in The Municipal Journal.

Debates about experts are back. With an official pandemic to deal with, we’re all hanging on every word from the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. I’m personally impressed by the Government’s overall approach; virologists and epidemiologists are my new heroes. When it comes to facing a terrifying virus, I’m glad UK politicians are listening to the experts.

However, such is the sectarian mood post-Brexit that some have smugly jeered: how can I now support experts? Surely, post-truth Leavers’ reject expert advice? Inevitably, someone trots out Michael Gove’s now infamous (and only halfquoted) comment, ‘the people of this country have had enough of experts…’, as evidence. To complicate the situation, some of Mr Gove’s most ardent critics and erstwhile expert-defenders are currently among those who are rejecting Boris Johnson’s evidence-based strategy. They now regard the UK Government’s use of scientific experts as somehow dodgy.

This tangle seems largely due to the prior politicisation of expertise. Maybe it is time to set the record straight, with some lessons for councils along the way.

To clarify, there never was a wholesale rejection of expertise per se. Leave voters – like everyone else – rightly trust qualified pilots when they fly and oncologists when diagnosed with cancer. No one wants their teeth extracted by an enthusiastic amateur in preference to an expert dentist. But what has chipped away at the credibility of expertise is the frequency with which it has been wielded as a weapon that deprives people of moral and political choices.

Read the full article here.