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.

1 comment:

The Dutchman said...

Spengler comments on the folly of trying to use the scientific method to analyze the intangible things in life (e.g. what makes one vintage taste better than another, child rearing, bravery) by pointing out that "None of this is accessible to a science of weights and measures."

What I see, and what I worry about, is how more and more the advice of experts is being dismissed and discounted in our public debates. How public health experts were routinely disregarded when setting policy during the AIDS crisis of the 80's, how the Bush administration disregarded the Arab experts when making the Iraki occupation policy, and now how climatologists are routinely dismissed by people who quite obviously just don't want to hear about global warming.

Spengler points out repeatedly that the test of truth is it's predictive value. I will grant that there are whole professions of "experts" that have proven to have little predictive value (e.g. psychologists, educationists, mortgage bankers), but we also need to acknowledge that "common sense" is no substitute for hard science.