Friday, July 30, 2010

Experts, Shmexperts, Part II

In response to my post earlier this week ("Experts, Shmexperts"), The Dutchman commented thusly:

And the alternative to experts is what? Savants? Psychics? Amateurs?

Maybe doctors aren't AS expert as we would wish, but life expectancy has about doubled since 1800.

Back in the nineteen sixties there was a lot of talk about "pointy headed experts" and it was pretty obvious back then that this was just an appeal to prejudice. So now, when I hear broadsides against "experts" I am deeply suspicious of what the real agenda of such an attack is.

In response to The Dutchman's question — which, to my mind, is a straw man — I should clarify something I implied but apparently didn't convey clearly in my earlier post:

By all means, yes, we should value the advice of experts. But only if they really are experts, and not merely people walking around who think of themselves as experts.

IOW: let's trust experts, but not so-called experts.

Of course, that begs prompts the question:

What makes someone an expert?

Garsh, I don't have time to get into the technical requirements, but let me just illustrate my point this way:

Imagine you're a new parent and you're looking for some advice on raising your kids. You read the latest book on child rearing by some guy who doesn't have children of his own, but has a Ph.D. in Child Psychology.

Then you talk to a middle aged woman at your church who you've known for a few years. She's a college graduate who worked for a years before she got married and started having kids, and since then, she's been a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband now have six kids, all of whom are of exemplary character.

All other things being equal, which of the two is the real expert on parenting, and which is the poser expert? Whose advice are you more likely to take to heart? And therefore, whose advice are you more likely to take?

As Chesterton once said, "By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men."

Different field, but same idea.

I'll save my thoughts on expertise as it relates to the medical field for another post.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The extraordinary stupidity behind the University of Illinois' decision to fire Professor Kenneth Howell ought to make all of us sit up and take notice of the very real danger inherent in the "'Shut Up,' He Explained" ethos that so permeates the higher education establishment.

What happened to Professor Howell is grossly unjust, and not at all funny.

But this mockery of the whole situation sure is:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Experts, Shmexperts

If you've ever thought that the word "expert" is bandied about way too much, and that many of the people who are commonly regarded as experts are, uh, well, not experts, you're right:

To read the factoids David Freedman rattles off in his book Wrong is terrifying. He begins by writing that about two-thirds of the findings published in the top medical journals are refuted within a few years. It gets worse. As much as 90% of physicians' medical knowledge has been found to be substantially or completely wrong. In fact, there is a 1 in 12 chance that a doctor's diagnosis will be so wrong that it causes the patient significant harm. And it's not just medicine. Economists have found that all studies published in economics journals are likely to be wrong. Professionally prepared tax returns are more likely to contain significant errors than self-prepared returns. Half of all newspaper articles contain at least one factual error. So why, then, do we blindly follow experts?

Because that's what a Herd of Independent Thinkers does.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Patriotism Fail

I realize the intent is to show love of one's country and all, but doesn't it seem odd to put Old Glory on something that is (a) not a little prone to rust and (b) whose very purpose is to collect garbage?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vacation, Part II

I mentioned earlier this week that I'd be including more about our recent vacation/3,000 mile road trip. Hence, this post.

We had originally planned only to go to Vail, Colorado (why there? Because we won a raffle), but then we found out about a 90th birthday to be celebrated in Dallas, Texas for my late grandmother's last surviving sibling.

Not wanting to miss that, we decided we wanted to go both places, although we weren't exactly keen on the idea of traveling with the seven of us in our minivan over that great of a distance.

Then my parents proposed a solution: they'd go with us, and we would rent a 12-passenger van.

That turned out to be a great idea, as the extra space made traveling easy and relatively comfortable.

For purposes of this entry on this here weblog, I couldn't possibly (and nor would I want to) include the sort of details I would include if I were writing a "What I did on my summer vacation" sort of account. But in lieu of these, here are some observations (in no particular order) of things I (we) saw/experienced/learned:

I enjoy nothing more than spending time with Jocelyn and our kids.

We spent a lot of most enjoyable time in Texas with many second and third cousins that I had never previously met. All of them are great people — warm, welcoming, generous, etc. — the kind of folks you're glad to be related to.

This is the third time I've been in Texas this year. The weather in Texas is hot. I mean, really, really hot.

Throughout the trip generally, and along U.S. highways particularly, we saw countless numbers of shuttered businesses — most notably gas stations. Some had "For Sale" signs, but many others that didn't looked as if they'd been abandoned for years. Kind of reminded me of Radiator Springs.

Although Metropolis Coffee is brewed only a few blocks from where I used to live, I first tried it 1,100 miles away in Vail. And, as Agent Cooper would say, it is indeed "damn good coffee."

The air in Colorado really did seem a lot cleaner.

Most of the people we encountered in Colorado seemed remarkably friendly.

We barely scratched the surface of the hiking trails in Vail, but what's there is phenomenal.

We saw dozens, maybe hundreds, of wind turbines during the course of the trip. I haven't decided what I think about wind energy (is it a boon? or a boondoggle?), but I will say this: wind turbines look really creepy.

In the corn uber-producing state of Iowa, we found that the 89 octane gas is actually cheaper than 87 octane, because the former has a higher ethanol content.

The cinnamon bread and pumpkin butter (made in the Amana Colonies) that we bought in Iowa are mighty tasty.

And now for a few pictures: