Conservapedia:Best of the Public
“”I've met the man on the street. He's a cunt
The "best of the public" is a cool-sounding bit of nonsense stumbled upon by Andy Schlafly during his interview with Associated Press writer Tom Breen. Stated in its whole, it is:
"The best of the public is better than a group of experts."
This idea comes on the heels of a similar trend of thought at Conservapedia. Schlafly has repeatedly extolled the virtues of homeschooling and the tea party movement in America, both initiatives that pride themselves on being divorced from professionals (in education and politics, respectively). More recently, his attempt at a bible translation eschewed linguists or theologians, preferring instead to rely on automatic internet translations and wishful thinking. So it was not a big step for Schlafly to declare on national television a newfound essential principle that the experts are usually wrong.
Schlafly immediately seized on his new "conservative insight" and began building it up, without bothering to define an "expert" or "the best of the public." This is convenient, because most people would suggest that an expert is the best of the public. But since this is someone who sees the world as a perpetual struggle of Us vs. Them, it's not surprising that he would attempt to establish it as a moral truth that the Us is always better than the Them.
Eventually, Schlafly defined an expert as someone who had "highly specialized training," which generally seems to mean academia in general - except when Schlafly wants to claim a credentialed academic as a member of the "best of the public," in which case "expert" means something that is not very specific and that he wouldn't care to define and please stop asking about it and do you support prayer in the classroom YOU LIBERAL STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!
Schlafly has not reconciled his apparent disdain for experts with example #15 on How Conservapedia differs from Wikipedia: "We do not drive away experts by pretending that some random anonymous user who just signed up is as knowledgeable and authoritative as a scholar with decades of experience in teaching or research."
Often cited by Schlafly are athletic competitions like the Olympics, the Tour de France, or public marathons. As stated on Conservapedia, "Anyone can enter, and winning is based solely on skill." He has repeatedly refused to define who the "experts" are in these competitions if not the professional athletes who enter and win them. No one else can fill in the blank on the nonsense, either, except perhaps to suggest that the legendary Jamaican bobsledding team of 1988 might fit the bill of inexpert athletes in the Olympics... which might explain why they failed to finish their event. Schlafly seems to harbor some delusion that the Olympics are an open sporting event in which unknown underdog, armed with nothing but his natural ability, can enter and win, beating professional athletes with his objective superior abilities, without needed the approval of panels of "experts". Even if this were partially true, and the Olympics were open to anyone, Schlafly seems to fail to realize that many of the events in both the Summer and Winter games are not won based on an objective, mathematical measurement such as time or distance, but on the judgment and whims of a panel of judges, who are always experts in their field.
Tim Tebow is listed as "a devout Christian dismissed by the media" despite receiving ridiculous amounts of press. The article notes that "Tebow was again rejected by the New England Patriots in favor of 'expert' quarterback Tom Brady. The team performed poorly in the first quarter of the 2013 season, with Brady playing at a mediocre level of play." In fact the New England Patriots won all of their first four games of the season. During those four games Tom Brady's quarterback rating was 87.4. While this is well below his career rating of 96.5, it is also significantly better than Tebow's career rating of 75.3. The following season Brady and the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX.
Another example given for the "best of the public" thesis is "an obscure, unsuccessful author, Herman Melville, wrote the greatest novel in English literature, Moby-Dick." Aside from the interesting and sweeping assumption that Moby-Dick is the greatest novel in English literature, it should be noted that Melville had been a successful author for years before Moby-Dick, having seen great acclaim (though little financial gain) for his earlier works of Typee, Omoo, and White-Jacket. He had also studied the classics at the prestigious Albany Academy prep school. Given that there existed no contemporary "school for novelists" (and university courses on the English novel were in their infancy) that Melville might have attended, it's hard to imagine just who the "experts" might be over whom Melville triumphed as a "best of the public." Is there more to being an expert novel-writer than writing several successful novels?
Many examples seem to suffer from the generally low level of scholarship on Conservapedia. French mathematician Évariste Galois (discoverer of breakthroughs in polynomial equations) is called "an unknown teenager." Galois, however, was enrolled at one of the most highly regarded institutions of higher learning in France, the Normale. This one mistake - big though it might be - only reflects the poor quality of Galois' article on Conservapedia, which repeats many of the most common falsehoods about Galois' life, such as the myth that he recorded most of his biggest ideas only shortly before his death.
Grigory Perelman, a Russian mathematician who proved the Poincaré Conjecture is held up as another example of a scholar refused academic recognition because of his obscure background . In fact, despite repeated urging, Perelman has refused a Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. He is reported to have said "I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me."  Schlafly also seems either unaware or doesn't care that Perelman holds the Soviet version of a Ph.D. (a Candidate of Science) and had a long personal history of mathematical skill which could possibly qualify him as something of a mathematical expert himself.
A parodist added Schlafly himself to the best of the public article, citing the Lenski affair. Rather than banning for obvious parody, Andy enthusiastically endorsed this edit, believing he actually came out ahead in the incident. The parodist later came clean and was banned, but the example he added remains.
When non-experts produce disagreeable opinions
It is well to keep in mind that this "best of the public" approach is only considered valid by Conservapedians when the best of the public agrees with them politically. For example, one of the few people to which a good case of being Best of the Public could be made, Albert Einstein, is curiously absent from Schlafly's list. Though Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity not while working at a major university, but rather at a patent office, and this theory is considered one of the greatest scientific ideas of the 20th century, it is at odds with Schlafly's worldview. Therefore, Einstein is given the "inferior" epithet of "expert". Furthermore, when it was pointed out to Mr. Schlafly that Albert Einstein did not believe (as Mr. Schlafly does) that the theory of relativity encourages moral relativism, Mr. Schlafly responded by citing Prof. Einstein's lack of expertise in religion and politics.
Not entirely wrong
As a general idea, "the best of the public" isn't wrong on the surface. Unforeseen insight and new ideas can come from any place and any person at any time. As such, "the best of the public" approach is correct in reprimanding people for dismissing new ideas on the basis of "lack of expertise", without testing the idea itself. Where Schlafly and Conservapedia fail is that apparently in their eyes, anything anybody ever says that disagrees with the experts must be automatically correct, and the expert opinion must automatically be wrong, also without ever testing whether or not this new idea is valid or not.
In political terms, Conservapedia attempts to replace a perceived Oligarchy in science and art with a Mobocracy, in which a single person counts as a mob, without ever considering that a Meritocracy would also allow for that single person to demonstrate the worth of his idea and not dismiss already established and useful knowledge out of hand.
- Blessed Are the Conservative in Bible Translation - ABC News
- Stars of the hit movie Cool Runnings! Not in theatres!
- Figured using Tom Brady's statistics for the first four games of the NFL season. Available at NFL.com.
- Which may not be an unwarranted assumption but shouldn't be taken so glibly as a certainty.
- Russian maths genius Perelman urged to take $1m prize BBC News, 24 March 2010