Expert testimony - Shawn Loughlin editorial
While my colleague Denny tends to spill a lot more ink on this issue than I do, I’ll say that I don’t often agree with North Huron Reeve Bernie Bailey. However, he touched on something last week that many of his colleagues would be well served to understand. It goes back to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know....”
Indeed. We don’t know what we don’t know. Bailey made that point as council discussed potential traffic solutions in both Blyth and South Huron. Some councillors wanted to circle back to a “needs” report (which Huron County Engineer Steven Lund completed last year) while others questioned the reasoning behind information presented by Lund.
Bailey didn’t make the point that he knew better. He instead implored council to listen to Lund, making the case that he knew better.
In order to make this point – not that it should need making – he cited Lund’s years of experience, qualifications, etc. While elected officials are in charge of the purse strings in order to safeguard our money, they turn to expert opinions to decide how to best use tax dollars. However, councillors are the final authority and this can sometimes devolve into a professional fantasy camp and councillors are often all too willing to play along.
In this case, it was Civil Engineering Day at the fantasy camp. Really, though, it doesn’t matter what the topic of the day is, these conversations are often full of nitpicking, micromanaging and second-guessing.
Many municipal councils, for example, just went through the budget process. The number of times councillors would question a price given to the treasurer by a company or try to nickel-and-dime a project or an initiative is just out of this world. There is a fine line between doing due diligence and thinking you know more than the experts and too often, our elected officials are falling on the wrong side.
One thing we were taught in journalism school was that we didn’t need to be experts, we just had to find experts and present their expertise in a way our readers will understand.
Sure, we may get a little preachy on this page from time to time, but I don’t think any of us have ever purported to be experts on anything. We leave that to, well, the experts.
And when it comes to municipal politics, these experts come at a high price. So, when a councillor wants to spit on an expert opinion, they’re really spitting on, often, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars spent as well.
The whole “expert” thing has taken centre stage as of late during the pandemic, as every loudmouth with internet access has claimed to know more about the virus, vaccines and masks than the world’s leading scientists and doctors. I can likely be accused of being a bit too careful about the virus with a child under the age of one at home, but, call me crazy, I’ve been listening to the advice of our doctors.
The humility of admitting someone knows better isn’t as common as you might think and it has come at the detriment of society.
As taxpayers, we should hope the people we elect are trusting the experts with our money and not taking the opportunity to play one themselves. After all, admitting you don’t know everything can be quite liberating.