brucekluger.com

    USA Today, August 8, 2005

    'Experts and Geniuses' want to rule your lives.
    If only we could all be so smart.

    By Bruce Kluger










    "Oh, she really shouldn't be using a pacifier this young," one warned us.

    "I think you hold her too much," said another.

    It didn't matter that most of these people were either single or childless; nor did it
    seem relevant that they had no idea what they were talking about. Their
    commentary was as persistent as it was uninvited. My wife and I secretly dubbed
    them the "Experts and Geniuses."

    It's only August, and already 2005 has become the Year of the E&Gs, as a bold,
    new wave of know-it-alls continues to pop up on the cultural landscape.

    In March, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declared Terri Schiavo's brain happily
    functional from the Senate floor, a by-the- video diagnosis that eventually brought
    into question Frist's own brain activity. A few months later, Tom Cruise began
    proselytizing about postpartum depression on national TV, without so much as a
    community college psychiatry degreeor a uterusunder his belt. Then Robert
    Novak, in the wake of his self-inflicted CIA-leak scandal, waxed philosophical about
    journalistic integrity, when his signature brand of slash-and-burn "reporting" bears
    as much resemblance to respectable journalism as I bear to Angelina Jolie.

    Even as recently as last month, E&Gs on both ends of the political spectrum were
    out in full force, spending millions of dollars on media campaigns that praised, or
    denounced, the president's nominee for the Supreme Courtbefore he was even
    nominated.

    Meanwhile, the en masse bloviating that accompanied the shuttle missionby
    commentators whose collective knowledge of air travel is limited to courtesy
    peanuts and vomit bagsbrought E&Gism to new heights.

    Of course, recklessly spouting off is nothing new. Public feet have fit comfortably
    into public mouths throughout history, dating to A.D.303, when Roman egghead
    Lactantius Firmianus declared, "The mad idea that the Earth is round is the cause
    of...imbecile legend." And now, thanks to the proliferation of blowhards on cable
    news, most Americans have learned to take uninformed windbagging with an
    economy-sized shaker of salt.

    Nonetheless, when the smarty-pants contingent jumps the fence from punditry to
    policywhen dubious, partisan opinions begin to shape the laws of our landit's
    time to worry.

    Take children's television. One of my favorite kids' shows is the whip-smart reading-
    readiness program Between the Lions, which was conceived with the help of no less
    than a dozen education and literacy experts. These scholastic bona fides have
    helped Lions become not only popular children's TV, but also a proud feather in the
    cap of PBS.

    Along comes Kenneth Tomlinson, the new White House-appointed chair of the
    Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who for reasons that have little to do with
    educational programming (and all to do with politics) decries PBS for its "deafness
    to issues of tone and balance."

    The upshot: Shortly after Tomlinson delivered his public wrist- slap, the House
    Appropriations Committee recommended slashing PBS' budget, including the
    elimination of its $23 million Ready to Learn program. The latter could relegate
    Lions (and Sesame Street, Clifford the Big Red Dog and others) to the scrap heap.
    The Senate is trying to restore the funding, but the message is clear: The future of
    educational TV lies not in the hands of real academics who know a thing or two
    about teaching kids, but in those of agenda- driven legislators who tend to behave
    more like cartoons than those who actually watch them.

    A more complicated, and nefarious, strain of the E&G phenomenon erupts when an
    expert in one field uses that clout to hold forth in another. Such was the case in July
    when Vatican bigwig Cardinal Christoph Schonborn publicly dissed Darwinism,
    effectively ratcheting up the fight over the teaching of evolution. As the archbishop
    of Vienna, Schonborn has certainly earned his theological stripes. But isn't labeling
    the foundation of modern biology "not scientific at all," as he did, somewhat outside
    the man's purview? Talk about monkey business.

    And then there's sex, a favorite topic of the E&G brigade if ever there was one.
    Since the rise of the evangelical movement in this country, I've watched in
    amazement as disinformation about sex has been disseminated as freely and
    indiscriminately as Hare Krishna pamphlets are at the local airport.

    The Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, recently launched a
    website, www.4parents.gov, to help moms and dads discuss sex with their kids. A
    noble effort, to be surewere it not for the fact that the site's only non-
    governmental source of information is the National Physicians Center for Family
    Resources. Among the NPC's more controversial stances are its roundly criticized
    assertion that breast cancer is linked to abortion and its hell-bent advocacy of
    abstinence over condom use (on its website, NPC claims that contraceptive-based
    sex education is a "prescription for continued disaster").

    In March, 150 real experts and geniusesfrom the Alan Guttmacher Institute to
    Planned Parenthoodpetitioned Health and Human Services Secretary Mike
    Leavitt to take the site down. So far, it's still up and running.

    Then again, when it comes to E&G finger-wagging about sex, I like to remember the
    (truly) expert advice of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who once said: "When the
    authorities warn you of the dangers of having sex, there is an important lesson to
    be learned: Do not have sex with the authorities."
I first made their acquaintance after
the birth of my oldest child. Out of
the woodwork they came, those well-
meaning relatives and friends who,
upon watching my wife and me care
for our new baby girl, didn't hesitate to
tell us exactly what we were doing wrong.