Cameron Rose: Lack of critical thinking is the biggest scandal

WE must learn to question so-called experts as their wisdom continues to prove unreliable, says Cameron Rose

Tuesday, 19th April 2016, 11:54 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th April 2016, 12:55 pm
Turns out obesity is more complicated than previous advice suggests. File picture: comp

WE have been learning since January that Edinburgh school buildings are not as safe as we thought. Seventeen have been found to have faults which just shouldn’t have been there. Blissfully unaware of the risk, we assumed that checks by experts would have ensured they were safe. But the experts don’t always deserve trust.

Take what we have learned recently about a healthy diet. You would expect the government to have the best access to expert advice. For years, certain types of fat have been demonised as causing obesity and heart disease in its official advice. Yet many scientists now think it is not as simple as that and that the advice was wrong. Note that. A generation of official government health advice wrong. We have been misled for a generation.

And whilst on the subject of health, a word about obesity. Until a few weeks ago I knew no better than to believe the nonsense that obesity is on course for a catastrophic rise. That was until I checked the UK government report published this year and found the levels of adult obesity in England have not risen for ten years. The Scottish figures, less easy to get, seem to be similar. Beware the experts who hide things which might dilute their chosen message.

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Then there are those who have rammed home the message that oil and gas resources are in imminent danger of running out. Yet the price collapsed for the opposite reason, falling 60-70 per cent in the last two years. Far from running out, the world is awash with untold quantities of them. And so we benefit from the falling cost of running our cars or our boilers – contrary to the widespread predictions of economic experts.

The same can be said about the economic predictions of employment rates – where most economists have been proved wrong as unemployment has plunged beyond expectation. In Edinburgh, the rate plunged by 40 per cent last year alone.

One of the most notorious and colourful Edinburgh characters was a man called John Law who, 300 years ago this year, persuaded the French government to take his advice in setting up a bank and colonial scheme. Later it became known as the Mississippi Bubble. There was a frenzy of the great and the good who flocked to invest in the scheme which turned out to be a fiasco for the heavily-in-debt French government and all the investors. Our fellow Edinburgher, a notorious gambler himself, shouldered the blame and went from riches to rags overnight.

Then I received an e-mail from a professor who must remain nameless. I fear he had forgotten that I was the one councillor in his lengthy mailing list. For he lambasted politicians – and especially councillors – as being short on intelligence and particularly the ability to pick through evidence in order take the decisions they are elected to take. Actually, his criticism was much worse than that but I’m censoring the rest. Perhaps he had forgotten that I would read it. But I agree he has a point.

But I blame education, which takes us back to where we began – schools. Good buildings are just the start. We need an education which teaches our children to think critically. Then they will at least have a fighting chance of recognising right from wrong, expert advice from prejudice, and realistic predictions from wishful thinking. Then my professor friend might get better politicians.

A bigger scandal than safety in education is the failure to teach critical thinking.

• Cameron Rose is Tory councillor for the Southside/Newington ward