Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arrationality: Expertise

Informally speaking, an expert is someone with significant training or certification from the academy, a law school, the military, or other societal organization of long standing intellectual significance.  I am going to complicate that definition below.

'Extended Peer Communities'

Because applied science and professional consultancy are inadequate, something extra must be added onto their practice which bridges the gap between scientific experts and a concerned public...  For the quality assessment of the scientific materials in such circumstances [of post-normal science] cannot be left to the experts themselves; in the face of such uncertainties, they too are amateurs.  Hence there must be an extended peer community.

        Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1992 (emphasis added)

Funtowicz and Ravetz discussed the rationale of extended peer communities in 1991.  "[T]he need for enriched input is not merely the result of the external political pressures...  When problems do not have neat solutions, when the phenomena themselves are ambiguous, when all mathematical techniques are open to methodological criticism, then the debates on quality are not enhanced by the exclusion of all but the academic or official experts.  

"Knowledge of local conditions may not merely shape the policy problems, it can also determine which data is strong and relevant.  Such knowledge cannot be the exclusive property of experts whose training and employment inclines them to abstract, generalized conceptions.  Those whose live and livelihood depend on the solution of the problems will have a keen awareness of how general principles are realized in their 'backyards'.  It may be argued that they lack theoretical knowledge and are biased by self-interest; but it can equally well be argued that the experts lack practical knowledge and have their own forms of bias".  (Paragraph break added.)

Enter the non-expert...

The Non-Expert

The nature of policy debates involving science have been transformed by the success of non-expert stakeholders in contributing to the assessment of quality.  Previously, only subject specialty peers could assess quality in connection with refereeing or peer-review.  But when science became used in policy, it was discovered that laypersons (e.g. judges, journalists, scientists from another field, or just citizens) could master enough of the methodology to become effective participants in the dialogue.
        Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994 (emphasis added)

Non-expert testimony, as understood in a post-normal science, has many potential sources including but not limited to consensus building, public vetting of ideas, consulting with elders or indigenous knowledge keepers, and community testimony gathering from common people with a vested interest and relevant experience and proximity to a policy issue.

I push envelope a bit further.  

Alternative Experts and Layperson Testimony

It is time to speak your truth...
Do not look outside yourself for a leader.

        T. Benyacya, Hopi leader (in part) re Hiroshima and Nagasaki

First, indigenous and traditional knowledge keepers are experts - plain and simple.  To their credit, they are not intellectuals.  But they are experts.  To think otherwise is to remain slavishly committed the scientific sense of the world.  I like science.*  I love economics.  But I know other forms of knowledge exhibit valuable truths that the Western world desperately needs.  We could call them alternative experts, arational experts, or what have you.  People can and will abuse the mantle of knowledge keeper.  But decision-makers, with a proper intention, in the field of public policy who seek true and applicable non-scientific wisdom will find it.  It exists.

Second, layperson or common people are not just non-experts in a pejorative sense.  They are essential and critical to good decision-making in the local setting.  That idea is near the heart of democracy.  Personally I like the terms non-expert and non-expert testimony, as they cut through a lot of unnecessary orthodox discourse.  But the terms have a pejorative feeling.  Hopefully, the innate nature of modern republican democracy will further mature and people will have a stronger voice in public policy; and thus we would not need to resort to such peculiar terms.  The term non-expert itself reflects a kind over-scientization of things.

Now we make the big speculative and intellectual leap...

* I want to re-iterate that I am not here to bash orthodox experts.  I very much value the expertise of my dentist, my friends who are attorneys and scientists, my acupuncturist, the people at the Genius Bar at the Apple store, etc.  Society would come to a halt without technical experts and all types of experts.

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