Congressional witness testimony serves a valuable and important part of our political process. Members of Congress are not experts on every topic; having members of the public that they can call upon for advice, in both official and informal capacity will help the policymaking process. Unfortunately, an industry of “expert witnesses” has cropped up who get called upon over and over to push ideology over expertise — merely telling members of Congress what they want to hear while overextending themselves beyond their actual areas of expertise.
Take a look at groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jobs for Justice, Everytown for Gun Safety, and more. Individual academics and experts across the country also fall into this category. While they purport to be experts on various causes – public health, grassroots activism, economics, gun safety, for example – they’re advocacy groups whose contribution to legislators is not their expertise, but their ideology dressed up as expertise.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, for example, sent experts up to Capitol Hill for testimony twice in two weeks last summer, both times advocating for government-mandated label laws – but in very different areas: calorie counts on menus, and biotechnology labeling for agriculture. The organization looks less like a public science expert group and more like ideological advocates for government health and agricultural mandates.
This goes for many of these groups. The Union of Concerned Scientists is a frequent guest on Capitol Hill even as they have been organizing behind closed doors to assist Democrats in harassing nonprofits for the sake of “climate change.” Temporary and hastily-assembled union front groups are mainstays of any labor fight under the guise of the “grassroots.” Everytown for Gun Safety have been go-to experts for anti-gun legislators and media everywhere from Wisconsin to Oregon to the federal level, on issues from background checks to the Violence Against Women Act. The Southern Poverty Law Center is called on by Democrats as “experts” over and over and over again, on foreign policy and immigration policy, despite acknowledging their ideological biases against covering the “extreme Left”.
And it’s not just organizations: there are individuals who benefit from the expert-legislator complex as well. Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University is the go-to “expert” when anything having to do with the Earth’s climate is involved. He’s still treated like a disinterested expert rather than an ideological activist – despite being so steeped in progressivism that he’s someone who helped shape the official platform of the Democratic Party. Mann’s bogus defamation lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review is still ongoing.
It’s happening currently in North Carolina with a government scientist named Ken Rudo. He’s been insisting, against the weight of scientific evidence and the statements of public health officials (including his own boss, Dr. Randall Williams) that there’s something wrong with the water in the aftermath of a spill last year. But Rudo is no disinterested expert: he’s an activist with over twenty years of experience in using his “expert” status as a cover for his activism. Rudo has been described as a “public servant” by ingenuous media, even while the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services disputes its own employee’s statements. This isn’t a case of a cover-up: it’s a case of a rogue government employee whose activism has landed him in hot water, and Rudo is trying to preserve his reputation by reasoning that he is “speaking truth to power.”
The practice of leaning on expert witnesses is common in politics and can be useful when properly administered — but the way that it has evolved in practice is troubling. Politicians have moved from merely calling on experts to provide context to relying on activists who cloak their ideology in credentials. What’s important is to be able to identify the organizations and individuals – groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and people like Michael Mann and Ken Rudo — whose histories are those of activists, not experts.