Why Experts (Scientists, Finance Wizards, Doctors, Relationship Gurus, Celebrity CEOs, High-Powered Consultants, Health Officials and More) Keep Failing Us - and How to Know When Not to Trust Them
Our investmeents are devastated, obesity is epidemic, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists, and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well?
Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. Their expert counsel usually turns out to be wrong - often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their advice and why the most heavily flawed conclusions end up getting the most attention - all the more so in the online era. But there's hope: Wrong spells out the means by which every individual and organization can do a better job of unearthing the crucial bits of right within a vast avalanche of misleading pronouncements.
©2010 David H. Freedman (P)2010 Tantor
Freedman touches on the expected topics of medicine and finance, but then he almost hedges too much when he attempts to be even handed. Something akin to saying "Experts are widely documented to be as wrong as the guy sitting next to you at work, but" . . . and then the "but" gets drawn out in such a way that he makes it clear that he really doesn't want anyone to be upset with him.
He takes umbrage with an editor no one has ever heard of at a little-read women's health magazine, but ignores the Dalai Lama of pseudo-expert knowledge, Malcolm Gladwell. (Although Gladwell does get a very brief mention in an appendix.) That seems a little cowardly. And then of course there are his own biases to contend with that really are not justified despite his token admission that he too might be wrong. (Note, a firm stance on a topic or opinion would be welcome. Instead he hem-haws around the idea that "experts are bad/experts are the best we have" and then just back-doors his own bias at the end of a given topic so as to seem detached from the subject.)
Once one has read most of the titles in this genre, there begins to be a pattern of thought. One viewpoint is that there is too much information available to the general public and it's not good for us. It's mostly implied at this point, but they are essentially saying that we need some sort of filters or regulation, perhaps some sort of licensing should be required to post something on the internet. (This is actually mentioned in Freedman's book.) Freedman it seems then, is seeking to follow Schwartz, Gladwell, Ariely, et al. in this line of thought on regulated information.
If one is interested in genuine skeptical inquiry without the ideological baggage the best place to start would be any of Nassim Taleb's books in my opinion.
Deeply indebted to Audible
This book was a long time in coming.
I have long noticed the veritable deluge of information that has come down the pipe in my short life and was often baffled by the contratdictory and almost "fad" like public responses to advice that I distictly remember hearing the opposite to somewhere else or earlier. These experts, these defenders of the public good, these holderes of the flame of knowledge, have their record layed before our feet, thanks to the internet and finally allowed our short memorys to slightly lengthen. We can now easily look back at that record and see expert advice for what it really is, most of the time, thinking out loud and the trusting public swaying to its rhythm, but no more.
With so much info out there it is our responsibility to know that there is a lot of info out there. In other words, not to change "what" we think of expert advice, but instead to change "how". This book was a breath of fresh air and the paradox of the whole thing was a bit of lemon in the gin. Enjoy.
Now, while I can't seriously disagree with any of Freedman's findings, I did feel at the end of this a-book that nothing was presented that radically (or even appreciably) changed my view on anything. He basically details how the audience is (with the aid of the internet) getting more skeptical and the so-called experts are now effectively being exposed for the frauds and hucksters they often are and how we often fall into error. I particularily appreciated how the author is willing to concede his own possible misapprehensions in this a-book. Maybe I expected too much but even while I was nodding throughout I had hoped for some unexpected insights.
This was a good overview of how to begin thinking critically about expert advice. I was looking for a more in depth exploration and examples of problems with cognitive biases on the part of experts.
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