NEWS & ANALYSIS

Enough with the pseudo-experts

John Kane-Berman says Trump's victory represented a profound rejection of celebrity political endorsements

American voters spurn celebrity "experts"

Donald Trump's election to the American presidency not only confounded pollsters and freaked out the media, it also made fools of some of the film stars who strut the global political stage. These worthy personages seem to operate on the assumption that being a celebrity automatically confers upon them a special wisdom not bestowed upon lesser mortals, such as voters.

The same applies to rock stars and others who rail against global poverty or inequality, while often earning more money than even the most overpaid chief executive of a global company. For several years now some of the stars of the entertainment world have been showing up at Davos in Switzerland with the said chief executives and various politicians, all of them basking in the limelight of the mutual admiration society they call the "World Economic Forum".   

In announcing how they themselves intend to vote, these film and pop stars seem to take it for granted that the fans of their acting or their music will also be fans of their ideological and political viewpoints.  

Step forward Leonardo DiCaprio. Two months ago he showed up on the White House lawn with President Barrack Obama to call for mobilisation against rising global temperatures. Described in the media as a "vocal Democrat", Mr DiCaprio went on to suggest blacklisting Donald Trump." If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in factual science, and therefore in my humble [sic] opinion you should not be allowed to be in public office."

One of the roles Mr DiCaprio is acting out here is that of Senator Joe McCarthy. In the 1950s the senator's anti-communist crusade got screenwriters and many other people in Hollywood blacklisted by some of the big studios.  

Nor is Mr DiCaprio alone among climate change evangelists in seeking to silence critics rather than refute their arguments. Keith Bryer, a journalist who frequently criticises "climate change alarmists", reported earlier this year that 17 public prosecutors in the US had decided to investigate companies challenging "the climate change religion". One of them suggested that companies which "lied" about climate change might be guilty of "fraud".

One has only to peruse the correspondence columns of newspapers in South Africa to see other examples of the intolerance Mr DiCaprio typifies. In response to Mr Bryer's article in Business Report, one Zoachim Zimmer wrote in from Cape Town making clear his own desire for "legislation forbidding the spread of false information about climate change".

"The question remains," wrote Mr Zimmer, "Should there be freedom of speech for the merchants of doubt? What would George Orwell say?" What indeed?!

When BusinessDay published an article in March 2016 querying some of the climate change theories, one Kim Coetzee wrote in to say how "appalling" it was that the article appeared without the equivalent of a health warning to protect the readers. And when the Institute of Race Relations published an article questioning some of the theories, we faced demands to "balance the books by publishing the majority view at the very next opportunity" so as not to "give a misleading impression to your readers".

The other ploy used by climate change evangelists is to insist that the only people entitled to question their position are those possessed of the necessary technical expertise and who have had their work "peer-reviewed". Carry that argument to its logical conclusion, and nobody except those with degrees in politics or economics will be entitled to vote.  

The argument is cynical and hypocritical. If they are to be heard at all, climate change "denialists" - the word is intended to conjure up images of "Holocaust denialists" - must be recognised "experts". But the evangelists have no hesitation in roping in support for their viewpoint from every film star, cleric, or other big name whose only discernible qualification to pontificate about the climate is that they are more famous than the rest of us.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think-tank promoting political and economic freedom.