Brexit and the ignorance of experts
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.
‘Twas the ignorance of experts responsible for their almost universal failure to predict and plan for Brexit. ‘Twas their arrogance over decades which set the stage for Brexit. ‘Twas, in the final few weeks leading up to June 23, the crass stupidity of experts which finally did for their aspirations of winning the vote to remain.
Do hope that wasn’t too empathetic. Wouldn’t want to overdo it.
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The similarity between the EU referendum and belief, or lack of, in climate change is that both have an element of half full/half empty about them.
Amongst my friends hardly any changed their voting position during the referendum campaign. Outers stayed outers and remainers remained unchanged – though many were reluctant. The big difference between these topics is actually having a referendum on the subject – imagine having a yes/no referendum on climate change. What would the turn-out be, and what result?
At nearly all “sceptic” websites you are only preaching to the converted (the trolls are not listening) and almost always we realists seem to believe it’s about science and the scientific method. It isn’t – because it is now, and has been for some time, just a propaganda war. The Arctic is melting to nothing and polar bears are dying out because the world is getting warmer and warmer. It doesn’t matter that most of this is untrue because it is repeated every day and anyone who disagrees is either censored or has their livelihood threatened. Annoyingly I can’t find it now, but a few months back I read an article about how the spread of any new “alarm” is co-ordinated to get maximum hit. First one organisation, perhaps NASA, makes an announcement and then others mirror the news giving an appearance of a greater consensus (where I have heard that word before) than there actually is.
To argue from a science point of view with truth and empiricism is to fight the wrong war, which makes this optimist a little depressed.
Interesting how often people make reference to Richard Feynman. He said that if your outcome doesn’t match your theory, then your theory is WRONG. But more importantly he said you should not only publish all the data you have that proves your theory, but also publish all the data you have that does not fit. Climate science fights FOI requests tooth and nail to avoid giving either. How can Prof. Brian Cox profess to be a fan of both?? Job preservation perhaps.
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Jaime: What you and I already see as the ignorance – and overconfidence – of experts, as you illustrate well, will I think be being brought home, gradually, to many others, even those with university degrees, as lots of the solemnly predicted disasters following Brexit do not occur. This can have a genuinely game-changing impact on the climate debate. At least, that’s the way I’ve seen it from the inception of CliScep and before. I hope to express the point and thereby improve morale, if possible, in forthcoming posts!
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Interesting start. Looking forward to more.
The university/not distinction also played out in Trumps nomination in the US. I have a simple explanatory hypothesis. Nots are more likely to directly affected by immigration (jobs and housing competition), by petty regulation (their small businesses and trades), and such. Uni grads less so. And in both the UK and the US the growing burdens on nots are swinging the balance. What nots may lack in formal education (or should we say indoctrination) they more than make up for with common sense.
The same is true in the climate war. Nots see electricity prices going up while supply becomes less reliable. They are starting to realize all the bad stuff (climate project fear) isn’t happening. They know that when Sec. State Kerry declares climate change is as dangerous as ISIS, that isn’t true so climate problems must be exaggerated. Clexit is coming; Phillipines and India already have.
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Membership of the EU’s free-trade area and acceptance of free movement are indissoluble, said every expert everywhere pre-Brexit.
A month later:
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Anyone remember Rob Ford.
Matt Ridley has a related article in the Times today:
Trust experts on anything but the future
Whether spouting on the economy or technology, professional forecasters are no more likely to be right than you or me.
It’s behind the Times paywall so I can only see the first few lines.
The biggest ignorance of experts is they don’t understand their role. They’re there to study and advise, it’s the public that ultimately make the decisions. If the public doesn’t agree with the experts, it’s because the experts haven’t done enough to persuade them. Their arguments are unformed and facile. Politicians have become over confident of their ability to persuade and use cheap scare tricks or insults, rather than better arguments, understanding and honesty. They resent the public’s decisions and act like spoiled brats when they’re thwarted. People choose their political party as the best of a bad lot, not the party of their dreams.
The EU is geared towards separating decision making from the public. Those peasants aren’t to be trusted with ideas of their own. The peasants disagree. The British public have been putting a spanner in the dreams of the arrogant elite for so long, it was inevitable that we’d lead the way breaking from EU dominance. Brexit will be very painful but past generations suffered much more hardship to keep decision making within the hands of the British people or at least as close as possible. Even many of those who voted to remain were tempted by Brexit. They were swayed by fear of disruption and not any real liking for what the EU was becoming. It wasn’t intelligence that swayed them it was money. They were prepared to trade democracy and national respect for a flush financial outlook… at least until the next banking/stock market scandal anyway.
The two sides in the Brexit campaign had a contest who could speak most bollocks. Not sure who won.
Economists predicted a recession if Brexit. All signs are that that prediction was correct.
Matthew Goodwin http://www.matthewjgoodwin.org/ is worth reading on Brexit: start with his April 2016 essay “A Plausible Pathway to Brexit” http://www.matthewjgoodwin.org/uploads/6/4/0/2/64026337/platform_matthew_goodwin2.pdf
Richard Tol, the problem is that the wider situation looked as if it could be recessionary anyway, so how can you, with any confidence, ascribe it to Brexit – eg the China slowdown, the Italian bank problem, the US election (doesn’t it always lead to a mini-recession while it plays its long drawn-out path?) Obviously the ex-Goldman Sachs “expert Mark Carney is confident but how reliable is he? Is it really in his remit to talk down the UK economy when there is a risk of recession brought on by so many other factors?
“Economists predicted a recession if Brexit. All signs are that that prediction was correct.”
That’s a little like saying the sun will come up tomorrow. Isn’t a recession supposed to happen about every 7 years anyway? I believe Gordon Brown promised an end to boom and bust. That was before the last crash, caused by a lot of those people who were horrified by Brexit. A crisis was inevitable because the markets are built on blind panic and stupendous over confidence and little in between. We are also at the mercy of how vindictive/self protectively mean the rest of the EU will be to defectors. They must bear in mind that the pain won’t be all one way and they might find themselves in the same boat at some point.
But can the eonomist predict anything difficult? I’m sure it would be a lot easier without pesky people buggering up the results.
A few more related links from today’s twitter:
The tyranny of expertise, a long essay by Frank Furedi, as relevant now as it was when written in 2009. “The exhortation to defer to experts is underpinned by the premise that their specialist knowledge entitles them to a higher moral status than the rest of us.” There’s a mention of authority attempting to close the climate debate in there.
The others are all from the last couple of days –
Brexit is the most punk thing to have happened in years says the always challenging Brendan O’Neill, responding to an NME article “Anarchy in the UK”.
Lessons from Brexit in Nature, where “Five experts offer their reflections”, which suggests to me that Nature has not really picked up on the main lesson from Brexit.
After Brexit, a game plan for the EU: unleash Project Pain – a thoroughly nasty article from the increasingly desperate Guardian (in the news for £173M losses) saying that the EU ‘must aim to inflict maximum political and economic damage’ on the UK.
Last and definitely least, an absurd rant about the plague, Hiroshima, holocaust, war, famine, Hitler, Stalin, – and Brexit and Trump.
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Good to see Richard and Jonathan commenting. On the bollocks competition I think Steve Richards’ attitude on Thursday’s Daily Politics is the mature one: all’s fair in love and campaigning. I also strongly agreed with Richards in not blaming Vote Leave for the chaos that followed their unexpected success – unlike Fraser Nelson, who betrayed his callow youth at this point, for me.
But let me come back to those points in my next installment or two. Generally I’ll play this series like that – not say much below the line but respond on what seem the most salient points after a trifle more thought. That’ll make a change. 🙂
Lastly, thanks to Paul for some great links. Matt Ridley also quotes Feynman but interprets him rather differently to me. The Brendan O’Neill is priceless. That really cheered me up – and I’ve been pretty cheerful since Brexit anyway.
While you can rightly blame the government for not having prepared a plan in case the leave vote was carried, you can also similarly blame the leave campaign for not having a plan. After all, they got what they said they wanted, so you could reasonably expect that they would be able to coherently formulate what it is they wanted. Even today, a month later, the leavers do not get much beyond platitudes and waffle.
@tinyco2, man in a barrel
Actually, our record of forecasting the timing of recessions is very poor. The Brexit recession is one of the few to have been accurately predicted by a large number of economic forecasters.
As to the Italian and now Portuguese banks, they were hit hard by the falling markets after Brexit.
Richard, the leavers are not in power. May’s Brexit unit, headed up by David Davis, is what matters now. Watch that space and by all means criticise what emerges. I’m sure I will.
Channel 4 news just had a little debate on democracy, Brexit and experts with Toby Young on the Brexit side.
Among the prominent leavers, only Farage and Gove were ditched. Fox and Leadsom have gone silent, Johnson mumbled a bit mostly about how nothing he previously said should be taken seriously, and Davies reminded us how clueless he is. Oh, and Hannan is going around being surprised that people think he is a nasty piece of shit.
Richard, I think we see practical government under Theresa May rather differently. How could Leadsom as a rookie minister for something else continue to spout on Brexit? Has she been meeting Merkel and Hollande? Neither has Davis but May of course has. It’s her show and she’s placed people where she wants them. Plenty of thrills and spills to come no doubt.
I’ll now try to keep to my aim of replying mainly in main posts. Thanks for joining in – as a climate policy realist who voted Remain. (Is that fair?) We will benefit from your perspective. I do want to learn on the climate front from all this.
I see Richard Tol as one more of those experts who is pissed off that the majority did not follow him. He reminds me of ATTP
And the blind belief in experts, such as ATTP and Prof Tol, also includes the guys who helped to found South Africa…. Experts,….
Because real experts, such as Prof Tol, ATTP, and the apartheid crowd, know that democracy is always wrong
“While you can rightly blame the government for not having prepared a plan in case the leave vote was carried, you can also similarly blame the leave campaign for not having a plan.”
How could the Leave campaign have a plan?
Virtually the entire power elite in control of the planning apparatus was certain that Brexit would fail.
The job now is to ensure that Brexit succeeds, not to carp about whether or not the common people decided well.
As for the lack of education among Brexiters, I am happy to stand with them, as I have been opposed both to the Common Market and all other efforts leading to a European superstate ever since my time as a graduate student and member of staff at the LSE dating from 1963.
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It was reasonable to expect that, should Leave win, all eyes would turn to the leaders of the Leave campaign to sketch a way forward. A detailed plan would indeed have been too much to ask, because the Leave campaign did not have a large civil service at its disposal. On the other hand, the outline of a plan was entirely feasible. It was not there.
Instead, the Leave campaign collapsed on victory.
@Richard D, Man in a Barrel
I am not eligible to vote. I did not raise my voice before the referendum, so I cannot complain about people not listening to me.
I don’t think this is an issue of democracy or not. Typically, we vote for small things. We vote someone into office for five years or so. If we don’t like her, we vote for the opposition next time. If the government does things that we do not really like, even when promised in the manifesto, we protest and lobby and cajole to make them change course. That is democracy: Small steps, tested at all times against the wishes of an electorate who keep changing their mind.
Brexit is a different kettle of fish altogether. This is a giant, irreversible decision. A single, uninformed vote? Simple majority? No quorum?
Compare and contrast to how we decide on a new runway for London.
Don’t confuse democracy with winner takes all.
Richard Tol understands that, of course, but I’m not sure others do…
“Typically, we vote for small things. We vote someone into office for five years or so. If we don’t like her, we vote for the opposition next time. If the government does things that we do not really like, even when promised in the manifesto, we protest and lobby and cajole to make them change course. That is democracy: Small steps, tested at all times against the wishes of an electorate who keep changing their mind.
Brexit is a different kettle of fish altogether. This is a giant, irreversible decision. A single, uninformed vote? Simple majority? No quorum?”
That seems to me to be a very cynical and narrow minded view of what democracy is, Richard. Baby steps? By the generally uninformed and terribly fickle masses who can only be trusted to vote on trivial day to day concerns and who generally do so, thank God? But we really messed up by giving the unwashed a vote on something really important like whether to be in or out of Europe, whether or not we wanted to be ruled by an unelected, unaccountable Brussels elite, whether we wanted to wrest back control of our own borders, etc.. Gosh, shock, horror! We gave them that choice. That’s not the kind of ‘baby steps’ democracy we had in mind. Good grief, no, that’s more like a Plebocracy!
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“Don’t confuse democracy with winner takes all.”
“Richard Tol understands that, of course, but I’m not sure others do…”
I was taught that democracy basically comes down to honouring the choices of the majority, after first having given everyone the opportunity to make that choice. Of course, in Britain, this simple formula is further complicated by constituencies and first past the post voting, but it still generally works quite well. The referendum of course was a straight Yes or No, proportional representation vote – and horror! 17.5 million uniformed plebs voted Out, achieving a clear, but not massive majority of 52% vs. 48%. Thus, it is now encumbent upon the presiding government to enact the wishes of the majority and understand that, in a democracy, you CANNOT possibly please everyone. The moaning minority I’m afraid, will just have to put up and shut up and ideally get behind Brexit for the good of the country as a whole, whatever misfortunes (informed by the voice of ‘experts’) they may think will be visited upon us as a result of leaving the EU bloc.
‘Uniformed plebs’ LOL
No, they weren’t Brown Shirts!
Voting is a crude device, and when I was a business consultant, I always presented it as a means of last resort for making important decisions. But these were situations in which small numbers of people had time to discuss and interact with all present. When time became short, voting became one way out of deadlock if a decision had to be made.
But we are dealing with tens of millions of people when it comes to voting in a democracy, and here the symbolism that power resides ultimately with the voters is crucial. In business, the power resides clearly with the chief executive and top management, and they can take decisions as and when they like and for as long as they like – lower level discussions can be over-ruled or ignored without qualm. Many ‘experts’ would perhaps like to see that as a way to run a country, but the dangers of that are horribly clear from sundry socialist initiatives gone wrong in the 20th century, most dramatically in Germany, Russia, and China at their worst.
So, the results of such referenda, as of our regular elections, deserve to be respected. That respect is precious and important.
Sorry, one more interesting recent Brexit article, The English Revolt, by Cambridge history prof Robert Tombs.
There is a reason why most democracies are representative democracies rather than direct democracies.
Way back when, Sweden had a referendum on nuclear power. Voters first had to pass a test on basic knowledge. Basic knowledge, like whether the half-life of nuclear waste is measured in days or millennia.
In this referendum, the majority of voters were clueless. Indeed, many campaigners were clueless.
Deliberation and information and the ability to revisit your position are all key parts of good governance.
Richard T, I don’t think the nuclear power issue is a very good analogy, since in the EU referendum there were very few relevant basic facts, a point made often in the run-up to the vote. The arguments were mostly speculation about what might happen in the future if we left/stayed.
“In this referendum, the majority of voters were clueless. Indeed, many campaigners were clueless.”
Without going into detail about what specifically they were clueless about and whether they were sufficiently clueless to invalidate their making a choice to vote IN or OUT based upon the issues which they deemed to be important in this referendum, there is a logical corollary to that argument:
There is no reason not to assume that people must have been equally clueless when they were asked to vote in the referendum to keep us in the Single Market in 1973. So we have parity: we cluelessly voted ourselves into the EU 43 years ago and now we have cluelessly voted ourselves out!
David Davies is a good example. He does not seem to understand the basic properties of a customs union, and he does not seem to know that UK exports are mostly services. His blabber, and that of his fellow travellers, about FTAs under WTO reveals a keen mind that knows how to solve the problems of the UK economy in 1916.
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Actually, the other referendum was 1975, as Paul’s excellent link above points out.
Richard, I have my doubts about Davies too, perhaps for different reasons.
RICHARD TOL (@RICHARDTOL) says:
26 Jul 16 at 9:18 am
“Deliberation and information and the ability to revisit your position are all key parts of good governance.”
Indeed…and given the reported older age of many Brexit voters it seems that the electorate is demonstrating this ability Richard. Many of them will be the same people who voted remain in 1975 but have now changed their minds.
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Fair point again.
@guys & gals
I think I disagree with most of you, but it is good to see a polite but firm discussion.
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Another interesting take on Brexit (and far less facile and disparaging than Richard Tol’s view of the Leavers) can be found via Bloomberg’s Mark Gilbert.
Brexit Knocks Confidence But the Sky Hasn’t Fallen
Gilbert notes and concludes:
However, my favourite analysis, to date, is that of historian Robert Tombs (mentioned by Paul, above).
As if on cue, Liam Fox reappears, arguing against a customs union between the UK and the EU27.
Fox is like Davis. Two of the three people in charge of negotiating the UK’s new position in the world are set against free trade.
I don’t really agree with Matthew Elliott’s self-congratulatory view of how the Leave side won. OK, there were some strong performances in the debates from Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom. But the Leave campaign was really a shambles. There were the different organisations, Vote Leave, Leave.EU, UKIP. Leaders of the campaign were people widely despised and regarded as discredited, like Michael Gove and Ian Duncan Smith and Bumbling Boris. The £350M/week story was a disaster, constantly described as a lie in the media, yet they kept saying it.
My view is closer to Richard Tol’s comment – which side could speak the most bollocks.
As mentioned at the end of the Brexit open thread, I think that the vote wasn’t won by Leave, but lost by Remain. Blunders included project fear, appeals to “experts”, and abuse and contempt towards the other side, presented by George Osborn, Mark Carney, Bob Geldof, and people like Polly Toynbee in the media.
The myth that Remain was defeated by a well-organised Leave campaign, promoted this morning by Stephen Curry at a science forum in Manchester, strikes me as another analogy between Brexit and climate.
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So many useful eye-opening links. Paul Matthews (25 Jul 16 at 4:43 pm) mentions this one
which is noteworthy for the fact that it features the former writer of the Guardian’s Banking Blog recommending that Europe declare war on the UK.
That’s not a figure of speech. He says:
This is more or less what the USA did to Cuba for half a century. The author’s recommendations are actions defined in international law as Acts of War. The author is foreign, so I’d better not say any more. That would be racist.
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Paul, as political campaigning goes, yes, the public leave campaign was a bit of a shambles. But I think there is a general reluctance to give credit to the uneducated masses who were able to see through the fog of that shambles and see past the project fear chiaroscuro thrown over the entire proceedings by the Remain campaign, past even the ridiculous arrogant, abusive posturing of prominent Remain campaigners, to grasp very clearly the basic consequences of voting IN or OUT. I believe they made their choice guided principally by that knowledge, but given considerable impetus by the scurrilous, underhanded tactics of the Remain camp.
I agree that both sides talked bollocks and that the Leave campaign was a shambles but I think the Remain campaign was well-organized and quite effective. Project Fear, for example, undoubtedly (code for ‘I have no evidence for this’) kept a lot of people onside who think the EU is an unreformable insult to democracy. So did all the tribal stuff – ‘Little Englanders’, ‘racists’ etc. Look at Paul Mason, Rupert Read and the other lefties and greenies who said they wanted to vote Leave but didn’t like the thought of being associated with a lot of ghastly oiks.
I also disagree that Leave’s £350m/week was a disaster, except in that it was disaster for honest campaigning. It was dishonest to keep repeating it long after it had been shown to be nonsense but it probably (undoubtedly?) swayed a lot of people. Big simple numbers are like that. The daft thing is that people who were shocked by £350m/week would likely have been equally shocked by the real number, which I think is about £250m/week.*
And I doubt that the peculiar antics of people like Izzard and Geldof turned many people off voting Remain. That’s just what luvvies do. It can’t have been a surprise.
Was Leave more dishonest than Remain? I think they shaded it because of their refusal to ditch the £350m/week. Remain trotted out its own big bollocks number – every household to be £4,300/year worse off by 2030 if we leave – but I think they ditched it early on.
In the end, Remain did well by scaring the bejesus out of people but (despite Leave’s cockups, Jo Cox’s murder and probably several hundred thousand pro-Remain votes by non-British Irish folk like Geldof) not quite well enough to overcome a dissatisfaction with the EU’s smug apparatchiks and with our own smug cosmopolitan ruling class that had been growing for decades and had become wider and deeper than anyone realised.
*Anecdotage: £350m/week was the only Leave talking point that my aged mother could remember and she was horrified by it, not least because she thought the referendum was about whether we should join the EU and she couldn’t understand why we were paying all that money to something we weren’t part of. The Remain argument that most influenced her was that our joining the EU would somehow prevent another world war. She ended up marking both boxes on her ballot paper. Probably just as well.
So is Feynman’s expertise trustworthy then?
There’s a related post on Brexit, climate and experts at Scottish Sceptic:
Is Climate Scepticism part of a much larger political movement?
The Brexit bus slogan wasn’t nonsense. It said: “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.” According to remainers, our net loss to the EU is in fact £170 million, and it would have certainly been better tactics to use the smaller (but still huge) figure.
When Boris defended it, saying “That’s the total sum that goes to Brussels. It’s spent by EU bureaucrats. It is totally right” he was making the important, though possibly not electorally decisive point, that it’s Brussels which decides how much comes back. Even if it all came back, the point is still an important one.
It was typical of the whole campaign that a cheap populist point (“we want our money back”) got muddled with an important constitutional one (spending is for elected governments to decide, not bureaucrats). In normal politics the two tasks – the demagogery and the argument – are done by different people in different contexts. Journalists know who’s who and whose views count. This was a free-for-all with no rules. Intelligent people pretended to be demagogues and vice versa. It wasn’t pretty.
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Geoff: Thanks for that, which clarified my thoughts on the £350m per week. The rebate is negotiated and assigning zero to it was a stroke of genius because of what’s coming. I’ll explain in my next post. My own theory is that the two biggest causes of the 48% upset – and aren’t they just? – were Vote Leave and Brexit The Movie. Interesting combination for a number of reasons. Everyone of course is entitled to their own theory.
Sorry, peeps, but the bus slogan *was* wrong. We send the EU about £250m/week. (I haven’t checked that figure but it’s something like that.) The EU gives us about £80m/week back (ditto) but I think it would have been fair to use the gross figure because, as GC says, Brussels decides what comes back and, to a large extent, what it is spent on.
Setting the rebate to zero for campaigning purposes might just about have been OK if the wording on the bus had been changed to reflect the reality but any slogan that did that would have been too unwieldy to be a slogan – e.g., ‘By the standard calculation we should be sending the EU £350 million a week but, thanks to a special rebate negotiated by Maggie (later almost halved in a ‘little deal’ agreed by Little Tone at his most whimsical), we actually send the EU about £250 million a week. Let’s fund the NHS instead – and science, agriculture and various other things we have promised to spend it on.’
Here’s Little Tone giving away £ billions at rebate talks in 2005. Put that on the side of the bus and you wouldn’t need any words. It could only mean ‘Leave’.
What Experts Do and Don’t Know
Another interesting article on experts and Brexit. Sowell appears again: “Sowell urges his readers not to underestimate the value and impact of mundane knowledge…while experts know a lot more about certain topics, they don’t know about the specific needs and preferences of each individual or household,…”
There’s a bit about climate towards the end.
Also there’s Of experts and ‘experts’: economists and Brexit by Andrew Lilico, saying very similar things: “If you aren’t actually an expert in the questions you are pontificating about, don’t be surprised if voters see through it and don’t believe what you say.”
I’m breaking my vow of not getting involved below the line again because that issue of mundane knowledge is so important. Thanks Dr Sowell and Matthews.
On a somewhat related note … I can’t help wondering what the outcome might have been, had the (UN/EU associated/infiltrated) International Monetary Fund (IMF) “assessment” results been made known prior to the Brexit vote.
The U.K. Telegraph reported:
Source: IMF admits disastrous love affair with the euro and apologises for the immolation of Greece
I suppose one should be grateful that the U.K. did not enter this particular den of EU iniquity, but I – for one – certainly can’t help wondering how much of the U.K.’s EU “contributions” were diverted to this particular cause which was overtaken by “‘groupthink’ and intellectual capture” … not entirely unlike the “cause” of climate change, come to think of it!
Mind you, in the case of climate change, I’m not entirely sure how much of the “capture” can reasonably be described as “intellectual”, these days.
Nonetheless, had this report’s publication preceded the June vote, I don’t believe it’s entirely unreasonable to speculate that the vote may well have tilted in greater favour of Brexit.
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The IMF report is dynamite Hilary. Thanks for mentioning.
The non experts have become experts on how often they’re lied to, even by ommission.
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Very true Tiny. Apologies for not getting to the next installment here but news of tomorrow’s BBC programme, including Nick Clegg savaging Gove for Queen ‘lies’, is giving me further pause. It remains a fascinating story which one doesn’t wish to leave. Puns inescapable.
How the experts got egg on their faces remains exciting! That should link to the iPlayer cut of Laura Kuenssberg’s version of the story, with interviews of some but not all of the key players, shortly. I aim to incorporate all the insights in the next of this series!
“Back in 1966 the great physicist Richard Feynman famously declared: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
And half a century later, the failed physicist Ken Rice declared the opposite. Lest we forget.
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