“I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. At the time Michael Gove uttered these infamous words many, myself included, felt it signaled a final farewell to fact-based public discourse. Yet after the recent election of Mr. Trump, I find myself coming around to the sentiment. I don’t condone the implicit anti-knowledge message, but it has truly been an annus horiblius for those in the pundit-expert-prediction-business.
“I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” – Michael GoveAny other industry suffering a similar set back would sit down and reexamine their business model, yet the pundit community has gone into full denial, post-hoc rationalization mode. It is this cognitive dissonance that the average voter sees straight through; why should I keep listening to you when you have been proven wrong time and time again? The average voter depends on simpler, yet in many ways more robust evaluation methods. In the words of a gentleman who had cashed in on Trumps victory; “I know nothing about politics, but I know about odds, and anyone willing to give me more than 3 to 1 on a two-way race, I’ll take that bet”. A fairly stark contrast to e.g. Huffington’s Post’s presumably expensive forecast model that had Clinton at a 98 % chance of victory.
The expert community that people have lost faith in does not only include political pundits or pollsters, but nutritionists, economists, social scientists – basically anyone making sweeping predictions on very complex subjects that include an element of human unpredictability. The underlying cause is a selection and a self-selection bias. The media seeks out those who are willing to make bombastic, headline grabbing predictions at the drop of a hat. While true experts who actually possess the subject matter expertise and could make more accurate, yet likely more dull and less bombastic predictions, either take themselves out or are not deemed newsworthy. Those most vocally lamenting the post-fact society are to a large degree the ones who created it.
From a communications perspective it has been utterly fascinating to see a man relentlessly and effectively hammer the emotional register and in doing so carrying the day. I have no doubt that the importance of emotional messaging will continue its rise, but for communications professionals, both private and public sector, the task ahead is figuring out how to make facts relevant again. So let’s make facts and true expertise great again – the companies and institutions we serve will benefit and it will be to the betterment of the public discourse.