No Minister

Amateurs vs. Experts

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Last year I put up a post about some undergraduate geek who, while noodling around looking at Earth Observation Satellite pictures, discovered the Chinese building a new field of ballistic missile silos (The Undergradate NRO).

There’s also this story the other day about a “citizen-scientist” – physicist and engineer Levi Boggs of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, who delved into an area unrelated to his work, upside-down lightning, and found incredible data in places nobody had been looking.

Okay, so he’s not exactly the amateur of the first story, but in a world of increasing Internet information storage and individual computer power, we’re going to see more of this sort of thing. Unfortunately it’s likely be confined to technical or semi-technical fields – and it should not be, as RealClearScience noted in Political Experts Aren’t Really Experts:

Between the 1980s and early 2000s, Philip E. Tetlock, a Professor of Psychology at Penn focused on politics and decision-making, conducted a long-term study in which he recruited 284 people whose professions included “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” to predict the outcome of various political events. At the same time, he had laypersons do the same, collecting 82,361 forecasts over two decades. When the study concluded, the experts barely outperformed the non-experts, if at all.

Think about how many “experts” we’ve seen making fools of themselves over the years with their predictions, forecasts and advice.

Then there’s this, The Extraordinary Diplomacy of Ordinary Citizens, which tells the obscure story of one Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, who was the main driver behind the Abraham Peace Accords:

Greenblatt was surrounded by seasoned officials who arrogantly believed that their professional acumen gave them a certain divine right to manage U.S.-Middle Eastern affairs. But for Greenblatt, since they were the ones who had advised the many previous administrations that had failed countless times to achieve peace in the Middle East, they were not exactly able to lecture him now about how to do it.

As soon as he started, he found the old guard fetishized the peace process and had little imagination about the peace parameters. Their textbook assumption was that everything hinges on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first and foremost.

Naturally they were also the ones who “warned” Trump against the great dangers involved in moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, just as they had warned off Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.

Greenblatt would have none of it, arguing that the world, especially the Arab world, had changed in the last forty years:

As a result of these new realities, Greenblatt argued for an “outside-in” approach to the Middle East, which turns the old framework on its head. It is not the Palestinian problem that has to be solved first before everything else, but the other way around.

One could argue that this has not worked either since the Israel-Palestine issue remains unresolved, but the fact is that it increasingly looks like a smart move in the face of Iran and other Middle Eastern problems to have Israel and Arab nations working together openly.

Perhaps the most important lesson of In the Path of Abraham is that being a wise, industrious, pious, and civic-minded American is all it takes for public service. As our founders knew, government does not need to be the exclusive province of specialists and policy wonks. In fact, ordinary citizens may even achieve superior results.

No shit! But read the whole review.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 11, 2022 at 2:15 pm

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