The Trouble With Experts

The Trouble With Experts

Pop Culture March 30, 2012 / By Ben Weinlick
The Trouble With Experts

Something to consider when we hear advice from "experts"

“We all want wise men to give us the secret truth, the real low-down, the inside dope about things – someone who knows more than we mere mortals know,” says writer/director Josh Freed.” But the reality is that many so-called experts don’t know any more than you or me. In fact, a 20-year study of experts shows they’re only right about half the time.”

The documentary in the link below features some astonishing stories of experts being  wrong.  We meet Dutch artist John Myatt who used house paint and KY jelly to forge the works of great masters.  He managed to fool top art critics and museums for 8 years before he was finally caught.  Then there are the wine experts who can’t even distinguish white wine from red and political experts whose predictions were only a tiny bit better than the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.

I came across the CBC documentary a few months ago and many of the points made in it have stuck in my mind since then.  It is not that I don’t think you can learn from people that know more about a subject, but the show makes a good case for being cautious of our human tendency to highly respect the advice of people that sound absolutely sure of themselves.  The doc shows how we are hungry for the expert that can give us the quick fix, the silver bullet, the easy formula for success in any area of life we are trying to master. The more sure an expert sounds, the more we perk our ears up and listen even if what they are saying is bogus. Sounding sure is exciting and a charismatic quality, doubt and admitting one might be wrong about something gets boring and people tune out.  The thing is, we should be paying attention to this kind of humility and openness to being wrong, because advice coming from this kind of perspective is usually more accurate and intelligent.  Bukowski got it right… I think.  To me Bukowski’s quote reminds me to always be aware I have biases that can get in the way of seeing clearly and because of that I should be careful of making overly confident assertions.

“The experts who are most often accurate in our studies are cautious, quiet and somewhat more boring. Try selling that to a TV producer.” Berkeley Psychology Professor Phillip Tetlock

Enjoy the documentary and share this post with others if you liked it.

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