Exactly a month ago the UK woke up to the shocking news that 52% of those of us who had voted in the EU referendum had gone for Brexit. A devastating shock, most of all to those who considered themselves experts.
Back in 1966 the great physicist Richard Feynman famously declared:
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
See what I did in my title? Bringing the scientific method, of all things, to bear on this, for many, agonising issue of how stupid the experts have been looking since Brexit. My own motivation? To ask this question:
What can we learn from how Vote Leave won for how we are going to win the fraught, perhaps related public debate on climate science and policy?
It’s going to take more than one CliScep post. In fact, be ready for thoughts on this from me for over another month. They’ll be plenty to disagree with below the line, I feel sure.
Heroes of the resistance
Among other things I want to look at the contributions of good people who advocated for Brexit and are called climate sceptics – or frequently something worse. Foremost among these is James Delingpole, or, as he will be called in this series, the great James Delingpole. But I also want to get to lesser-known heroes such as Martin Durkin, Steve Hilton and one of Theresa May’s special advisers, past and present, Nick Timothy.
I come in the spirit of Alan Kay, the software guru who is evidently a favourite of Dominic Cummings, another central hero of the Brexit story. Kay once said that the Apple Macintosh was the first computer good enough to be worth criticising. Likewise I will have some critical comments to make about some of James’ output during the Brexit ferment. But for me his hammer found a crucial nail when he gave a typical Delingpolian welcome to Bank of England supremo Mark Carney in Breitbart on 13th May:
Because maple leaf Dobby is speaking with the authority of his position of Governor of the Bank of England, a lot of people will go: “Well he must know what he’s talking about. He’s Governor of the Bank of England, innit?”
You could make the same specious argument about Goldman Sachs, Christine Lagarde, Jean-Claude Juncker, President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, the Confederation of British Industry, the European Commission…
Like Carney, they’re all for the European Union because they’re all part of the Establishment elite in whose interests it is run. As Martin Durkin argues cogently in the must-see Brexit the Movie – watch it here – that’s what the forthcoming EU referendum is really about: the battle between a remote, anti-democratic elite and us the people.
Just like the global warming scam, the Remain campaign is very heavily reliant on the “appeal to authority” of “expert” figures such as Carney.
“Of course we wouldn’t expect you, stupid little person, to get your muddled head round all the complex economical issues in the EU debate. So here’s an expert from the Bank of England – you’ve heard of the Bank of England, haven’t you? – to tell you what to think.”
Note the connection made with the climate debate – or global warming scam as Delingpole delicately puts it. It’s all about the ignorance of experts, innit?
In fact I think there are subtle differences between the two, going back to both Feynman and to Thomas Sowell, whom Geoff Chambers rightly name-checks in his crucial post of four days ago, Weak Minds Think Alike. But, all the same, as a first approximation to the truth, James is on the money, hence the title of this series.
Michael Gove, Dellers’ old mucker at the Daily Telegraph in the early 90s, as they toiled as new graduates with Quentin Letts and co under David Twiston Davies, had his “no such thing as society” moment on a similar theme, as discussed rather more self-critically than most by John Rentoul of The Independent nine days ago:
Expertese: Michael Gove didn’t quite say that “the people of this country have had enough of experts” – the rest of his sentence was “from institutions with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong” (he was referring to the OECD and the IMF and their views on the euro). But we at The Independent certainly haven’t had enough of experts. They keep appearing on our pages as disembodied sources of authority.
On Thursday, for example, we reported that the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change had been condemned by “politicians, campaigners and experts”.
We quoted Ed Miliband, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, but the closest to an “expert” was an environmental economist from the New Economics Foundation. I’m sure he knows a lot about environmental economics, but the subject is essentially political, so it is better not to imply that there is an impartial scientific consensus on the best arrangement of Whitehall brass plates to deal with climate change.
Any expert who starts his headline Mea Culpa post-Brexit is likely to be on the right lines in my book. Gove himself felt need of the same Latin in the last two days of the campaign as explained in the same paper’s Michael Gove apologises for comparing economic experts warning against Brexit to Nazis. Meanwhile popular science guru and fellow fan of Richard Feynman, Brian Cox, took the more conventional route of ignoring the context while roaring in the Guardian: ‘Being anti-expert – that’s the way back to the cave’ on 2nd July. He wasn’t alone going back there.
I saw Gove declared a climate sceptic on Twitter on the basis on this failed initiative celebrated by the Guardian in July 2013: Michael Gove abandons plans to drop climate change from curriculum. I’ll run with it. Easily the biggest hero of all for me. More anon.
How on earth did Brexit win?
It’s one thing to enjoy the egg on various experts’ faces, it’s another to put it there.
As indicated by the final conference call before the result was announced, described by Matthew Elliott in his detailed explanation on Thursday, for the last Daily Politics before Parliament’s summer recess, the inner circle of Vote Leave was Elliott himself, Labour MP Gisela Stuart, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and his old special adviser at education, Dominic Cummings. Not forgetting Peter Cruddas and Martin Bloom, who also give their view. Elliott’s second point, about Vote Leave’s epic struggle to maintain its distance from UKIP and Nigel Farage, is well worth consideration, in my view, as we think about how ordinary voters will also turn decisively against foolish climate alarmism, leading to the repeal, or at least the quietly setting aside, of the UK’s ruinous Climate Change Act.
In the studio discussion that followed on the Daily Politics, The Independent’s veteran political columnist Steve Richards was generous in his praise for Elliott and the vast achievement of Vote Leave. My assumption is that as climate sceptics we do well to listen and learn well.
The following day Matthew Goodwin published What Really Caused Brexit? in Newsweek. Although limited the analysis seems to cohere strongly with Geoff Chambers’ favourite sociologist Emmanuel Todd, as the crucial predictor for a vote for Brexit seems to have been a lack of university education. The poor, poor experts. Please I beseech you show suitable empathy in your comments below.