Here’s a book I need to read.
The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, “Expert Political Judgment,” is based on two decades of tracking some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. The experts’ forecasts were tracked both on the subjects of their specialties and on subjects that they knew little about.
The result? The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses – the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.
Other studies have confirmed the general sense that expertise is overrated. In one experiment, clinical psychologists did no better than their secretaries in their diagnoses. In another, a white rat in a maze repeatedly beat groups of Yale undergraduates in understanding the optimal way to get food dropped in the maze. The students overanalyzed and saw patterns that didn’t exist, so they were beaten by the rodent. — Nicholas Kristof, in NY Times
Kristof cherry-picks a few of the more amusing incidents, like a fake professor who delivers a lecture to professional educators on “mathematical game theory as applied to physician education,” a deliberately pointless diatribe of claptrap. Audience surveys rating the experience were overwhelmingly favorable. The pedagogues were thoroughly impressed.
This is how the raging clods and oily-voiced oafs you hear on radio and see on teevee get away with it year after year. The blowhards and buffoons who shape your opinions with their shrewd analyses of world affairs; the zealots who convince you to invest in miracle cures and believe in obscure conspiracy theories. Ever ask yourself why you believe a word they say? Ever analyze how much of what they spew, you internalize, and wonder why?
But even on a daily basis, you bump into these folks all the time. You have them in your office or work crew. You live next door to them. They treat your health, your teeth, and they review your X-Rays. They fix your car and serve you food. They teach your children and lead your prayers. You vote them into office. You sit through their professional workshops and counseling sessions. You read and believe their blogs. And some of them have excellent credentials, awarded by experts just like them!
Hell — you might even be one yourself.
Dammit. Not only do I need to read this book, I should have written it.
photo: Prof. Erwin Corey, professional bullshitter