In response to the spread of COVID-19, political leaders around the world have adopted draconian measures to lock down economies and enforce ‘social distancing’. These measures were taken on the advice of ‘experts’ who based their prescriptions on constantly revised predictive computer models, which are themselves based on incomplete data on the spread and deadliness of the disease. But models by their nature tend to discount opportunity costs and unintended consequences from their calculations.
Time will tell how sage the drastic measures will turn out to have been. Are experts, imperfect as they are, our only hope? Or is over-specialism a danger to governance in line with the apothegm “the expert knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing?” In times of crisis, do frailties in the democratic process allow these unelected figures too much influence over fundamental political and civil rights? Even if they address a threat judiciously, is there a danger that leaders will exploit naive experts for political purposes, as journalist H.L. Mencken warned when he stated that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins.”
Hestia 2021 is not a conference about COVID-19 per se, but the current situation offers a timely opportunity to examine the role of experts and specialists in society, and to contemplate the effectiveness of the institutions that they populate, and which affect our societies and the lives of citizens deeply. We invite applicants to address the role of expertise as it applies to any pertinent contemporary issues.