The pandemic has made the necessity of relying on experts evident to all … this is a rich exploration of lifelong learning
Before the Brexit referendum in 2016, Michael Gove announced that Britain had had enough of experts, depicting them as out of touch and elitist. This anti-intellectualism became commonplace in the UK and the US, despite some notable Tory U-turns. With the unprecedented public health crisis of Covid-19, the expert is back in fashion. Virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, politicians and members of the public share a language of information about the coronavirus, ranging from social distancing, self-isolation and lockdown to covidiot, covexit and Barnard Castle. But whose knowledge and expertise counts?
This question has a long and complex history that encompasses the meanings of “truth” as well as the evolution of the scientific method. The term “expert” comes from the mid-19th century, with its focus on objective truth, and the rise of the professions, especially as a white, male, scientific enterprise (and in contrast to feminised and “morally useful” art subjects). This hierarchy of science over humanities persists, though in the era of fake news, scientific expertise is apparently up for grabs since access to data is democratised.