The typical parenting expert, like experts in other fields, is prone to sound exceedingly sure of himself. An expert doesn’t so much argue the various sides of an issue as plant his flag firmly on one side. That’s because an expert whose argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn’t get much attention. An expert must be bold if he hopes to alchemize his homespun theory into conventional wisdom. His best chance of doing so is to engage the public’s emotions, for emotion is the enemy of rational argument. And as emotions go, one of them—fear—is more potent than the rest. The superpredator, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, mad-cow disease, crib death: how can we fail to heed the expert’s advice on these horrors when, like that mean uncle telling too-scary stories to too-young children, he has reduced us to quivers?
Steven D. Levitt