Sunday, 18 October 2020

Experts and Tags

'I don't know much about science, but I know what I like.' 
That line was quoted by Val MacDermid on Radio 4's Broadcasting House this morning. Apparently it's from Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers
   It does seem remarkably apposite in these Covid-deranged times, when every man and woman is his/her own expert in fields of science whose very existence he/she probably never suspected until recently. We pick, of course, the bits of 'the science' that match our preformed view of what's going on, the research findings that seem to prove us right.  It's open season for confirmation bias – and no wonder in times like these, when there is so much information out there and yet no one really knows what the heck is going on. 
   Addicted as I am to Latin tags (the sure sign of a man who has otherwise forgotten all the Latin he ever learnt), the phrase 'Experto crede' has been rolling around in my head for some while. With 'experts' as thick on the ground as the autumn leaves, that's hardly surprising. Experto crede – believe the expert, right? Well, yes, except that this is 'expert' in its older sense of one who has experienced (it's the same root, obvs): not one who has mastered a body of knowledge but one who has actual experience of what he's talking about – which, of course, rules out whole swathes of present-day expertise. I shall return 'experto crede' to the ragbag of tags (the tagbag) and move on. Claudite iam rivos, pueri – sat prata biberunt...