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The cult of the ill informed expert

Two cases, both involving sport, illustrate perfectly the addiction of the media to the illinformed expert, the professional pontificator who holds themself out as an expert. Here’s your first example. Doctors, apparently, have called for a ban on tackling in rugby union in schools.

The story sstarts with an open letter.Its signatories are decscribed variously as doctors. Some more accurate newspapers refer to them as doctors and academics. Their thesis is that the risksof concussion from tackling are such that it should be banned.

One of the lead signatories of the leter, Allyson Pollock, is a respected academic in the field of public healthpolicy. If you need a well informed opinion on PFI or the economics of the NHS, she deserves your attention. I’ve searched with some care for her expertise in brain injuries or concussion; I haven’t found any evidence. Her other lead signatory is Eric Anderson, a sociologist who holds the grandly titled post of profassor of sport and masculinities, at the University of Winchester. Searching for any evidence that he has any expertise in concussion or sports medicine was similarly fruitless. The list is spattered with similar charlatans passing themselves off as experts in concussion when, in fact, they’re sports sociologists or the like.

I have no issue with there being a professor of sports and masculinities, like Eric Anderson, or the wider fields of sociology of sport, gender and the like. Quite the opposite. If money is available for old rope who I am to object to the trade? However, you’ll forgive me if I say that, when it comes to understanding complex risk assessments around injury and health, the opinion of a sports sociologist is of no more value than a homeopath’s opinion.

The second case? Adam Johnson. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. He’s a criminal, an unpleasant creature who planned and carried out a sexual assault. There’s precious little mitigation or apology for his behaviour.

As a result of his conviction, all manner of numpties have started pontificating on why Sunderland continued to employ him and play him when they knew he’d been charged with serious offences. Here’s the Guardian’s north east football reporter writing a series of probing questions about what Sunderland knew, and when, and what they should have done. Louise Taylor is quite a good football writer; her expertise in employment law has passed me by. Similarly, this article is full of the usual platform seekers using the Johnson case to raise their profiles.

I’m a trade unionist. I’ve had to go into disciplinaries with members of staff who face criminal prosection, and argue that they should not be sanctioned until the outcome of their criminal trial is known. Want an example? A wagon driver, facing a charge of drink driving while not on duty. He intended to contest the case, and plead not guilty, and had entered a not guilty plea at his first court appearance.

Judging by the opinions of the self appointed experts on the Adam Johnson case, I should have told him to accept immediate sanction. Of course we did no such thing. I got confirmation from his solicitor that he had entered a not guilty plea after receiving legal advice, and I argued for him to remain at work until trial. I also gave him the obvious caution, that if he was convicted there would be very few options; dismissal would be almost inevitable. Without making any judgement about his guilt I was quite happy to argue for a fair and clear process.

Adam Johnson will face significant sentences, which will be influenced by his not guilty pleas (since he’ll get no discount for an early plea on any of the charges). It wasn’t Sunderland’s job to insert themselves into the process and make an early decision, before the courts had tested and assessed the evidence.

Want a cast iron example of the fatuous way so called experts use these cases to promote themselves? According to the Grauniad

Dr Melanie Lang, an expert in child protection and safeguarding at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, said Sunderland AFC would be “castigated” for failing in their duty to protect young people.

“He’s a role model. He’s coming out of training and matches where there are young people – like this 15-year-old girl – the club will be aware of that and they have a responsibility to safeguard everybody including the fans,” she said.

“They must have known that he was a potential risk at that point from what he admitted and it raises really big questions about why they prioritised a player above the safety and security of their fans.”

Dr Lang said that as soon as Johnson admitted kissing the schoolgirl it should have been entered onto his disclosure and barring service record, used by companies to stop unsuitable employees coming into contact with vulnerable people.

She said there was nothing in law to stop Johnson playing football again because he was not coming into direct with children. (My emphasis)

So,according to Lang, and sundry idiots like her, Sunderland should have set aside Johnson’s right to a fair trial, and his employment rights, in order to avoid being castigated by sundry idiots like Lang and the relentlessly self promoting Claire Philipson of Wearside Women in need, whose previous stunts include ceremonial book burning.

The tyranny of the ill-informed expert is something we should all fear, because their relentless search for a platform from which to promote themselves coarsens the public debate and sweeps aside principles and good practice for the sake of another fifteen minutes of fame.



One comment on “The cult of the ill informed expert

  1. Pingback: Professing masculinity | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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This entry was posted on March 3, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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