Tuesday, 3 December 2019

'Experts' are not always as independent or objective as is claimed

A feature of the way in which the media report on the manifestos of the various parties is the use of ‘independent’ think tanks to express their opinions.  Thus we have reports like this one in the Guardian, covering the response of the so-called ‘Institute for Financial Studies’, claiming that “neither Tories nor Labour have credible spending plan”, and describing the IFS as a “respected think tank”.  It isn’t just the Guardian, of course – the IFS is regularly quoted by other media including the BBC and treated as an expert source.  I don’t doubt that this makes them ‘respected’; clearly several media sources have a great deal of respect for their work.  Neither do I doubt that they are ‘independent’, at least in the narrow sense of not being affiliated to any of the political parties. 
What they are not, however, is independent of ideology, as Richard Murphy explains here.  The organisation is closely aligned to the neoliberal view of the world, and their analysis starts from a number of assumptions.  The result is that, inevitably, they are predisposed to a particular policy direction, and are critical of proposals which don’t match that ideology.  The fact that, in this case, they end up criticising both Labour and Conservative spending plans might underline their independence from both of those parties, but it also highlights the fact that other interpretations of economics are possible, and increasingly main stream, given that the Tories have (in rhetoric at least, even if not yet in terms of spending levels) moved towards the Labour position in an attempt to win votes.
There is another ‘independent’ think tank, the Resolution Foundation, which is, if anything, even worse but which is also extensively quoted as an ‘expert’ source by the media.  I don’t agree with the Gove position that we have all ‘had enough of experts’, but there is unquestionably a need to apply a critical eye to people who either themselves claim to be experts or else who are presented as experts by those quoting them to ensure that they are really as independent and objective as might at first sight appear – and the media seem remarkably unable to apply that critical approach.  It has become all too easy for people to set up institutes and foundations which look independent and objective yet which, in reality, start from a clear ideological perspective.

1 comment:

dafis said...

EXperts,like opinion polls,need to be handled with care. While predictive analysis is a useful tool it should not be the only tool in the box. People who otline their ambitios policies should be required to define with greater clarity how they propose to deliver on these promises. "I'm going to take you from A to Z" sound great but without some detail of the stepping stones involved and resources required it all sounds a bit like a dreamscape.