Monday, May 27


This is the title to a book I have just read by David H Freedman, who is a research journalist and who outlines why he thinks experts keep failing us.

The book is a good read, mostly comprising of an uncommon common sense approach as to when not to trust the experts and how to disseminate useful information.

Here are some extracts:

Characteristics of less trustworthy expert advice
1. It's simplistic, universally appealing and definitive
2. The research findings are supported by either smaller studies or only correlated from animal studies
3. It's groundbreaking
4. It's pushed by people or organisations that stand to benefit from its acceptance

Characteristics of expert advice we should ignore
1. It's mildly resonant
2. It's provocative - look for evidence before adopting a simply provocative viewpoint
3. It's got a lot of positive attention
4. Other experts embrace it
5. It appears in a prestigious journal
6. The experts backing it boast impressive credentials

Characteristics of more trustworthy advice
1. It doesn't trip the previous alarms
2. It's a negative finding
3. It's heavy on qualifying statements
4. Its candid about refutable evidence
5. It provides some context for the research
6. It provides perspective


None of this is particularly earth shattering but it is refreshingly frank and well measured in providing principals that help us sort out the wheat from the chaffs - from the mountain of information that bombards us on a daily basis.

Often it is best to test out a particular theory or revelation and see how it pans out over time. Unfortunately, experts for the rather obvious right and wrong moral issues, a lot of the experts who offer advice these days are plainly wrong, including new so called ground breaking discoveries in all fields of endeavour.

As usual that is not the problem of the science on the data but rather human nature which cannot be relied upon to uphold integrity.


susan said...

In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. - Iroquois proverb
In my opinion much of the behavior we witness today is based on arrogance concomitant with a lack of any spiritual belief. The simple idea of committing to stewardship of our environment, both physical and financial, is an excellent formula for ensuring the well being of those who don't yet have a voice about the world we will leave them.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Well said and quoted - it’s incumbent on us to leave a legacy for future generations – who in turn then can have pride in their ancestry.
Unfortunately more oft than not, that’s not the case, but nevertheless we also have some wonderful examples. I would not have liked to have lived a few hundred years ago unless I was part of the privileged few!!
Best wishes

Mercutio said...

So many areas in which this might apply.

Further, expertise is often limited within a field. Presumptions often do not transfer.
Two things that I like to remind electricians of (when I'm around them) to show them that they don't know as much about electricity as they like to think:
the hole theory of current, and the positron.

Succinctly, the electron travel theory of current is prevalent here; that an atom swaps out an electron from the valency ring of a neighboring atom, and on through a chain of such. Looking at this, you can see that current would travel from negative to positive were this true.
It's actually the hole in the valency ring that travels; much like an oar shoves water behind it.

A positron is what happens when an electron gains a positive charge (and that's typically the way I predicate the inquiry). Its spin reverses, which knocks it backward in time just a hair; at which time it's a positron.
If you look at the diagrams, you'll see that the very same instance of an electron often appears in two discrete instances at the same point in time. It has to.

Not that it weighs heavily in the application of electrical circuits (for the most past); which poses certain questions about expertise as a benefit.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Interesting – it can also relate o to the quantum field theory which is of great interest to me (eg : the quantum entanglement theory or duality principle where a particle becomes a wave then reverts to a particle. The two parts remain always linked through time and space.
But as you say, it also relates in other fields, such as in a solid-state theory- practical applications.
Best wishes