Ask an Expert

Currently I am in Austin, TX attending the national American Meteorological Society meeting.  The conference continues to grow in size as the field becomes more interdisciplinary and attracts professionals from both the private and government sectors.  You meet researchers, educators, broadcasters.  Of course one of the big topics here remains climate change.  You won’t see many speakers spending time proving that it’s happening.  There are a few, but a bulk of the people will be talking about how to we get more people on board to take action?  How do we get government to listen?  How do we communicate more effectively to the public?  What are the kinds of policies we need to mollify people who are worried about jobs and livelihood as we switch to more and more renewable energy?  But climate change itself isn’t what I wanted to talk about although it is part of the inspiration for this post.  That and a podcast I listened to with Tom Nichols who wrote a book called The Death of Expertise.

As someone who writes a blog, uses social media, and is a professor, I am fairly outspoken about climate change and have had my expertise challenged many times.  I consider myself an expert of sorts, but as I sit here surrounded by greats in our field and even lesser known ones, I also know that I am a light expert when it comes to climate change.  And I know a lot.  But there are people who know more.  There are people who have a great depth of expertise.  I spent 11 years in university becoming what I am.  There are people who have spent the same amount of time and then on top of that spend year after year researching problems and testing hypotheses and collecting and analyzing data.  Why do they do such things?  We live in a time where much information is available instantly.  Have people like myself and others here simply wasted all our time and just should have waited for the internet to be in its current state so that we could gain the same level of expertise through a few days (hours?) of googling?

I have tried different methods of engaging people on the subject of climate change publicly (some I’ll admit I knew weren’t helpful to anybody but myself), but nothing really seems to make much of a difference.  In the end, someone who might be a line chef at a restaurant will adamantly disagree with you.  And of course I have had far more educated people disagree with me as well, but they have not been educated in meteorology or a related field. And it shows.  I’ll be honest if you want to be critical of climate change with me, I can tell the moment you start speaking, how much you actually know about the science.  Now that’s not to say that you couldn’t have a lively debate should you talk about policy, law, or the pros and cons of renewable energy.  These are all things I am not an expert at, and don’t pretend to be.  So why do so many people pretend they can be an expert on the topic of climate change?

You might say that skepticism is healthy, and this is true.  But that skepticism needs to also come from other experts.  Within the scientific community disagreement and skepticism are everywhere, and scientists within a discipline are constantly challenging each other to do better.  Yes there are times when science fails, but more often than not the expertise of people makes a positive difference.  It seems that it’s our penchant for noticing the failures that perhaps skews our perceptions.  But the amount of expertise it takes just for a plane to successfully take off and land is immense, and there are over 100,000 commercial flights per day.  Many people of course falsely see planes as unsafe modes of travel, but most of us know there is no safer way to travel.  Assuming people in aviation don’t know what they are doing because of the rare plane crash would be an obviously false perception.  For people who deny the validity of climate science I often ask them why the scientific findings are inherently different than the science that was used to make the computer they are using to argue with me?  One of the more intelligent people (non-expert however) I’ve argued with about climate change plainly stated that he trusted a prediction 2 years out of an asteroid collision with Earth, but still maintained that any climate model that tried to predict climate was no better than flipping a coin.

It’s clear that climate science is much more about politics than the science, but since the truth of the results lies outside of the purview of political leanings, the science gets attacked, weakly but loudly.  What other choice is there for such people?  With instant access to information, the perception that one can be knowledgeable enough over a number of hours to speak authoritatively on issues gives them the confidence to do so.  This simply isn’t true.  This post might seem boastful to some or elitist.  In some ways I suppose the latter is true.  I do feel that I represent a very small portion of the population that understands the atmosphere well.  But as I’ve said I’m also smart enough to know how much more there is to know.  And while I am generally smart enough to slog my way through scholarly articles in most field, never would I assume that this makes me an expert.  Put me in the presence of an expert and you’ll find me asking more questions than being argumentative.  And there is expertise to be found in many walks of life.  I don’t go in telling mechanics what their job is about, or spend a lot of time second guessing how accountants do their job, or tell a carpenter he’s hammering a nail all wrong.  I feel I am humble enough about the things for which I know little, but appropriately confident about the things in which I have expertise.  Too often that expertise is challenged by people with none and too often I feel like I should almost apologize for knowing a lot about something.  Personally, I am glad there are experts out there.  I am glad there are people who devote their lives to the understanding something well, to perform tasks everyday knowledgeably and skillfully.  And I am also glad that there are enough experts to challenge other people with similar expertise, who are there to spot mistakes and make improvements over each other’s works.

It seems that we have drifted in this country away from the appreciation of expertise.  And I don’t think one side of the political spectrum is immune to it.  As I watch the numerous cheers for Oprah Winfrey to be our next president, I get deeply concern that the value we place on expertise has waned to dangerous levels.  It is a great age, because there are so many places where we need people with expertise.  Everybody has the ability to be an expert in something.  But this takes time, study, and experience, and this fact should never be forgotten.  Take some time to think about how your day is made better by the experts in your world.

37 thoughts on “Ask an Expert

  1. Denialism has become a market. Anti intellectualism is a thing. Between the two there is more disinformation being thrown at the wall than any competent individual in his/her field can hope to keep up with. It is a political strategy, and it is working.

    We need more like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, Carl Sagan, and many others. We need communicators and we need channels of communication. We need kids to love science.

    We also need to vote out the politicians who sow the fake news. We need to diminish the so called news outlets engaging in deception with factual data every single time they play the denialist card.

    We need Swarn Gill to become one of our science communicators.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks for your comments SD. Certainly the misinformation campaign is working well. I also think that the media, if not intentionally trying to misinform can two often distill issues into sensationalized clickbait meant to entertain and not inform which is ultimately just as damaging by moving the conversation away from something more nuanced and meaningul. The scientists you mentioned are all great ones, but too often they get used to talk about every scientific issue, and while I think they can be good advocates, I’d like to see someone like Bill Nye admit his own weaknesses in expertise a little bit and default to those with more expertise. I seen him make some slight missteps in the area of global warming. That being said, the fact that the media always calls on him to debate climate change deniers is also problematic. The media is clearly going for a “known” quantity over someone with true expertise. NDT is often good about admitting when he isn’t as knowledgeable in a particular area of science as others.

      And I too will continue to be a strong advocate for science, but I also want to be a good advocate for the value of expertise and not try to represent all scientific issues!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sometimes skepticism is a cop-out. It takes too much effort to actually know things. I think you’re right about the lack of appreciation for expertise. It’s happening a lot in science, not just with climate change. Anti-vaxers come to mind along with people who think they can drink apple cider vinegar every morning to cure cancer.

    My step-nephew posted this this morning:


    Classy and intelligent. *facepalm*

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Good lord. That’s ridiculous. If you’d like me to write up a retort for that, I’d be happy too!

      And yeah there are tons of scientific issues which garner a lot of push back against expertise. And this comes from the left as well. Anti-vaxxers is one of them, GMOs and homeopathy/naturapathy are some other examples. I do think it’s a bigger problem on the right as it seems to be a bigger part of the political platform, but we are certainly suffering from a large portion of our population being ignorant about important scientific issues that impact our daily lives.


  3. My list of how my days are made better by “experts,” Swarn, would be way, way too long to put here. And that’s a great question by the way. My very FIRST expert I learned from was my Dad, ex-USMC and mechanical engineer, who raised and taught me all about high-precision, quality so thoroughly sought and invested in all you did (110% effort!), and close examination of a subject via critical-thinking skills (with a USMC mentality?), that there is no way IN HELL that any Fly-by-Night “expertise” can be done or learned in a matter of hours or weeks by Googling! HELL NO to the 10th power!!! My point is that my father was not an expert in 10, 30, or 100 areas. That is humanly impossible. But if you wanted to understand the science of motion, containment or ignition, energy, and the complex mathematics for example, he was certainly a great starting point! But he wasn’t just born with these skills and knowledge, he too learned it from other experts/educators who were also taught. So what defines an expert in a particular field?

    I’d wager that a TRUE expert is measured/tested by his or her acclaimed colleagues in the field. A hedging technique. A large extensive bibliography and so on. When students enter an accredited University, they have passed a set of requirements by that University’s admission board/panel. When they graduate, they have passed a set of standards by the board/panel and the degree Director & Associates. The higher the expertise, the larger the number of colleagues of that field accredit the individual with appropriate, earned notoriety and respect. This process should NOT be easy, it should be hard and demand YEARS to obtain — even perhaps a lifetime. This same process applied to me in futebol/soccer by other highly trained, vastly experienced pros in the sport. Is there any other way to determine this?

    Challenges that are difficult, hard, and unbiased are what push us to be better. And the wider the challenges, i.e. from many points of view (some new), the less flawed the gained expertise, IMHO. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I should footnote here too that there are some in our blogging circles Swarn that have disagreed with my opinion above on “experts.” And it’s fine. However — and this is not at all to toot my horn, but to make a broader point — if my Dad was my only “expert” to endorse me, or local friends in neighborhood, or teammates, how much of an ear and audience would I garner, say compared to (in soccer) the NSCAA, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, awarding me All-American two years in a row, when speaking on the game-sport of soccer?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree. Although I do think it’s harder to identify expertise in a sport. An example that comes to mind is Wayne Gretzky. Could he be said to be an expert? Perhaps, but he largely failed as a coach, and didn’t do the greatest job at heading the selection committee for the Canadian Olympic team in 2002. Being an amazing player, doesn’t always make you well rounded in understand the broader game. Sometimes I think being extremely talented athletically is almost a handicap in really needing to understand strategy and the work ethic required, because someone so talented often doesn’t have the same limitations others have. That being said, once again Gretzky certainly has a great deal of expertise and his input thus has greater value than many others. There are probably fans who follow in depth analyses and have seen more hockey games than Gretzky has, so there are also fans that have an expertise that can be respectable. But again, this is acquired over many years.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Agreed wholeheartedly Swarn! This is why it is usually best to have the broadest, most diverse peer-review expertise to determine what exactly defines the up and coming “expert.” There are numerous Gretzky-examples in futebol/soccer as well, Diego Maradona is the first to come to mind. Horrible, HORRIBLE coach/teacher, but on the field in his prime?

          Time, yes… “over many years.” Like many climatologists/meteorologists have reiterated many times, having weather data that only goes back 150-200 years is NOT enough of a cumulative record to say with absolute certainty that global warming is indeed happening. However, the symptoms are compelling as to the causes.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s important to note that it’s only the instrumental record that doesn’t go back more than 150 years but we have many ways of lower resolution climate measurements by proxy. It’s also important to note that we can say with certainty that the Earth is warming, and that are assertion that it is human causes comes from our understanding of what drives climate naturally and so it’s more than just the time history, but also our ability to observe the relevant climate drivers and knowing how much they contribute to the warming we observe.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Yes, true! I wanted you Swarn to explain the secondary methods by at least inference if not more. Thank you Sir! 😀

              And btw, personally I am convinced that humanity’s IRresponsibility of industry and fossil fuels consumption & disposal is the one single biggest driving force behind the “warming” as you note. However, unlike you Swarn, I cannot back up thoroughly enough my personal opinion like you can. Again, thank you for that! ❤

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Well said PT. I think that you are right in how we might determine expertise, although I would say in science “acclaim” would be more as you said an acknowledgement of the quality of work through the peer-review process. Some scientists have often been ridiculed by the scientific community early on, but once they’ve been unable to disprove their claims and seen the claims proven mathematically and empirically then their genius must be acknowledged. Results matter. I often tell those who argue with me about climate change to go publish some papers. If they are so sure, they will score tons of grant money from Exxon and will become a critically acclaimed scientist!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I certainly don’t think it’s always in good faith, but usually the one’s not doing it in good faith aren’t the one’s touting the value of skepticism. It’s usually the followers. There are definitely some people who know better who are taking big checks from somebody and clearly have an agenda. Either way, we shouldn’t blindly accept skepticism from people without the requisite expertise.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. “Have people like myself and others here simply wasted all our time and just should have waited for the internet to be in its current state so that we could gain the same level of expertise through a few days (hours?) of googling?”

    Are you kidding? Anybody can google anything to prove their point.

    I was listening to my friend Neal’s show the other day – he’s a veteran NPR reporter, director (All Things Considered) and now has his own show, “Truth, Politics and Power.” This is a must-listen podcast for anyone who is lacking in truthful, balanced news these days. Here’s his current show which addressed this very thing, prefaced by this quote,

    “The effort to suppress specific words at the Centers for Disease Control represents another round in the long conflict between politics and science. In a “Seven Dirty Words” Edition of Truth Politics and Power, host Neal Conan revisits the history of science and censorship. Plus a conversation about what actually happened in Florida after the state government prohibited employees from using the term, “global warming”, how the Helms Amendment changed the way we talked about AIDS education, and a strange story of the FCC and George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words…you know, the ones you can never say on TV…or radio.”

    Of course I will tell you to listen, and you likely will – and you might tell other scientists you know, but the problem, and well you are aware, is that the people needing to listen won’t. They plug their ears with their fingers, an image I can see vividly in my mind as symptomatic of much that is wrong in our country today. But denial has been operative for a very long time. That part is not new. The urgency of addressing global warming IS new, however – and I’m glad I won’t be around in 50 years to see the sad repercussions of this particular brand of denial. It’s truly pernicious.

    Keep up the good fight, Swarn – your kids’ lives depend on it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Bela. I agree with you it’s an important fight that’s happening in many areas… Climate change is just the one I know best.

      And yes I was being tongue and cheek they’re trying to compare the two time frames. I left it as a question because I felt the answer was all too obvious!

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I was recently in the car with a colleague going to a client’s site (I work at an engineering firm) and we got to talking about global warming. We realized we both thought it was real, but hadn’t read much by experts on either side, so we read some articles that we could access over our phones to pass the time for a couple of hours. I had several takeaways: 1) there was some really interesting data (graphs and correlations and big words and everything) suggesting carbon emissions were not the driving factor in the global climate; 2) in further reading we found that although carbon emissions haven’t historically preceded changes in global temperature, without the effects of atmospheric CO2 in the climate models we can’t recreate the data we’ve found in ice cores and such; nor can we recreate the data from our monitoring of the last century. We learned (I think we learned) that carbon in the atmosphere has something like a multiplying or compounding effect on warming cycles that likely begin for any number of other reasons. We realized how little we knew, and despite being two people with above average technical educations, concluded we really didn’t know anything about it at all.

    But another major takeaway for me is that popular presentations, such as Al Gore’s first movie, that lobby strongly in favor of global warming being caused by the carbon emissions of human industry, do not present the science right. (At least that is my thought, based on minimal recollection of the film, and my recent abbreviated reading.) There is an oversimplification that leads to the notion that “global climate is caused by atmospheric carbon.” This is simply wrong, as I understand it. The data that proposed atmospheric carbon was not the driving factor in climate change that looked interesting was also an over-simplification. That camp appeared to be trying to make the world just as simple, but with different data (data from another period in geological history), and a different factor (cosmic rays and cloud cover or something). I don’t think they were totally incorrect; their findings just weren’t applicable to or able to explain the effects observed in the last century (as I understand it). It is astounding how hard you have to work to get a modicum of understanding in this arena. And I think that is simply because it is very complex. Period.

    So I don’t think people are wrong necessarily when they have a gut level distrust of expert proclamations in complex fields. Life experience says the experts get these problems “wrong” all the time. Our bodies are complex and the experts are far from having those figured out. Likewise the economy is sort of anyone’s guess. And part of the challenge for your particular field is that we’ve only got one climate, so like economic theories or social theories, you can’t really conduct isolated experiments outside of computer models. Those models have to be calibrated, and it’s hard to wrap your mind around calibrating your computer model to ice samples from xxx,xxx years ago. All this is not intended to detract from the idea you expressed; really it is to echo Shelldigger’s points regarding disinformation and communication. We need better communications from the experts I think. And “we the people” have to be willing to invest the time to understand those communications.

    I just searched in google on how ice cores are used in climate research, and the NASA site is the first site to come up. This quote is from an article there about how ice cores are used, from the website, “Each layer of ice tells a story about what Earth was like when that layer of snow fell. For example, LeGrande says, as snow deposits onto a growing glacier, the temperature of the air imprints onto the water molecules.” I have to say that this sounds like bullshit to me. It imprints individual molecules? Who is the audience for this article?
    The article at the NOAA site, the second link to appear, was much better. It says the ratio of oxygen isotopes found in the ice is correlated to temperature. But still… that’s a long shot from being accurate for the reasons left unspoken. A Harvard University article on this topic suggests there may be more to the isotope ratio at any given point than just temperature. There is clearly an underlying model (perhaps a simplified one) that is necessary to predict the distribution of O16 and O18 concentrations between the poles and lower latitudes as a function of global temperature. I already knew I was over my head. I gather this means if you put ice in a box at different temperatures you won’t see any changes in oxygen isotope ratios. You need the earth’s climate to see that. Now we’ve got a model based on models, each feeding the other. It’s not circular logic perhaps, for other factors not discussed or explained, but Excel doesn’t like when I try and do this sort of thing.

    If I try to read source papers, since I’m not in academia I generally can’t access them without purchasing them. Which isn’t realistic for me, or for many people. So that elitist sensation does come in, though I’m sure it’s not intended.

    At any rate, I think the real challenge is that science allows us to make predictions that exceed the ability of our senses to evaluate. What our senses tell us in any given moment is basically meaningless when it comes to evaluating an issue that threatens our well-being. Our senses are rendered ineffectual, and our senses have always been our most essential survival tool, hands-down. Right? It is hard not to trust those senses. We’ve all been misled by an expert or two over the years, and when something is purely abstract like this I think its hard to both wrap our minds around it, and put complete faith in experts. Are we just dealing with evolution in a way? Is this how we’re wired? It must be in some sense.

    The last straw of course is that sometimes experts align with political motivations, and now we’re just totally shipwrecked. Add to this the reality that on occasion non-experts (on paper) make breakthroughs the experts (on paper) couldn’t see in various technical fields, and you have the perfect climate for disinformation and credulity. Tie the outcome to your perceived ability to continue feeding your family, and it gets prickly. Can something this complicated be manipulated for political ends? Absolutely. If we can’t understand it we don’t entirely trust it, and that doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. Is it?

    I suspect I wouldn’t think I was being manipulated in any way whatsoever if I were able to join you at this conference. I expect I would love to sit and listen to you and your colleagues, and to learn. I would be in hog heaven. I’d have my mind blown. You’re doing good work, Swarn, and I appreciate it.


    Liked by 3 people

    1. Not sure I can effectively respond to all that you’ve written here adequately as there is a lot, but to the start of your point here, I can tell that you haven’t been reading much from experts if you think 1) and 2) are correct. Carbon dioxide is the main driving for climate change today. This has been robustly demonstrated through numerous lines of evidence. If you like I can recommend a good book or two on the subject of climate change, but for now this site (with references) gives you the gist of why the scientific consensus points to CO2 as the main driver of climate change. And it regards to models, this link might start you in the right direction here.

      It has been a challenge within the scientific community to get people to step up to the plate to be the public voice of the issue. This has been less of a problem in the last 5 years or so as some notable climate scientists have been more vocal. People like Al Gore were probably not the best choice to start the discussion on such a popular level, but I also can’t fault him for being convinced by the science and feeling like he had to do something about it. He certainly didn’t leave experts out of the discussion when he made the movie. Overall it was well done, although it was in a few places a bit hyperbolic. Part of the reasons why scientists are uncomfortable being public voices is because they don’t like talking in certain terms, they recognize the error bars always to research. So you tend to get people who go public who don’t have that same problem. Politicians and journalists tend to be such people. On the other hand, the public is also not comfortable about hearing about problems in uncertain terms. It’s a chicken and egg problems that feeds into itself. The public needs to be comfortable with making decisions even if there is some uncertainty to the problem. That’s never going to change when it comes to science.
      So I will have to disagree that the public has valid reasons to distrust expertise for complex problems. Or rather, perhaps they have good reasons from a cognitive bias standpoint, but not from an empirical standpoint. We do have a tendency to remember misses, and ignore the hits. Therefore, many people still perceive weather forecasting is inaccurate despite a 93% accuracy rate nationally. As I said in the post, the ways that experts reliably make the world run every day and advance science and technology is far more innumerable than the mistakes. The consensus on human induced climate change simply would not exist if findings were as controversial as conservatives would have you believe. Also to compare biological sciences to atmospheric physics is also not a fair comparison. Biology has much more uncertainty in general than physics, because physical laws are more predictable than biology is. There are people trying to bring biology into physics, but we are far from that stage. So maybe it’s fair for the public to not realize the differences between biological research and physics research, but I would still say the expertise in biological science does things right far more often than it gets things wrong.
      Of course a big part of the problem is that when you don’t have expertise it can be easy to be misled, because you can’t tell the difference between one expert and another, and more importantly it can be difficult to know why one person who seems to have a high level degree, might not be as expert as someone else. given that they both seemingly can talking the language. You also don’t get the sense of proportion when you watch a one on one battle between two people. This is what the fossil fuel industry want you to believe, that it is a split issue when it is far from that. And there are a few deniers that get their work published, and these are very helpful to the science because they have accurately pointed out holes in the science before, but in my experience many times these holes have been filled and concerns addressed many years ago, but an old article gets recirculated many times and presented as new, and thus people think those holes still exist. Which brings me to your point about scientific journals. Many of those journals are closed to the public because they cost money to publish. This is true in most, if not all, scientific fields. It is certainly not atmospheric science trying to be secretive. And you can find exhaustive synthesis of the relative literature by reading the IPCC assessment report which synthesizes 1000’s of anonymously peer-reviewed articles to write its science report. This is available for free. Many books synthesize such information as well. As far as your criticism of the NASA site, I mean they have a challenge of how they talk about science issues to their audience. How do you explain how ice core data works to lay people? I am not sure I have the best answer myself (It’s not bullshit by the way, but yes ‘imprint’ is imprecise). Part of the reason why I became a professor. I don’t have to try and explain something so complex in a page. The fact remains Michael that despite the fact that you have an engineering degree, you are still far from understanding atmospheric physics. This is why I said, that even if I could slog my way through scientific journal articles in a number of fields, I would still be far from being an expert, or even seriously challenging the scientific consensus in a particular field. This is why it took the amount of time it did to gain my expertise. It’s not something you can pick up in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. No matter how hard I work over the next year in mechanical engineering I would never dream in a million years that I could gain the expertise to start designed aircraft for Boeing. Atmospheric science is complex hard stuff, and unless one is seriously committed to starting from basic principles and working their way up, the serious kind of expertise needed to challenge the science is not possible. I sometimes dream about switching to a career in cognitive science, because I find it so fascinating, but I don’t. Why? Financial reasons aside, I also simply don’t have the time to acquire the expertise it would take to make a serious difference in the field. The basic biology and anatomy courses I have to take, and statistical methods courses I would have to take would be at least 2-3 years of undergraduate work, before I could even get to the graduate level. I know I am smart enough to do it, but I am simply going to have to settle for being absorber of information by the experts.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Hi Swarn,

        I always appreciate your time and your responses. In reading at the links, I think my colleague and I did a little better than you gleaned from what was probably a poorly worded opening paragraph. We deserve D+’s I think, not F’s. Statement 1 was intended to be facetious. The truth is we did find some interesting graphs. At least to us. But cartoons are interesting, too. We kept going and found it wasn’t the whole story, and I think we did that on one of the links you sent me earlier. They looked very familiar. I was trying to say that we found out that although CO2 levels historically (over the longer term) did not precede global temperature changes (which the links you sent confirmed), the current warming is largely found to be derived from CO2 increases. I think that is consistent with what I read at the links. And of course, as I said in my comment, we both felt overwhelmed.

        I probably should not have gone on as I did. I’ve tried to look more closely at what prompted me to have a reaction here, and I’ve decided you’re right of course, on expertise. And I find I agree: I trust the experts when I feel they are in a field in which they are expert. But my resistance is that in a number of areas that are important to me, I think the experts and I do not agree on what the field is exactly. Haha. Let me give you an example prompted by one of your comments above.

        Let’s take homeopathy. Everybody moans. You used it as an example above, presumably because you view it as a pretty obvious one. Everyone who considers themselves a scientist feels an obligation to say, basically, “Don’t start with that shit.” But I think they’re wrong, in all honesty, at least about aspects of the problem, and I think very few of those who speak to this are well read in the field of water physics. This is perhaps making your point. There seems to be the sense that everyone in science is an expert on what are deemed pseudo-scientific areas. They are expert in identifying those areas, and in saying why they are so. While I don’t consider myself an expert in the field of water physics, I have discussed various aspects of water physics with multiple experts at a scientific conference and engaged in follow-up correspondence with multiple researchers, I have performed and personally funded some experiments in water research over several years at multiple locations in conjunction with a state-certified laboratory in which we used bacterial response as a detection mechanism, and I have read a fair number of scientific papers and a couple of scientific books about the physics of water in general, some of which relate to homeopathy. I wouldn’t say I was an expert, but I think I’m in the C- range on this one.

        It just grates me–it really does, Swarn; I’m confessing to you here; I don’t do that with everyone–that we should be beholden, policy-wise, to a scientific community that, in my opinion, does not realize at times the problem their solving is not the question being asked. I suspect I feel about this as you might about my googling climate change and thinking I know something. You wish people would be able to wade through the muck and malarkey and listen to what is really being said–what has been hard won by good people who spend countless hours in the basements of buildings crunching data, or off giving up time with their families to drill ice cores in the most remote parts of the world. It’s a very fair wish, and I wish it for all of us. At the same time I wish people I respect scientifically would just stop acting like science has the whole thing figured out. I do. That is sort of the dark side of expertise for me: the hubris of thinking you’ve got a lot more put together than you quite do.

        We all wish those around us would change. It’s age old, isn’t it? So part of my foaming at the mouth was this emotion of frustration. I thought I should say it outright, now that some reflection has made it plain to me. I simply don’t trust the experts to stay within reasonable bounds of expertise; nor do I think it wise to let the experts tell us who we are, or to have the leg up in defining the boundaries of what is so. Expertise in a field is of course a wonderful thing. I just think there is a great deal of straying.

        So perhaps the summary is this: while I trust the experts in their specific field, I simply don’t trust the worldviews they sometimes promote.


        Liked by 2 people

  6. Anti-elitism/anti-intellectualism is a real problem with likely a number of contributing factors: post modernism, the media, ease of access to pseudo-science and paywalls on scientific journals, and of course the self esteem movement. I don’t know what can or should be done. Teaching critical thinking skills in school might be nice.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah I mean if a lot more money were thrown to science maybe all journals could be free. I know some fields are trying to do this, but it’s difficult. Things cost what they cost.

      Postmodernism is interesting. As a philosophy I don’t have a problem with it. It grew as a challenge to universalism to question grand ideologies and narratives, which I think is important to do, but postmodernism became a grand ideology and narrative itself, that seems to get applied more often than it should.

      Good points.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think there are a few free journals, but you get what you pay for, so I’m not suggesting that they should be free, merely that it creates a barrier.

        I am attributing ideas like “truth is relative” and “I create my own universe” and “the universe should align itself to my way of thinking” to postmodernism, hopefully not unfairly.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I agree that there are aspects to postmodernism that have become wholly unhelpful, but I’m just saying that tend not to throw the baby out with the bathwater with most things. I don’t think postmodernism was born out of any malice and I think we can challenge larger societal narratives through the scientific method and make some important claims. There are some “truths” that we live by that are social constructs. There are others that are not. And postmodernism has spun out of control to suggest that all are, and thus this makes truth relative always, and that there is no objective truth. As a scientist I disagree. I wasn’t saying you were wrong, just that in theory postmodernism could be considered helpful in some areas, but to apply it everywhere is just silly.


  7. I was thinking about Ivar Giaever, the Nobel laureate, who is a climate change skeptic. So, here is an expert in solid state physics criticizing experts in climate change. I watched at least part of a video that he has on youtube, that I found not very convincing, but I wondered about what impact he has on shaping (or reinforcing) people’s opinions and what level of responsibility should he have, being a Nobel laureate. Especially given, that from the video I watched, it seemed to me that he did most of his “research” online and didn’t read any of the IPCC reports on climate change. I may be wrong about that, but that was the impression I got from what I heard him say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is the impression I get from him as well. Because typically in any scientific field you attempt to publish your own data analysis to challenge existing claims. He is free to do so, but as is common with all these deniers when it comes to submitting papers to stand up to anonymous peer-review their research never passes the test and then they make claims that all reviewers are biased.

      And this was part of the point I made before…I think these people are effective at swaying public opinion though because most people would be impressed by him being a particle physicist and that he therefore must be as smart or smarter than all us climate scientist. I daresay particle physics is extremely difficult, but this is noway qualifies him as an expert in atmospheric science. Now while I agree he doesn’t have as far to go as some, it doesn’t seem he has taken the time to gain the expertise and knowledge of the existing literature to do so.


  8. There are 103 instances of ‘expert’ or a variation of ‘expert’ within this post. Some are within the comments section, at least 1 is within a sidebar.

    “These are all things I am not an expert at, and don’t pretend to be. So why do so many people pretend they can be an expert on the topic of climate change?

    You might say that skepticism is healthy, and this is true. But that skepticism needs to also come from other experts.”

    Within the above quote ‘expert’ is used 3 times. How is it that this reliance on experts is not analogous with polydeism? Is not scientism the name describing secularist religion?

    Theists have faith in God, Atheists have faith in science. Atheists refuse to admit dependence upon scietism. As with any addict they can’t see their own illness.


    1. I fail to see the logic behind your question here. There is a huge difference that you’re not taking into account when you compare science and religion.

      If I tell you about the first law of thermodynamics and you do not test it yourself, then you are taking it on faith, but you can test it. You could do the requisite work to empirically demonstrate it to be true. The path is open to you. Thus taking it on faith is a choice, one that I might make for the sake of having limited time and energy to prove it myself, but given that I know how the process of discovery works I can reasonably assume that a logical approach was taken to discovering how things works.

      With Gods, messiahs, the power of prayer, and miracles I am simply asked to take such things on faith with no possibility of being able to prove those things to be so. If empirical evidence of God, or resurrection appear someday so be it, but as of now religion lies only in the area of faith and thus I have no grounds to accept the existence of the divine as valid. To compare scientific authority to divine authority is a false analogy.


  9. Thanks for taking the time of replying.

    Although I agree the lack of evidence – either scientific or logical – is an obstacle for many, the proposition of science necessitating the evidence it requires in order to be is circuitous. Science determines, circuitously, the evidence and operations of proof in order to be established as scientifically true.

    The other problem I have with scientism is the dismissal of all kinds of evidence. Take economics, for example; 1 or 2 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the wealth. (I’m probably wrong concerning the data specifics.) Yet, so-called education in economics begins with capitalism being the ‘most efficient distribution of scarce resources.’ How is 1 percent owning 80 percent efficient? I don’t take such contradictions lightly. I imagine such declarations – with attendant evidence – are taught not to establish economic reason but rather are taught as rhetorical smokescreens in order to preserve a self-serving socio-economic.

    For me, scientism is – whatever it may have been originally and historically – corrupt. Not legally or monetarily corrupt but intellectually and morally corrupt.


    1. Well I disagree with you that science is circuitous. The scientific method if applied properly simply proves or disproves hypotheses. There are many more times the scientific method fails to prove something to be true, this just isn’t the research that gets published. So perhaps from an outside perspective it appears that way, I don’t know. But I have had many friends whose thesis or dissertation did not prove what it set out to prove. If it was circuitous, as you claim, hypotheses would always be proven true. This is simply not the case.

      I have a colleague in economics who would disagree with what you are claiming. Now perhaps the idea that capitalism is the best is something pushed by pro-capitalist writers or professors, but I don’t think, as you say, it is supported empirically. I think there is an equal case to be made the communism works just as well, except that when put in practice we see that isn’t really the case. It’s likely true for capitalism as well. It looks good on paper, but it’s open to greed like anything else. And this is certainly demonstrated by the level of income inequality as you pointed out. But more modern economic theory is beginning to take more seriously human behavior. Because you can’t remove humans from any economic system. You might be interested in reading about the work of Richard Thaler who is a leader in the field of behavioral economics. My colleague however informs me that good scholarship in economics, even historically, has not ignored human behavior, it’s just been bad economics that rewards the already rich that gets pushed into policy. Again, I’m no economics expert so I trust my colleagues experience doing research in that area.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey Swarn,

    As far as getting your point across goes, the most persuasive thing anyone is able to do is to get people to trust you as a person. People are more likely to be persuaded by someone they like than by someone they don’t like. Unfortunately, this means having to worry about feelings, but I think that the overall goal of reducing carbon emissions is worth it.

    Another thing is that you have to make climate change relatable. A lot of people can afford to be in denial because nothing affects them directly, and the climate change denial seizes upon that. It’s easier to claim there’s no cause-and-effect than it is to sit through having that relationship explained. Moreover, some people have a vested interest in carbon emissions. Coal workers in particular have been told their jobs contribute to climate change, but they still have to feed their families. It’s like telling tobacco farmers about what their products do to people; they’re not going to change their mind if it means their kids go homeless and hungry.

    In the end, I don’t think it matters exactly why people change how they do things, so much as they actually change how they do things. If people won’t join a green economy because it’s good for the Earth, they might join because it’s where new technology is going. They might join because it will lower costs of living. And they might join because they can’t afford the higher insurance costs of living in denial. Sure, they still might think climate change is a hoax, but at least they won’t be polluting like they used to.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you. Many of the top climate scientists also say similar things in that persuading people with science is no longer effective. However, climate change is just one example and I was trying to make the broader point of how much we not only rely on expertise but actually trust in it in so many other areas that it’s unclear where denying expertise actually gets you. It seems perfectly reasonable to worry about your job, but it also seems like you can accept scientific findings, and still argue over the best way of dealing with it. A campaign by conservative politicians and the conservative media to weaken the value of scientific expertise has larger consequences to problem solving not only for climate change but any scientific issue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that there’s been a general decrease in the confidence in experts, but I think that some of it is warranted. Experts used to be trusted because they engendered trust. When experts in any field become untrustworthy, it taints expertise in other fields at the same time. So, when a doctor gets drunk and botches an operation, victims of that tragedy might mistrust anyone on the basis of expertise alone. Climate change denial just capitalizes on that sentiment.

        Trust is what matters most here, and for better or worse, people lack that trust in experts. Scientific knowledge will not build that trust; confidence will. The irony is that neither logically is dependent upon the other. For example, a bunch of people trust television doctors (Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, etc.), but they won’t trust PhDs who have more knowledge in other fields.

        I suppose the TL;DR of what I’m saying is, you need your own TV show, Swarn. Then you can be a person building real confidence in real expertise.


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