This article appears in the Witness section of the Autumn 2016 issue of the New Humanist, along with other pieces examining the impact of the Brexit vote. Subscribe today.

The ease with which outright lies and half-truths thrived during the referendum debate was demoralising. Rational analyses and the opinions of relevant experts were tossed aside frighteningly easily in political debates and the media. What went wrong?

Post-match analysis from Remainers has focused on how the emotional clarity of the Leave campaign overwhelmed their own dry facts about the economy. That’s true to an extent but when it comes to nuance I don’t think either side has much to be proud of. The most visible offenders were the Leave campaign; the big red factchecker-goading bus declaring that “£350m a week” would be available for the NHS. But the Remain campaign opted for a shock-and-awe approach to communicating the dangers of Brexit which seemed, if anything, to backfire.

Clearly, academics need to get better at speaking in human. Particularly in science, increasing specialisation and the rise of academic jargon can stop researchers playing a full role in public debate. Those communicating expertise need to take the time to understand people’s underlying values and concerns, which requires humility – and more, not less, trust in people – something that not enough academics or academic institutions have.

We can defend the value of knowledge and the scientific process without separating those things from ordinary life. Presenting “the experts” as a group somehow opposed to “the people” is the logic of populism. Well-meaning experts fall into that trap as easily as cynical politicians. Michael Gove’s comment that “people have had enough of experts” was telling. Of course government relies on experts. Gove knows this. So why say that people have had enough of experts? It says that “experts” are for us, the in-crowd, whilst “sentiment” and “simplicity” are for everyone else. But expertise is for everyone. A well-informed polity is a powerful one.

Experts also need to recognise the limits of what they can and can’t do. The classic criticism of those advocating more evidence in politics is that we’re “technocrats”. We need to celebrate the fact that politics is about values and dreams – evidence is about informing, not determining, people’s views. Too many experts could be mistaken for thinking otherwise.

Finally, let’s not get too depressed. Despite this doom and gloom, when asked, people consistently say they do trust experts, especially scientists. In 2014, Sir David Attenborough was voted the most trustworthy public figure in the country. Gove came dead last.