In addendum: Deborah Hill Cone’s ‘qualified’ opinion on the appeal to authority

My last post was on the appeal to authority and just how hard it is (or should I say ‘can be’) to judge when an authority is legit; in addendum to that discussion I want to point you all in the direction of this awful piece of tripe by one Deborah Hill Cone, who seems to not just gloss over the notion of authority but actively dismember it, place it in aspic and try to pass it off as a can of cut-rate sardines.

My favourite part of her opinion piece is:

The more dogmatic someone is that they know all about a topic, the more sceptical I become.

It’s a pretty common reaction (these days); if someone claims they know what they’re on about, be very sceptical. Don’t bother asking whether they’ve got the relevant qualifications, just be sceptical.

The amusing part is just how contradictory her message is. We don’t want to listen to the experts because they haven’t given us the proper, fulsome and right answer to the question yet, so we can be sceptical about what they claim to ‘know.’ But, we can ask the hoi polloi what they think causes autism because, well, as they’re not experts their opinion probably means something.

Exactly what that means Hill Cone glosses over, with a patronising and condescending notion that she cares about the general punter. Her argument then takes a turn for the bizarre, in that she backs up her facile scepticism with an appeal to authority. Her expert? Richard Feynmann, whose expert opinion on matters scientific made his low-level scepticism about the claims of science appropriately qualified. He was no ‘general punter’ merely giving an opinion and he certainly wasn’t the kind of person to think that a self-selecting poll of newspaper readers would tell us anything about the nature of quanta, his particularly qualified area of expertise and uncertainty.

Hill Cone feels that we’re missing out on the emotional aspect of knowledge. Her target of wrath in this opinion piece is Russell Brown, who gets accused of using the facts and forgetting about the feelings. Apparently, asking people what they think causes autism tells us what people feel causes autism, which is very important. Experts don’t feel, it seems.

Not that what people feel causes autism will actually amount to a breakthrough in what causes autism. No, it’s just important, it seems, to keep the general punter in the loop.

Which, as I said, is a little condescending.

Still, she gets points for using ‘oleaginous.’ Well done. 1/10.