23 March, 2010

Factual Credibility and Moral Expertise

Sam Harris TED Talk, “Science can answer moral questions” is eloquent to the ninth degree. He interweaves logical argument, irrefutable examples, and just enough humour so as not to appear arrogant or glib… what a delightful inspirational talk to watch over my early morning tea.

The real crux of his presentation occurs around sixteen minutes into his talk. He argues that in most scientific fields, we only listen to those scientists that posses credibility. Mr. Harris then says the following,

“Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise. That is what it is to have knowledge count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere there is no such thing as moral expertise? Or, moral talent? Or, moral genius? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering?”

This talk made me reflect over the last months of media coverage of political conservative dissidents and crazed Tea Party protesters in the battle to pass the US health care reform bill. I wonder how much of the essential good of the original bill (e.g. public option) had to be dismissed because too many voices lacking in factual clarity or moral expertise were heard. Why were these people given any credibility or such a large degree of coverage?


  1. If you can answer that question I would be happy to hear the answer. I guess it boils down to laziness amoung the journalists plus being more interested in being entertainers than in being fact gatherers. Why, for example did they wait until the bill passed to tell the public what was in it? Why didn't they point out the lies and distortion being spread by this bill. Why when they interview someone who is spewing garbage do they sit there smiling instead of calling them out?

  2. Darlene, I think they were reporting the facts, it is just that giving credibility and newspaper space to all the idiots made it hard to find the facts.

  3. Good question... a lot boils down to 'freedom of speech'.