Parliamentary Budget Office

“I’m Not An Expert”

A number of American media commentators have recently taken aim at the fallacy of the “I’m not a scientist” argument. “I’m not a scientist” is an increasingly popular statement from American politicians who don’t believe in climate change. Whenever these politicians are presented with evidence that suggests climate change is real, they say “I’m not a scientist”, and think that excuses them from commenting on the evidence that contradicts their position. But, as several commentators have pointed out, it’s not acceptable for politicians who make legislative decisions on climate change to not be informed about it – and they don’t have to be scientists to do that. Politicians don’t have to be experts on everything, and they shouldn’t be expected to, but they do have the responsibility to know something about the issues they vote on.

North of the border, we in Canada now seem to have our own version of the “I’m not a scientist” argument. It’s the “I’m not an expert” reasoning. The “I’m not an expert” reasoning tends to arise whenever a member of the Conservative federal government uses questionable information, and then claims that the information must be accurate because it came from “experts”.

A few weeks ago, Finance Minister Joe Oliver used this reasoning while testifying at Canada’s House of Commons Finance Committee. At the Finance Committee meeting, he was asked about (more…)