Why do so many experts seem to be so very wrong, so often? This is the curious question recently posed by a contrarian American political scientist at Kentucky State University, Wilfred Reilly. His catalogue of things the experts got wrong, featured in a recent article in the online magazine Spiked, is an impressive one.
On just the narrow topic of hate crime hoaxes, Reilly’s list includes Jussie Smollett, the Covington Catholic boys, Kyle Rittenhouse, Erica Thomas, Michael Brown, and Jacob Blake.
In each of these instances, the chattering class — whether in media, politics or academia — had us believing the precise opposite of what turned out to be true.
Another list provided by Reilly concerned longer term, larger scale calamities that failed to materialise: “global cooling, Y2K, peak oil, prevalent acid rain, the predictions and tables in The Population Bomb and An Inconvenient Truth, and so on.”
Reilly observes that this phenomenon is not new — that thinkers as far back as Socrates saw that “set-in-their-ways ideological monocultures are more likely than other groups of smart people to be grievously wrong.”
Warns Reilly, “such monocultures exist to a truly remarkable extent across mass media and academia in the contemporary US.” The statistics couldn’t be clearer on this.
Only seven percent of journalists in the United States’ national media scene identify as conservatives or libertarians, according to a major 2004 poll from Pew cited by Reilly. Only but the most ideologically entrenched would deny that American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites who live in a different world from most of their readers.
Moreover, a study conducted a year later found that among academic sociologists, 59 per cent are loyal Democrats, 41 percent are independents or support a minor party, and zero per cent are Republicans. If this was true in the 2000s, one can only imagine what wokeness has done to academic fields like sociology.
Reilly laments that “one of the most intimidating things about being a ‘heterodox’ thinker is having to constantly say that ‘the experts’ are wrong”. While often appearing as just another form of hubris to outside observers, heterodoxy creates its own cascade of introspective doubts: “How can all of these very intelligent people be wrong? Surely it must be me who is wrong instead?”
And yet wrong “the experts” so often are — and at what seems to be an accelerating pace.
Consider gender ideology. Even if we grant the rather contested notion that a person’s biological sex can be wholly separate from their gender identity — what Reilly describes as “how masculine or feminine you feel in the context of current social norms” — the groupthink of the expert class still makes little sense.
“Road races are run not by people’s souls but by their bodies,” writes Reilly, “and there seems to be no logical reason for adult male-bodied people to ever compete in the women’s division.”
Indeed, if gender identity and biological sex form some kind of hardware-software relationship — if a person can truly be “trapped in the wrong body” — would it not make more sense to edit the “software”, rather than update the “hardware” through very costly, sometimes gory, and always irreversible procedures? And once those procedures are complete, what of every chromosome in every cell in that body that still testifies to the truth? Must they be censored, too?
Or take systemic racism. Among its central claims are that America and other Western societies are defined by white privilege, maintained by an apparatus of white supremacy, and protected for the sake of white fragility. And yet as Reilly – who is black — observes, “six or seven of the 10 most financially successful ethnic groups in present-day America are not white”. Talk about inconvenient truths.
The dogma that any gap in performance between racial groups must be due to racism is easy enough to grasp. But it is also a naked logical fallacy, known as “begging the question” — a circular argument in which the conclusion is included in the premise.
Similar to someone adamantly claiming that their watermelon was blue on the inside until the skin was pierced and the flesh turned red, no proof could ever be mustered to convince systemic racism enthusiasts that they have it wrong.
In fact, the watermelon illustration fits neatly with Wilfred Reilly’s diagnosis of the problem we face. How can so many experts can be wrong and not see it? Why are so few willing to testify that the emperor has no clothes? Reilly explains:
“My thesis: most truly bizarre theories arise when smart people adopt a premise that sounds plausible, even if it is factually incorrect, due to factors like peer-group pressure, and then reason forward correctly from that premise.”
Give me a dozen explanations for how piercing the skin of a watermelon could change the colour of the flesh inside, and you might gain an intellectual following. Convince me that my own vision or faulty perception is to blame for the watermelon changing colour, and I may even be convinced.
But that doesn’t mean your watermelon actually turned from blue to pink — and it certainly doesn’t mean the masses should be demonised for questioning the idea that watermelons change colour. “Premises, like facts and like ‘lives’ of various kinds, matter,” Reilly declares. And his solution:
“If an apparently intelligent person says something to you that seems basically insane, ask them how they got there and what their underlying worldview is. Listen well and sincerely to their response. But remember – if you reject their starting premise for logical reasons, it really doesn’t matter how many credentialed people parrot the conclusions that follow from it: they are still wrong.”