The Sciences

Do We Have Too Many Experts?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApr 8, 2011 9:00 PM

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I was just reading an interesting study on the politics of intellectuals and postgraduates, and one figure leapt out at me:

The number of graduate and professional degree students grew at a rate of about four percent per year over the past decade (Bell 2010), and data from the General Social Survey (GSS) show the percentage of American adults with advanced degrees has more than doubled since the 1970s, reaching just over 9 percent in 2008.

On Point of Inquiry in February, I somewhat jokingly asked Dan Kahan--who has documented how everybody thinks the experts supports their point of view--whether the problem isn't simply that there are so damn many experts out there now that you can find one willing to say anything. These data would seem to support the contention, at least with regard to the growing number of experts. Don't get me wrong--I know it is very good for our society, in a myriad of ways, to have highly trained, smart people running around. However, I wonder whether one by-product is that it is easier to politicize science, because it is easier to find someone very smart who is willing to argue some strange contrarian position in a very convincing way--and indeed, may even pay the bills by doing so.

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