What happens when we lose faith in our experts?

I am not one of those people who automatically believe what the experts say.   In fact, I recently wrote a blog criticizing the ‘experts’ for their wildly inaccurate predictive ability.

But at the same time, I get really nervous about our propensity these days to dismiss experts – people who have spent their lives studying a specific subject matter – just because we intuitively don’t like what they have to say.

This applies to climate change and shale gas equally.

Donald Savoie wrote a thoughtful piece in the newspaper about the importance of having a rational, evidenced-based approach to developing the shale gas industry in New Brunswick.  He didn’t even really weigh in on the science but his comments did underscore the economic potential of this sector and said that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

So the newspapers publish a rebuttal – not a letter to the editor – but a full fledged op/ed from a Moncton-based physiotherapist attacking the personal character of Savoie.  He tells us he is embarrassed by Savoie and then goes on to make his points –  a restatement of the arguments that are now boilerplate for those opposing the industry.

This has echos of the NB Power debate.  Regardless of your personal opinion on that issue, most of the credible, non-vested-interest, experts that weighed in on this said it was a positive deal for New Brunswick but the newspapers and other media published full commentary from decidedly non-experts making wild – almost crazy – statements (remember the one suggesting that NB Power was worth $60 billion?).

Further, guys like Bill Marshall – who is easily one of the most knowledgeable people in the energy field in all of New Brunswick – had their personal character hammered in reputable media by people with virtually no expertise in energy markets and electricity at all.

I don’t know where the line needs to get drawn.  We do need to keep our antennae up and question even the experts on matters of important public policy but when a physiotherapist is published in the Times & Transcript (and others I believe) saying he is embarrassed by Donald Savoie’s comments on an issue – to me that crosses some line.

If we eviscerate expert opinion – then those experts will likely withdraw from the public debate altogether.

I think it would be interesting for Donald Savoie to go into this physiotherapist’s clinic – someone who likely spent years in university and years more in practice – and start criticizing his physio techniques – no more than critique – say he is embarrassed by this physiotherapist and his work.

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