Looking at things very carefully and for very long periods of time is the mark of an expert, a specialist in the things which are being studied. It can provide very useful science and very useful information. So much so that in almost every field of human endeavour the expert rules. Governments and large corporations hire experts to tell them what to do. It is an unusual government or corporation that will not follow the expert advice. In that sense experts become the decision makers, not the elected government or the elected board of directors. Presumably an expert would give the same advice regardless of which elected government employed him or her, and the expert would give the same advice regardless of which company or board of directors employed her or him.
This is a problem. It is a problem of accountability and a problem of expertise.
An expert is accountable to no one except the discipline in which the expert has expertise. It is right and proper that when you are ill an expert, such as a doctor should provide advice, and right and proper that an expert in a particular field should provide advice to a government. It is not right and proper to consider that advice, that expertise as sacrosanct. Familiarity breeds inflexibility. Expertise, in order to be valuable requires common sense. Common sense is not a matter of expertise; an expert may or may not have common sense, but blindly following expert advice does mean that you are blindly assuming that the expert has better common sense than someone who is not an expert. You have to understand that looking at something for too long means that you see less of what you are looking at, not more, and you see less clearly.
The other problem of expertise is one of specialism. Very few problems ever revolve around one discrete discipline, but overlap into many disciplines. If you visit a physician with a complaint, that physician will recommend a cure that he or she knows best. If you visit a surgeon with the same complaint, the surgeon, being an expert in surgery, will recommend a particular operation of which that surgeon has expertise. Visit a different surgeon, then your new surgeon may have expertise in another kind of operation, and will inevitably recommend that different procedure.
So while expertise is important it seems to me that it has become too important. Too many institutions rely on expertise, when they should be relying on common sense. It is particularly important with the justice system. If you are tried by a single judge, that judge sees you as just another person brought to court for trial. The judge has seen many people brought to court for trial. Your case is dealt with as a process, rather than as a way of discovering justice.
If you are tried by a jury, you are tried by twelve ordinary people. For them sitting in court and listening to your case is an unusual experience. They are not experts, but people who see you as a human being, not just as another person brought to court. They will use their experience of life, not their experience of court proceedings, to decide whether you are innocent or guilty. That is a most valuable experience and one necessary to punish the wrongdoer and free the innocent.
Justice is not a process; if it were there would be no need for trials; a judge could decide cases on the basis of written evidence. Yet in so many cases the form becomes all important while the substance falls by the wayside. Sometimes I think that this is what many involved in the justice system want. It would be easier to dispose of cases like that; everyone charged would be guilty and there would be a huge saving in public expense of trials, especially jury trials. This position has virtually already arisen, with magistrates’ courts, parking appeal tribunals, and a whole host of other bodies designed to punish, regardless of whether they punish the wrongdoer or not.