Should Experts be Trusted?

(September 1, 2018) Some information theory analysts argue that the longer we study a topic, the less we understand it because we are less able to discern new information. That may be why, for example, newcomers are generally responsible for the biggest scientific breakthroughs. Einstein hypothesized relativity when he was twenty-six and Newton was even younger when he invented the calculus and laid the foundations for Newtonian physics. Author G. K. Chesterton explained the myopia of experts this way:

The . . . argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted, would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that the man who studied a thing and practiced it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance.

Commenting on the ideas of information theorist Claude Shannon, author George Gilder adds that information is always a surprise. “Writing from his home, which he named Entropy House, Shannon showed that information itself is measured by unexpected bits—by its surprisal. This is a form of disorder echoing the disorder of thermodynamic entropy. Information is surprise.” Since knowledge (e.g. conventional wisdom) is the absence of entropy, new information must come from entropy. Put another way, entropy is the missing information.

In terms of the study of the Civil War such ideas suggest that new information requires that the topic be examined in a new way in order to discover the missing information. This is especially true the longer expert opinion has been stultified into a fixed interpretation. Consider, for example, the causes of the Civil War. For the past fifty years the expert-school attributes it to slavery, slavery, slavery. As evidence, they point to the secession documents issued by most of the first wave of the seven seceding cotton states that mention slavery as a prime reason for secession as well as the legalization slavery in the Confederate constitution.

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But the conclusion draws a false equivalency between the reasons the Gulf states seceded and the reasons the North chose to fight a war to coerce them back into the Union thereby inducing Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas to also leave the Union. If the equivalency were valid it would imply that the North went to war in order to destroy slavery in the South, which is undeniably false. Instead, there’s a strong case that the Yankees went to war in order to avoid the economic consequences of disunion to the post-secession truncated Union. Yet the expert-school nearly forbids any discussion of such an explanation. It is the entropy that they insist their ordered house must muzzle, much like the Pope who arrested Galileo.

Consider also, for example, how the expert-school minimizes the role of tariffs in the sectional differences. In order to dismiss tariffs as a war cause they explain that on the eve of the Civil War tariffs were less than twenty percent on dutiable items, which was the lowest they’d been in years. But they fail to explain that protective tariffs were outlawed in the Confederate constitution, that for almost fifty years after the war tariffs on dutiable items averaged 45% and that the post-war dutiable items list was greatly expanded to protect previously unprotected Northern goods.

Finally, the establishment has overly “rehabilitated” Ulysses Grant’s reputation. Only newcomers such as Frank Varney and Joseph Rose accurately illuminate Grant’s flawed  character and performance.

In sum, today’s dominant expert-group of Civil War historians has failed to provide any truly new information for perhaps thirty years. But unlike earlier aged groups today’s experts are generally intolerant of newcomers who challenge the group’s hidebound opinions.

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7 thoughts on “Should Experts be Trusted?

  1. josepharose

    I also agree completely. I’ve had discussions about this, and the consensus seems to be that each scholar has a particular thesis that, once proposed, is defended to the end, despite any and all contradictory evidence. Such scholars refuse to entertain contrasting conclusions, much less to admit that they’re wrong.

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      And they do that with General Grant, too.

      The difference is that twentieth century historians permitted minority opinions to be expressed. In contrast, today’s historians generally will not permit minority of opinions to see the light of day. They will shout them down or even censor them. When was the last time an academic press published an objective Grant biography?

  2. Unreconstructed Fenian

    I have my order in at Amazon. Looking forward to receiving it this month. By then I’ll be done with” Lincoln Uber Alles”. I am finding all these books as very relevant for the politics of these days.

  3. cassandra41

    An “expert” is defined as someone who has a great deal of knowledge about something. Unfortunately, there is nothing to prove that the “knowledge” known by the “expert” is itself factual. For centuries, “experts” declared that the world was flat and that the sun and planets revolved around the earth. The problem was not the “expert,” but that “knowledge” making him (or her) an “expert” in the field involved.

    But there is another problem as well. There are “experts” whose knowledge is extensive and often at least REASONABLY accurate. But these “experts” have determined the narrative regarding their field of “expertise” and they never forget it ~ even when they come upon information that proves or seems to prove the accepted orthodoxy inaccurate and even untruthful. That makes these “experts” particularly dangerous because they exhibit the appropriate amount of knowledge, but not the acceptable amount of honesty for one to be able to feel comfortable in accepting their “expertise.”

    Frankly, I prefer the mistake to the lie but many of today’s especially “historical experts” avoid directly lying by simply “knowing” only that information that supports their particular narrative. Either way, the result is diametric to a correct understanding of history.

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Yes. That is why witnesses in court are asked to swear that they will tell “the whole truth” as opposed to a partial truth. I find that many modern historians are only interested in telling the partial truth that conforms to their agenda.


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