Shopping for experts

Synthese 200 (3):1-21 (2022)
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This paper explores the socio-epistemic practice of shopping for experts. I argue that expert shopping is particularly likely to occur on what Thi Nguyen calls cognitive islands. To support my argument, I focus on macroeconomics. First, I make a prima-facie case for thinking that macroeconomics is a cognitive island. Then, I argue that ordinary people are particularly likely to engage in expert shopping when it comes to macroeconomic matters. In particular, I distinguish between two kinds of expert shopping, which I call cynical and wishful, and introduce the notion of assisted expert shopping, which occurs when people or organizations shop for experts on behalf of other people. I argue that assisted expert shopping can sometime result in what I call a propagandistic use of expertise. Finally, I critically examine some possible reasons for optimism and find them wanting. I conclude by suggesting that that much of what I said about shopping for macroeconomic experts might also apply mutatis mutandis to other policy-relevant domains of expertise.

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Gabriele Contessa
Carleton University


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