Experts All the Way Down

A review of three books on experts (including mine), by a celebrated expert on expertise

Excerpted from Berkeley Professor Philip Tetlock’s article in The National Interest

….As David Freedman documents in WRONG, experts know a lot less than they claim–and this is, as Marxists were fond of saying, no accident. There are such powerful and perverse institutional incentives for experts to overclaim the validity of their data and their conclusions, we should not be shocked that many ambitious scientists succumb to the I-have-figured-out-all-the-answers temptation (indeed, the surprising thing is perhaps that so many resist the siren calls of media acclaim)….It is not just that data can be manipulated. We must worry about the very incentives “experts” have for fudging their results. He builds on the rather sound premise that a disturbingly large percentage of this purportedly professional advice is flawed–and there are systematic reasons why many expert communities go offtrack. All too often, scientific journals, grant agencies and tenure committees put a premium on surprising (“counterintuitive”) findings that we discover on sober reflection are difficult to replicate….Freedman advises us that, when we see such incentives, we should be on the lookout for further telltale clues….Whatever may be the merits of the underlying science in the peer-reviewed literature, in the public forum, the ratio of pseudoexpertise to genuine expertise is distressingly high….read more

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