So it is not only an Italian syndrome or simply an inadequacy complex. It is not necessary to be a dunce-at-school minister (or a jumped-up racist hooligan acting as Nobel prize in medicine ) to claim that “experts suck” . You can also be an Eton educated politician to sing the “fuck business” anthem since people have “enough of experts”.
At the same time, never more than now, news are plenty of headlines reporting impressive advances in science, and futuristic scenarios of technology.
What is the role of experts nowadays if knowledge is spread over Internet and Wikipedia (or Siri) seems to be enable to answer all sort of questions (or make jokes under request)?
Sounds like sour grapes to me. World is too complex, it does not fit within a Twit, understanding it is too difficult, so let’s make it simple … fuck the experts. But why is the world too complex in the eyes of politicians or decision makers?
- Time scale: we are assisting to a growing mismatch between the time horizon of the problems we are concerned with and the (inevitably short and fixed) human time scale. Our society became civilized by learning to solve many problems or issues whose solution (or progress) could be seen during a fraction of our life time. Building a house or a bridge, win a war, become rich can be done in a time which is much shorter (or at most comparable) than human lifetime. Nowadays the issues we are concerned with (e.g. climate change, stagnation, globalization) have time scales which largely go over the time humans have to see them solved. Suppose we want to solve an evident top priority (e.g. plastic pollution in seas). In the very optimistic perspective that we will be able to effectively have an impact on this issue, the first results will be probably visible in centuries and the persons who will profit from them will have only a pale souvenir of who initiated this. And if this time is large for a normal human being, guess how much it is larger than a political mandate (or the time to next elections especially in Italy 😉 …
- Multiple criteria: Most issues at stake nowadays are complex issues, i.e. characterized by nonlinearity, large dimensionality, uncertainty (see below) and many competing criteria. If we go back to our previous example (e.g. solving pollution), any honest approach to such priority will have major short term impact on our life style, our economy, our jobs. How many politicians are brave enough to accept to be criticized (and fired) today for the sake of our grand children?
- Uncertainty: a side effect of complexity is that experts (if honest..) do not know what should be done to solve most of the problems we are in trouble with. Or better they know that possible actions or countermeasures will have only a certain probability of success. Did you ever discuss of risk or probability with a politician? Let’s suppose we are able to forecast the next earthquake in Naples with a 70% probability. Who would be so brave to inform the population? who is able to explain to the public opinion what is about? And if the probability were 90%?
- Non observability: if the reality is complex, it means that its dynamics is mostly non observable as well as the effect or the impact of our own actions. Do you really believe that Macron can influence French unemployment in a time scale of 5 or 10 years? If successful it will be obviously his own merit, if not it will be the unfortunate conjuncture or the butterfly effect of whatever world event (Korean crisis, Trump impeachments, Iran embargo, Belgium victory at football championship -) Will Brexiteers obtain what they were looking for and moreover who will be really able to assess that (whatever it happens) this will be the merit (or the fault) of their decision?
Of course all this is of no importance for a politician (or most decision makers). If your personal agenda has an horizon of at most 5 years, the only thing that matters to you is to make it simple and make a good story out of it. For instance take an enemy (better if drowning in the Mediterranean sea..), fuck the experts (better if in Brussels), remove uncertainty (only a yes/no, win/lose world like in sport), take a single criterion (better if understandable by average football supporter) and mainly overfits data: in a complex world you will always find a signal (or an economic indicator) which will be (spuriously) correlated with your political action. In that sense big data will (unfortunately) help you … And if really you are not so lucky, do not worry, the time people will realize that, your retirement (or golden parachute clause) will be already there.