Difference between revisions of "Best of the public"

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(Intellectual examples: Alexander Hamilton, the most intellectually productive of the Founding Fathers, was abandoned by his father, orphaned by the premature death of his mother, and then)
(Intellectual examples: Hamilton was was stigmatized due to his social background and excluded from the local British school for it.)
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*[[Ronald Coase]], an originally obscure economist, developed the now-accepted [[Coase theorem]] despite nearly unanimous rejection and opposition by experts
*[[Ronald Coase]], an originally obscure economist, developed the now-accepted [[Coase theorem]] despite nearly unanimous rejection and opposition by experts
*[[Evariste Galois]], an unknown teenager, developed [[group theory]] and it took the mathematical experts a century to appreciate it
*[[Evariste Galois]], an unknown teenager, developed [[group theory]] and it took the mathematical experts a century to appreciate it
*[[Alexander Hamilton]], the most intellectually productive of the [[Founding Fathers]], was abandoned by his father, orphaned by the premature death of his mother, and then orphaned again by the suicide of his adopted father; he was also excluded from the local British school due to his heritage, and [[Princeton University]] rejected him also.  
*[[Alexander Hamilton]], the most intellectually productive of the [[Founding Fathers]], was abandoned by his father, orphaned by the premature death of his mother, and then orphaned again by the suicide of his adopted father; he was stigmatized due to his social background and excluded from the local British school for it.  
*the principle of trial by a jury of one's peers
*the principle of trial by a jury of one's peers
*letters to the editor
*letters to the editor

Revision as of 00:40, 23 July 2010

The "best of the public" is an approach to education, scholarship, and biblical translation that was coined during an interview of Conservapedia and first published on December 3, 2009:[1]

The best of the public is better than a group of experts.

The concept then became a topic of discussion in the interview of Conservapedia on the Colbert Report on December 8, 2009.[2] In early February 2010, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas implicitly endorsed the concept of the "best of the public" with this response to a question by a state college student:[3]

I think there are smart kids a lot of places. ... [T]here is a bias. If you look at smart bloggers — or self-proclaimed smart bloggers — they referred to my clerks last year as TTT — 'third tier trash.' That's the attitude that you're up against.

Another way of expressing this concept is that "extraordinary achievements are attained by ordinary people."

The enigmatic Christian term the "Son of man" embodies how inspiration comes from the ostensibly ordinary rather than the esteemed experts. Most prophets were also ordinary men.


The Conservative Bible Project may be the first to adopt the "best of the public" approach for a scholarly project. Other examples of approaches using the "best of the public" include:

Intellectual examples

  • the earliest Gospel was likely written by a non-Apostle who witnessed the events as a young boy
  • the Epistle to the Hebrews was written by an anonymous individual, yet its intellectual force is at the highest level
  • the Apostles
  • pamphleting, as in Common Sense
  • the solution of one of the greatest unsolved problem of our time, the Poincaré conjecture (see below)
  • Ronald Coase, an originally obscure economist, developed the now-accepted Coase theorem despite nearly unanimous rejection and opposition by experts
  • Evariste Galois, an unknown teenager, developed group theory and it took the mathematical experts a century to appreciate it
  • Alexander Hamilton, the most intellectually productive of the Founding Fathers, was abandoned by his father, orphaned by the premature death of his mother, and then orphaned again by the suicide of his adopted father; he was stigmatized due to his social background and excluded from the local British school for it.
  • the principle of trial by a jury of one's peers
  • letters to the editor
  • the design of Vietnam War Memorial (competition won by a college student, featuring ordinary soldiers)
  • the design of the St. Louis Arch (competition won by an unknown architect, featuring openness)
  • an obscure, unsuccessful author, Herman Melville, wrote the greatest novel in English literature, Moby-Dick
  • an unknown and possibly uneducated playwright, William Shakespeare, produced the greatest plays ever
  • The Constitution of the United States of America. The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, chose to eschew the idea of "expert" hereditary nobility, but were also wary of the mob rule that could result with pure democracy; thus, they chose a democratic republic instead.
  • The Electoral College was intended to be composed of the best of the public, who would judge who was best qualified to be President.
  • Conservapedia posted errors and flaws in a pro-evolution article by Professor Richard Lenski (published after a mere 14-day peer review), but PNAS refused to correct the errors and Lenski responded with petulant rants insisting his critic lacked "expertise".
  • design of the distinctive Coca-Cola glass bottle, which resulted from a public contest in 1915.
  • Internet blogs. Anyone can start a blog, and readers read the best blog posts. Such blogs have been responsible for breaking crucial news stories well before the "experts" of the traditional media--for example, the Monica Lewinsky story and Rathergate
  • Layman Allen devised games like "WFF 'n proof" and Equations which reduced absenteeism, increased math achievement and achieved voluntary integration in the segregated Chicago school system. [5]

Moral examples

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus
  • Stephen, the first martyr
  • Prophets in the Old Testament
  • Lenny Skutnik, the Mississippi native who dove into the icy Potomac River to rescue passengers from the crashed airplane on Jan. 13, 1982.[4]
  • A Grand Jury takes the best of the public to decide the fate of the accused so that individuals receive a fair judgement according to the law.

Political and legal examples

  • William Penn's approach to colonial Pennsylvania, which even advertised to attract hard-working settlers of all ethnicity and religious beliefs; as a result Philadelphia quickly became the most prosperous and highly populated city in colonial America
  • Ronald Reagan embraced and embodied the best of the public in his speeches and political philosophy, and personified it by his own political ascendancy outside of the party establishment
  • the recall of the governor, the attorney general, and another top official in North Dakota in 1921 -- who were corrupt politicians devoted to state ownership of industry -- was organized and achieved by someone who never held public office[5]
  • the "common law" developed over centuries based on many day-to-day judicial decisions, relying on logic, custom and precedent, and such law was considered better than a statute drafted by one or a few experts

Musical examples

  • "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the only significant song by Julia Ward Howe, written in the dark during a pre-dawn inspiration
  • "I Can See Clearly Now," a massive one-hit wonder by Johnny Nash in 1972
  • "American Pie," the only hit by Don McLean, one of the most thoughtful ballads to top the charts for several weeks
  • "You Light Up My Life," the only hit by Debbie Boone, was a tribute to God that topped the charts for many weeks
  • "Sunshine" (1971), which was not only a one-hit wonder by Jonathan Edwards, but it was included in his album only because a preferred song had been accidentally erased.[6]
  • "Ice Ice Baby" was the "B-side" filler panned by "experts" which became a massive hit because a disc jockey played it by chance; allegedly written by Vanilla Ice when he was 16[7]
  • American Idol
  • "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the United States
(add more one-hit wonders)


Anyone can enter, and winning is based solely on skill.



  • Dick Fosbury invented the Fosbury Flop despite criticism by all the experts. He won the 1968 Gold Medal with it, and now all imitate it.
  • Bob Beamon, an obscure 22-year-old long jumper who barely qualified for the 1968 Olympic finals after fouling out on most attempts, then broke the world record by nearly two feet. In the preceding 30 years, the world record for the long jump had increases by only about 8 inches.[10]
  • An unsuccessful Olympian, the medical student Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier for the mile, which some experts considered impossible; now the record is 3:43.
  • A little-known pitcher, Don Larsen, threw the only perfect game in World Series history (Game 5, 1956)
  • David, a boy of slight build, defeated the most feared warrior of all time, the mammoth Goliath
  • Kurt Warner, one of the greatest football quarterbacks,[11] was originally cut by the Green Bay Packers, denied a tryout by the Chicago Bears, and ultimately only given a chance due to another player's injury.
  • Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback of all time,[12] was given a chance at the NFL only after the experts had chosen 198 other players ahead of him in the 2000 NFL draft. He got to play only when Drew Bledsoe, chosen first by the experts in the 1993 draft, was injured.
(add more)

Science and technology

  • the greatest river engineer ever, James B. Eads, lacked any formal education and his revolutionary successes (such as the Eads Bridge) were opposed by leading experts[13]
  • perhaps the greatest health program of the 20th century, using a new term he coined for his program ("aerobics"), was developed by military physician Kenneth Cooper outside of a major medical research facility
  • "Moldy" Mary Hunt, a low-level lab worker, used a rotten cantaloupe to facilitate the first mass production of penicillin.[14]
  • the free software movement and its ongoing development of the Linux operating system
  • the development of a heavier-than-air, fixed wing aircraft by the Wright brothers, despite opposition and mockery by aviation "experts."
  • Henry Ford's mass-production techniques, which turned automobiles from a curiosity into the backbone of American industry despite Ford's lack of formal education.
  • the investigation of the Challenger Disaster by maverick physicist Richard Feynman
  • Steve Wozniak developed the first popular personal computer from a garage-based operation
  • Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most well known designers in history, yet was illiterate in Latin, and never attended a university.
  • distributed computing projects such as Folding@home that combine the computing power of hundreds of thousands of standard home PCs to solve computationally intense problems.
  • the intelligent design theory explaining the origins of our universe.
  • Tired of being denied a voice in the elite liberal media, Conservative media finds its voice and is widely popular; FOX News, Drudge Report, Breitbart.com, NewsMax, National Review, Worldnetdaily.com.
  • New astronomical discoveries are regularly reported by amateur astronomers, to then be published by "experts", advancing their careers in the process.

Exploration and discovery

  • Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, despite near-unanimous expert opinion that his first voyage was doomed to failure. On his second voyage, he successfully returned to the same place he had previously reached, despite the limited navigational skills of the experts of the time.

Obstacles Created by Experts

Experts have self-interest in defending their theories, even if incorrect, and in perpetuating the system that has rewarded and applauded them. Some experts receive prodigious sums by promoting theories that are false or implausible, either in the media or in courtrooms.

Most experts reasonably fear loss in grants, compensation or awards if they take a position disfavored by liberals.


One expert said about the revolutionary design of the Eads bridge to transport heavy ships by railroad over the Mississippi River:[13]

I deem it entirely unsafe and impracticable.

The Eads bridge continues to stand to this day.[15]

The Best of the Public and the Invisible Hand

The concept of best of the public was first articulated on Conservapedia, although the effects have been observed by many great thinkers over the years. In a free society where the best of the public is allowed the latitude to excel, benefits accrue on many levels. Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, observed this principle in effect; in his book The Wealth of Nations, he described how the best of the public, when given the freedom to generate wealth, could generate a net beneficial and uplifting effect that goes beyond their individual enterprises. Smith called this the "Invisible Hand." However, he confined his observations to the sphere of economics, whereas the "Best of the Public" principle operates on many different levels.

Marriage and family, for example, serve as an illustration of the principle in the social arena. When marriage is allowed to function without government interference and misguided attempts at social engineering, the result is strong families; the best of the public raise children of superior virtue and character, who in turn grow up to pass those values on to their children. This, in turn, leads to a net positive effect on society known as the Invisible Hand of Marriage.

The same uplifting principle can be seen in any situation in which the best of the public is allowed to freely function and attain its potential. Events like the Olympics and the Tour de France permit the best of the public to strive on a physical level, resulting in many new record-breaking performances. While the principle has seldom (as of yet) been applied to academic endeavors, the Conservative Bible Project demonstrates the benefits that can result.

Opposition to the Best of the Public

Government restrictions

History demonstrates that the best of the public can only thrive in a free society. The cream cannot rise to the top if it is weighted down; eagles cannot soar if they are shackled by an oppressive government. This understanding is at the heart of conservative wisdom.

For example: it is only in a free market economy that the best of the public will be truly free to drive innovation, develop new technologies, and generate new wealth. In an overly-regulated economy, the incentive to excel is greatly reduced. Innovation is replaced by stagnation, and achievement by mediocrity.

Elite gatekeepers

Likewise, in an academic environment in which elite "experts" serve as gatekeepers, truly innovative research is frequently squelched in favor of orthodoxy and blind consensus. The chilling effect "scientific experts" can have on honest research was clearly demonstrated by the Climategate scandal. Even when such "experts" do not actively conspire to suppress dissent, their use of expertise and consensus as a bully pulpit can still silence opposing (and possibly correct) viewpoints.


It is important to note the difference between "Best of the Public" and "mob rule." Simply allowing the loudest or most numerous voices to prevail is not the same thing as allowing the best of the public to drive achievement. Sites such as Wikipedia operate on the principle of mob rule, and as a result, are plagued with bias, inaccuracy, and an inability to differentiate between significant insights and trivia.

One of the most pointed illustrations of this difference is the United States itself. The Founding Fathers, despite not naming it, applied the "Best of the Public" principle in their attempts to craft a new government. Realizing the danger of mob rule, they rejected a pure democracy in favor of a democratic Republic--a system designed to ensure that, while all of the public would have a voice in their new government, the best of the public would guide that government as elected representatives. In so doing, they clearly affirmed that they believed the best of the public was better than a group of experts; in contrast, the nations of Europe still firmly subscribed to the notion that government should be in the hands of elite "experts" (the ruling families and nobility.)


The "best of the public" must be able to be heard. There are millions of books published, and even more books self-published without approval of traditional publishing houses. Many authors protest[16][17] that this is the greatest problem with modern publishing.

Experts versus the Best of the Public

Some confusion may exist over the difference between an "expert" and the "best of the public." The primary difference lies in the manner in which expertise is obtained. Most "experts" undergo highly specialized training, and in the process, become immersed in a sub-culture of like experts. This always carries the danger of groupthink and the pressure to conform. Also, academic credentialing consists almost entirely of repeating what professors say, rather than criticizing their errors.[18]

For instance, someone interested in obtaining a job in the field of climate science (whom we shall refer to as "Student A") would likely pursue a degree at an established university. In so doing, he would be immersed in the academic subculture of researchers and professors who have already obtained their degrees in that field. He would be subjected to their political views, preconceptions, and biases, and would likely find that these were presented as facts and as an integral part of the subject. Any questioning or dissent on his part might be harshly punished. Ultimately, he would be faced with a difficult choice: abandon his desire to be an accredited expert in that field, dishonestly pretend to believe in the questionable claims of his superiors, or convince himself that those claims were, in fact, the truth.

On the other hand, someone interested in learning about climate science, but not interested in becoming a credentialed expert (we'll call him "Student B,") would likely study a diverse variety of sources. Not confined to the insular and clannish academic subculture, he would speak with a wider range of people, and be exposed to a wider range of viewpoints. This would, in all probability, cause him to examine the claims of the experts with a more critical eye. Ultimately, his studies would not gain him a degree or the official imprimatur of the scientific community, but his understanding of climate science would very likely be more rounded and complete than that of Student A. He very well might disagree with the experts' point of view; at the very least, he would have a much better knowledge of its shortcomings.

A traditional, expert-dominated inquiry would dismiss the contributions of Student B, since he has not an "expert" - he has not received the official approval of the gatekeepers. A "best of the public" approach would accept the contributions of both Student A and Student B, since they are both members of the public. However, it would not place Student A's contributions on a pedestal and make them sacrosanct and immune to questioning. Student B would be free to bring in HIS expertise as well; as a result, the ensuing discussion would be much less one-sided and more comprehensive, and thus far more likely to result in accurate and truthful insights. Perhaps many ideas coming from people like Student B would be wrong, unprofitable, and therefore rightly rejected; the "best of the public" approach recognizes that not all ideas from the public are better than those of experts. However, it is very likely that some ideas from people like Student B will be true and helpful. This is the difference between the two approaches: such ideas will be heard under the "best of the public" method.

Solution of the Poincaré Conjecture

The solution to the Poincaré conjecture, one of the greatest unsolved math problems of the 20th century, was by the little-known Gregori Perelman who worked on his own and merely posted his solution on the internet. He had never been offered a permanent job and was critical of the lack of openness among mathematical experts as he described a rare exception:[19]

He actually told me a couple of things that he published a few years later. He did not hesitate to tell me. Hamilton's openness and generosity—it really attracted me. I can't say that most mathematicians act like that.

At great monetary sacrifice, Perelman refused to accept the awards conferred on him by experts after they eventually recognized the brilliance of his proof. A leading expert was accused of improperly trying to take credit for Perelman's work.

The Steklov Institute apparently declined to re-elect Perelman as a member in 2003, supposedly because the experts continued to doubt his proof. Reportedly Perelman has quit mathematics and was "jobless, living with his mother in St. Petersburg, and subsisting on her modest pension." He was quoted as saying:[20]

I can't say I'm outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest. ... It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated.


  1. Tom Breen. Blessed are the conservative in Bible translation, Yahoo! News, December 03, 2009.
  2. The Colbert Report Videos: Andy Schlafly, ColbertNation.com, December 08, 2009.
  3. http://abovethelaw.com/2010/02/clarence_thomas_rejects_ttt_label_for_his_law_clerks.php
  4. "I wasn't a hero," Lenny Skutnik said. "I was just someone who helped another human being. We're surrounded by heroes. What made this different was that it was caught on film and went all over the world." [1]
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/23/opinion/recalling-the-first-recall.html?pagewanted=1
  6. here was a song on the album called ‘Please Find Me,’ and for some reason the engineer rolled over it. It got erased. We spent hours looking for it. We fired the engineer and put ‘Sunshine’ in its place.” [2]
  7. "There's just something about the way its hook — a sample from Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure — grabs you and flings you out onto the dance floor." [3]
  8. Since 1990 there has been a qualifying requirement of reasonable success at a prior event.
  9. In the 1920s it was open to all; now there is a qualifying process for teams.
  10. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/summer-olympics-bob-beamon.html
  11. Warner is the only quarterback who has led two different, hapless teams to three Super Bowls.
  12. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=smith_michael&id=2646827
  13. 13.0 13.1 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eads/peopleevents/p_jbeads.html
  14. "Then, in 1943, Mary Hunt, a lab worker in Peoria, Illinois brought in a cantaloupe melon. It was said to have been infected with a 'pretty, golden mould'. This mould was 'Penicillium chrysogeum'. It yielded about 200 times as much penicillin as Fleming's mould. Florey used x-rays to mutate the mould, which eventually gave 1000 times the yield of penicillin from the original." [4]
  15. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eads/sfeature/sf_footage.html
  16. Paul Biba. Self-publishing, E-books, and Legitimacy: Part 3 of a series, teleread.org, September 18th, 2009.
  17. "Prime Palaver #6", Eric Flint
  18. See, e.g., the movie "Dark Matter" for a candid portrayal of academic credentialing.
  19. Grigory Perelman Biography (emphasis added), Encyclopedia of World Biography.
  20. Mike Ciavarella. Perelman limit case: not a single paper, refuse the Field medal, refuse reviewers, imechanica.org, June 17, 2008.

See also