Battle of the Experts: The Strange Career of Meta-Expertise
Oxford Handbook of Expertise and Democratic Politics (Gil Eyal and Tom Medvetz, eds., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming)
30 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 9, 2021
Sociologists and philosophers have critically examined the interplay between democracy and expertise. This article develops a law and political economy approach to the topic, focusing on the challenge posed to traditional professions by “meta-experts” (who develop standardized algorithmic and quantitative methods to trans-substantively evaluate experts’ performance and value).
The very concept of meta-expertise confounds traditional distinctions between elite and democratic power. On the one hand, the meta-expert seems to suffer from all the debilities of the traditional expert, only more so. Whereas a traditional expert at least has a bounded set of situations to claim to be knowledgeable about, the meta-expert asserts expansive intellectual authority. On the other hand, skeptics of professions (as well as professional skeptics) claim that experts’ authority must have some substantive (and not merely democratic and procedural) limits. These skeptics tend to see the meta-expert as a powerful “tribune of the people,” capable of vindicating both common sense and counterintuitive findings in the face of guildish lethargy and incuriosity.
Law has three critical roles to play in adjudicating emerging conflicts between experts and meta-experts. First, whatever jurisdictional claims they make over some domain may be confirmed or contradicted by lawmakers. Therefore, law is critical to the practical establishment of practical epistemic authority. Second, administrative law has long addressed the balance between legal regularity, politics, and expertise in the proper functioning of agencies. And most specifically, antitrust law is a particularly potent way of unraveling some modes of professional self-organization and standards, while promoting others. This chapter explores the role of law and political economy in shaping “battles of the experts,” as economists and coders challenge the authority of other professionals.
Keywords: professions, sociology of knowledge, political economy, law and political economy, labor, social epistemology, administrative law, antitrust, competition law, democratic theory, social studies of science, science and technology studies
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