Experts and Studies: Not Always Trustworthy

How even top-shelf science ends up leading us astray

From Kayla Webley’s Q&A with me on Time.com:

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? Freedman has an idea, which he elaborates on in his book Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us — and How to Know When Not to Trust Them. Freedman talked to TIME about why we believe experts, how to find good advice and why we should trust him — even though he’s kind of an expert.

Time: You say that many experts are wrong, yet you quote many experts in your book. Are these experts wrong too?

DHF: They very well may be, but these are people who study expertise. They know how other experts go wrong because this is what they study, so maybe they’re better at avoiding some of these problems. Maybe they’re a little more careful with their data and they work a little harder to not mislead people…..read more

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