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God Save us From Reliance on “Experts”

Today’s Campaign Update
(Because The Campaign Never Ends)

God save us from reliance on “experts”. – David Epstein has a fantastic piece in the June issue of the Atlantic, one which illustrates why we “normals” out here in Flyover Country should avoid listening to predictions made by “experts”.

Regular readers will know that I make fun of “experts” and their persistent wrongness all the time, especially those in the fields of politics, “climate change” and economics. Epstein’s piece doesn’t directly address those specific fields in any detail, but he does illustrate major reasons why media-recognized “experts” are so consistently-wrong about pretty much everything.

How many consecutive months do we have to read headlines like “Trump economy adds 263,000 jobs in April, far surpassing expert projections” before we stop listening to “experts” on the economy? How many times must we see headlines like “Australia’s conservative party shocks pollsters and pundits with easy victory” before we accept the reality that almost all pollsters and pundits suffer from a chronic anti-conservative bias? How many times must we reflect on predictions by climate “experts” that the polar ice caps would be gone by 2015, that snow would end by 2020, that New York City would be under water by 2025 before we realize that these people are just a bunch of politically-motivated scam artists?

Epstein’s piece is long but well worth reading in full, so I highly recommend you all do so. But here are some key snippets that tell us all we really need to know about “experts” in any field:

The integrators [those who had expertise in multiple fields] outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.”

Hedgehogs are deeply and tightly focused. Some have spent their career studying one problem. Like Ehrlich and Simon, they fashion tidy theories of how the world works based on observations through the single lens of their specialty. Foxes, meanwhile, “draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradiction,” Tetlock wrote. Where hedgehogs represent narrowness, foxes embody breadth.

Incredibly, the hedgehogs performed especially poorly on long-term predictions within their specialty. They got worse as they accumulated experience and credentials in their field. The more information they had to work with, the more easily they could fit any story into their worldview.

One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.

Tetlock, along with his wife and collaborator, the psychologist Barbara Mellers, ran a team named the Good Judgment Project. Rather than recruit decorated experts, they issued an open call for volunteers. After a simple screening, they invited 3,200 people to start forecasting. Among those, they identified a small group of the foxiest forecasters—bright people with extremely wide-ranging interests and unusually expansive reading habits, but no particular relevant background—and weighted team forecasts toward their predictions. They destroyed the competition.

And here is the real killshot:

Tetlock and Mellers found that not only were the best forecasters foxy as individuals, but they tended to have qualities that made them particularly effective collaborators. They were “curious about, well, really everything,” as one of the top forecasters told me.

“Curious about…everything.” Think about that for a moment: My most persistent criticism of both pollsters and pundits is that they are singularly lacking in curiosity. They are stuck in their little New York City or Inside-the-Beltway echo chambers and never make any effort to venture out of them. They are comfortable; they are content; they love existing in a tiny, insulated world in which they are recognized as somehow being someone special. To venture out of that comfort zone is to risk that feeling of special-ness.

The average margin of error among pollsters in Wisconsin in 2016 was 6 percentage points. Yet, the conceit of every one of those “expert” pollsters is their methods produce results with only a 2-3 point “margin of error.” If you point that out to them, you invariably get some flippant insult or sarcastic retort, but never any sort of thoughtful, introspective admission that their methods are frankly crap.

The same is true of pundits and journalists.  Charles Krauthamer, who I admired throughout his career and life, was wrong about literally every aspect of the GOP’s 2015-16 nominating contest in general, and Donald Trump specifically. In that studious and stubborn wrongness, he had plenty of company. Pretty much every other recognized Inside-the-Beltway pundit was similarly wrong.

These folks were 180 degrees wrong because they never ventured outside of the Beltway to actually talk to some Trump supporters and try to figure out who they really were and what they were really thinking. That same refusal to learn was also shared by all pollsters except for Scott Rasmussen and pretty much every working reporter and editor in every national media outlet. They all hated being constantly proved wrong, hated the people who were responsible for their wrongness, and thus refused to make any effort to learn about them and understand how they think. They clung to their biases and preconceived misconceptions because are the very things that drive their own personal self-esteem.

To this day, in fact, two-and-a-half years after the 2016 election, almost none of these “experts” have ever made that effort. They remain ignorant, hived up in their echo chambers, and thus remain constantly wrong about pretty much everything.

So, why do the media-recognized “experts” seem to be consistently wrong about pretty much everything?

Because they are. It isn’t your imagination.

That is all.

Follow me on Twitter at @GDBlackmon

Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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2 thoughts on “God Save us From Reliance on “Experts”

  1. Grant - May 19, 2019

    I KNEW in November of 2015 that The Donald would win the GOP nomination. It was obvious that he was the guy who had tapped into the concerns of the GOP base (and working Americans in general). And, given that the U.S. Presidential race is gladiatorial combat (in an arena booby-trapped by the Liberal MSM), I reasoned that the toughest gladiator had the best chance of victory.

  2. David Brockett - May 19, 2019

    Quote from one of my flight school system’s instructors regarding experts: (X=unknown) (spurt=little drip under pressure).
    Very thought-provoking article and I’ve seen this myopia demonstrated at the university level.

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