Our Credentialed, However Illogical, Experts


Ezra Klein

Another Victor Davis Hanson gem on the “new sophists” who are so smart and “well-educated” they can “prove” even that which clearly contradicts common sense:

In classical Athens, public life became dominated by clever and smart-sounding sophists. These mellifluous “really wise guys” made money and gained influence by their rhetorical boasts to “prove” the most amazing “thinkery” that belied common sense.

We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.

Take California, which is struggling with a near-record wet and snowy winter. Flooding spreads in the lowlands; snow piles up in the Sierras.

In February 2009, Nobel Laureate and Energy Secretary Steven Chu pontificated without evidence that California farms would dry up and blow away, inasmuch as 90 percent of the annual Sierra snowpack would disappear. Yet long-term studies of the central Sierra snowpack show average snow levels unchanged over the last 90 years. Many California farms are drying up — but from government’s, not nature’s, irrigation cutoffs.

England is freezing and snowy. But that’s odd, since global warming experts assured that the end of English snow was on the horizon. Australia is now flooding — despite predictions that its impending new droughts meant it could not sustain its present population. The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow are proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: what, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

In response to these unexpected symptoms of blizzards and deluges, climate physicians offer changing diagnoses. “Global change” has superseded “global warming.” After these radically cold winters, the next replacement appears to be “climate chaos.” Yet if next December is neither too hot nor too cold, expect to hear about the doldrum dangers of “climate calm.”…

There is also a new generation of young, sophistic bloggers who offer their wisdom from the New York-Washington corridor. They are usually graduates of America’s elite colleges and navigate in an upscale urban landscape. One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed to his readers that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “100 years old” and had “no binding power on anything.”

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, one writes that record cold proves record heat, or that record borrowing and printing money will create jobs and sustained economic growth, or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.

America is huge and diverse, but the world of our credentialed experts is quite small, warped and monotonous — circumscribed largely by the prestigious university and an office in the incestuous Washington-New York corridor. There are plenty of prizes, honors and degrees among our policy setters and experts, but very little experience in running a business in Oklahoma, raising a large family in Kansas, or working on an assembly line in Michigan, a military base in Texas, a boat in Alaska or a ranch in Idaho…

Power Line criticizes Hanson’s example of Ezra Klein: Sophist? Yes. Credentialed? No.

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  • Ben Hoffman  On January 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Doesn’t it bother you that you have to lie to make your point?

    • Ron  On January 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      So where are the lies?

      • Ben Hoffman  On January 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

        [One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed to his readers that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “100 years old” and had “no binding power on anything.”]

        That’s a lie. He said the language was confusing because it’s over 100 years old and the reading of the Constitution on the House floor was just a gimmick that had “no binding power on anything.”

        Maybe you’re not a liar. Maybe you’re just not bright enough to process information.

      • Ron  On January 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm

        Gee, don’t you think most sentient people would refer to the Constitution as being more than 200 years old? Maybe you’re right, but I can’t imagine you and those of your persuasion (and I don’t mean Jewish which I am) wouldn’t make, in the words of Joe Biden, a big fucking deal about it if G.W. Bush or, of course, Sarah Palin had said the same thing. But maybe you’re just not bright enough to recognize the hypocrisy.

        I notice that those of your persuasion are now expressing pretended outrage over Sarah Palin’s use of the phrase “Blood Libel” in her recent reply to the your side’s pathological need to blame her for Tuscon. Don’t you realize how absurd you all come across, which seems to be supported by a recent CBS poll showing that 57% of those polled see no connection between the Tuscon shooter and political rhetoric? But then what do they know? As Orwell noted: there are some ideas so stupid, only an intellectual could believe them; no ordinary person would.

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