When an expert says ‘jump’, only a fool would question his degree in suicidology, right? You will have heard from pundit postulators and educated comedians, that we are living in a post-truth world because we’ve we stopped trusting the papacy of experts.

 

So what is an expert opinion? Is it one that can only be had with knowledge of the facts, and to deny that opinion is to deny those facts? (Whether they’re provided to you or not?) Is it one that only experts can have, and if you’re not an expert does it mean your opinion is not quite as important? Is it one where the qualifier, ‘expert’, turns opinions into facts. Well it seems to me, the difference between my opinion and an expert’s one amounts to an estimate and a guess. One may be more educated, but neither of them offer certain predictions.

The truth is, an expert is simply a man who cannot bear to be proven wrong. If he was right, then he would not need to call upon his qualifications to make an argument, he would simply present the facts. In this sense, to preface the word ‘opinion’ with ‘expert’ is like prefacing any word with a pronoun, all it tells us is that it is the opinion of an expert, not that the opinion itself is correct — since the validity of an opinion does not increase by the skills required for it to be ascertained.

Let’s pretend that I am an expert in literature. I will tell you, in my expert opinion, that the novel Of Mice and Men is objectively better written than Lord of the Flies. And I mean objectively because of its structure, the use of language, and the skilful integration of plot and theme. Would you accept my statement because I know more on the subject than you do? Even if you prefer Lord of the Flies?

‘Well no, that’s different, that’s subjective. There is no gradation in prose, there are no numbers in literature’. Well, which expert told you that? And why do you believe him? I have plenty of knowledge in narratology and what’s more, a range of figures and polling data about which styles appeal more to people. I’m not going to show you this of course, but you are expected to trust that I have this data, after all, I’m an expert on the subject.

So when I hear that 97 per cent of scientists can agree, or 9 in 10, all I can think is that if 97 per cent of scientists can agree, when the job of a scientist is to be sceptical until finding proof, then by willing to agree, 97 per cent of scientists are not doing their job. Rather, they are being compliant, because if it were proven, it would not have to be agreed. And it is also probably true, that many of those 97 per cent are merely banking on each other’s expertise to guide their opinions. I however, would trust more the opinion of a friend who’s done his research, than a man who is paid to provide his opinions.

From expert to expert, opinions can be passed down, like teacher to student, through some apostolic succession. Bishops of the holy see pass down some truth which was told them by another holiness, another man. And so, an expert can pass down his truth which he received from the intelligence of another man who told it to him. And if a papacy of God can be dictated by the Counts of Tusculum and the Theophylacti, a Dark Age aristocracy, then is it such a conspiracy to think that a papacy of experts can be corrupted also?

Science has become a religion in two ways. First, while different in its approach, in evidence over faith, its followers are led by faith and faith alone. The second way, is that both a man with a PhD in Theoretical Physics and a man who claims to be a successor to Saint Peter, with a direct line to the word of God, can speak ex cathedra (‘from the chair’) to define what people should or should not believe. A scientist would say of God that if one cannot provide any evidence, there can be no claim to His existence; yet he is all too willing to expect to be believed without providing evidence for his own claims. And so too, the fans of science are willing to proclaim that a belief in God is a form of brainwashing or church propaganda, but they refuse to look further, into the propaganda of ‘expert opinions’.

So where does all this come from? I know we are living in a society which shames people for being wrong more than it teaches them what is right. People are so afraid of being beaten in a debate that they will preach the reliability of their sources rather than try and explain their proofs. In a real post-truth world qualifying your evidence is key.

So I urge you to remember that truth is refuted by reasonable doubt, and opinions are only upheld by a preponderance of evidence. Experts should be treated atheistically; their opinions are no more consecrated than the opinions of an old man in papal regalia.