By Marc E. Fitch
The political left has long decried conservative skepticism of "experts." The reasons for this skepticism vary, but for a recent example we need look no further than Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber and his excruciating testimony before the House committee that sounded like an episode of "Experts Say the Darndest Things." He had been videotaped numerous times describing how he and his fellow experts managed to hide the true nature and purpose of the law, along with some rather disappointing opinions of the American public. Of course, beneath 2,000 pages of economic jargon and legalese, much can be hidden.
But therein lies the issue. Experts have access to information and analytical tools to which the average citizen does not, and this puts them at an advantage when it comes to having intimate knowledge of pressing issues. This does not, however, mean that their recommendations must be followed. What to do with information is a moral choice that is decidedly not based on science and cannot be boiled down to an equation. Experts often use their positions, status and access to information as a cudgel with which to make a moral argument. In essence, they try to make a moral choice a matter of science.
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Mr. Gruber, for instance, obviously felt that government control of health care had to be expanded and health insurance companies more closely regulated. But whether or not the government should be given greater control over this industry is not a scientific question; it is a moral one, and moral arguments can be understood by anyone – they are not limited to experts. So Gruber and others decided that the moral argument would have to be buried under 2,000 pages of information, economic jargon and legal wrangling so that it would confuse and make inaccessible a position on which nearly any American can have a legitimate and informed opinion.
The same legislators that cited Mr. Gruber as an expert to push forward Obamacare (and are now oddly silent about the myriad videos) demand that Americans listen to the experts concerning global warming and can't seem to understand why the public is cautious and skeptical about the proposed fixes. The proposed "solutions" to global warming are moral and value-based, regardless of the science (one way or the other) behind them. The more complex an issue, the more one can insert his political and moral preferences into the data and the more one's own subjective judgment can cloud his interpretation of data. Looking at such complex systems as an economy or health care or the massively complex climate allows one's preconceptions to be projected onto the data in order to confirm a pre-existent bias. It is like looking at cloud formations and asserting – based on science – that one looks more like a giraffe than a horse.
The government has determined that the public is not in a position to offer opinion or criticism and thus hide behind hired experts who can tell us that we're too stupid to understand. The public is being told that debatable issues are a matter of science and thus only accessible to experts who have the ear of those in power.
This is part of the reason conservatives are largely skeptical when government turns to experts in order to make an argument for something. The function and role of government is not something that can be made right or wrong, good or bad through science, statistics and information. The role of the government and how much influence it has on its citizenry is an issue in which every citizen has a legitimate say and a personal interest. But experts use the razzle-dazzle of numbers, statistics and jargon to play on the public's perception of scientific objectivity. In reality, experts are human beings subject to the same temptations and moral leanings as anyone else. However, their ability to couch these leanings in aura of "science" and "facts" gives them an illusory power and undue influence.
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Americans are not too stupid to understand the moral arguments behind issues such massive pieces of legislation are meant to address. Conservatives, ever skeptical of expanding powers, are concerned with the true ideological intentions that experts hide beneath layers of data points and inaccessible information. The Jonathan Gruber videos are proof that oftentimes their concerns are justified.
Marc E. Fitch is a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and author of the book "Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot." He can be reached through his website, www.marcfitch.com.