## Difficulties interpreting this complex sentence

10

1

James had been a high priest of technocracy ever since coming to NASA in 1961, arguing for the authority of experts, well-organized and led, and with sufficient resources to resolve the many problems that pressed the nation.

The phrase in bold is the one I don't quite understand. I am assuming "arguing for the authority of experts" describes James. But "well-organized and led" is confusing.

Does it mean James is a well-organized and "led" (what?) person? The final part "and with resources..." I am assuming also describes James. So there is a parallelism between "with resources" and "arguing...".

I can't imagine the phrase referring to anyone except the experts. Experts is nearer to the phrase, and it makes more sense to think of a group of experts being well-organized and led than it does to think of one person, James, as being "well-organized and led". – stangdon – 2016-12-06T17:04:36.833

I'd say that the sequence in bold is a coordination of adjective phrase + preposition phrase which adds some information about "experts", (called the predicand) and is thus predicative. It is also an optional item, so we can call it a "predicative adjunct". Cf. the predicative complement structure: "Experts are well-organized and led, and with sufficient resources to resolve the many problems that pressed the nation". – BillJ – 2016-12-06T17:42:26.520

1The only redeeming feature of this sentence is that it spells "led" correctly. – Michael Kay – 2016-12-07T17:48:03.763

17

I think there are two things that are confusing you here. It's a long sentence, and the logic is convoluted.

The first is the "arguing for the authority of experts" part.

James had been a high priest of technology, and one of the things he did was argue for the authority of experts...

That makes sense, right? One of the things that a 'high priest of technology' would do is promote the idea that technological experts should have authority.

The second is what comes after 'authority of experts'. Those long clauses modify the word 'experts'. I might paraphrase it as:

arguing for the authority of experts; experts who were well-organized and well-led, experts who had sufficient resources...

18

Syntactically, the two phrases modify experts; semantically, they define the conditions under which James thought that experts should be granted authority.

• The experts should be well organized.
• The experts should be well led.
• The experts should have sufficient resources to resolve the problems.

3

All of that sentence after 1961 is describing the "technocracy". It's a list.

A "Technocracy" is:

Technocracy is an organizational structure or system of governance where decision-makers are selected on the basis of technological knowledge.

So, James believes that the technocracy needs three things:

• experts
• that it be well-organized with a good leader
• with enough resources to do the job

Without any of these three things, the whole structure wouldn't be useful.

3

I agree this is a very confusing sentence. "Well-organized" could describe James, but "led" by itself is a weird adjective to use in this context. And then you get "with sufficient resources ..." a phrase which doesn't seem to apply to any noun in the sentence.

So let's assume it's a poorly written sentence, and look for the one noun that seems to work with all the adjectives in the bolded phrase. If I had to guess, I would pick "experts", and then mentally rewrite the sentence as follows:

Ever since coming to NASA in 1961, James had been a high priest of Technocracy: the belief in the authority of experts, who should be well-organized and well-led, and given sufficient resources to resolve the many problems that press the nation.

Sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

1

I'll attempt to break down the sentence to its simplest components, eliding the details it conveys:

James had been a high priest, arguing.

Now I will attempt to a sort of indentation diagramming of the sentence using markup:

James
a high priest
of technocracy
ever since coming to NASA in 1961,
arguing
for the authority
of experts,
well-organized
and led,
and with sufficient resources
to resolve the many problems
that pressed the nation.


Every line indented modifies the immediate less-indented line above it. So you can see by the levels of indentation, it's a pretty complex, nested sentence. Arguably that impairs understanding of the sentence (I am in the pro-impairment camp).

But from my diagramming, you can see that "well-organized", "led" and "with sufficient resources" modify "experts".

1Great visual demonstration, I love it! – AndyT – 2016-12-07T12:50:09.547

0

I agree it is a confusing sentence, but I disagree with answers so far. I think the actual meaning of the whole sentence is that James has argued for the authority of NASA experts ever since joining NASA. NASA being well organized and led (with/by experts), and with sufficient resources to resolve the many problems that pressed the nation. NASA being a technocratic organization, something with which a high priest of technocracy would easily align.

Although NASA may not be a suitable organization to resolve pressing social problems facing the nation, ad hoc experts in general are rarely well organized and well led, nor can they generally be considered to have sufficient resources (other than perhaps cognitive resources) at their disposal to resolve the many problems facing the nation.