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robertogreco : wrongness   3

Wrong - By David H. Freedman - The New York Times
"Putting trust in experts who are probably wrong is only part of the problem. The other side of the coin is that many people have all but given up on getting good advice from experts. The total effect of all the contradicting and shifting pronouncements is to make expert conclusions at times sound like so much blather — a background noise of modern life. I think by now most of us have at some point caught ourselves thinking, or at least have heard from people around us, something along these lines: Experts! One day they say vitamin X / coffee / wine / drug Y / a big mortgage / baby learning videos / Six Sigma / multitasking / clean homes / arguing / investment Z is a good thing, and the next they say it’s a bad thing. Why bother paying attention? I might as well just do what I feel like doing. Do we really want to just give up on expertise in this way? Even if experts usually fail to give us the clear, reliable guidance we need, there are still situations, as we’ll see, where failing to follow their advice can be self-defeating and even deadly.

So I’m not going to spend much time trying to convince you that experts are often, and possibly usually, wrong. Instead, this book is about why expertise goes wrong and how we may be able to do a better job of seeking out more trustworthy expert advice. To that end, we’re going to look at how experts — including scientists, business gurus, and our other highly trusted sources of wisdom — fall prey to a range of measurement errors, how they come to have deep biases that lead them into gamesmanship and even outright dishonesty, and how interactions among them tend to worsen rather than correct for these problems. We’re also going to examine the ways in which the media sort through the flow of dubious expert pronouncements and further distort them, as well as how we ourselves are drawn to the worst of this shoddy output, and how we end up being even more misled on the Internet. Finally, we’ll try to extract from everything we’ve discovered a set of rough guidelines that can help to separate the most suspect expert advice from the stuff that has a better chance of holding up.

As I said, most people are quite comfortable with the notion that there’s a real problem with experts. But some — mostly experts — do in fact take objection to that claim. Here are the three objections I encountered the most often, along with quick responses.

(1) If experts are so wrong, why are we so much better off now than we were fifty or a hundred years ago? One distinguished professor put it to me this way in an e-mail note: “Our life expectancy has almost doubled in the past seventy-five years, and that’s because of experts.” Actually, the vast majority of that gain came earlier in the twentieth century from a very few sharp improvements, and especially from the antismoking movement. As for all of the drugs, diagnostic tools, surgical techniques, medical devices, lists of foods to eat and avoid, and impressive breakthrough procedures and technologies that fill medical journals and trickle down into media reports, consider this: between 1978 and 2001, according to one highly regarded study, U.S. life spans increased fewer than three years on average — when the drop in smoking rates slowed around 1990, so did life-expectancy gains. It’s hard to claim we’re floating on an ocean of marvelously effective advice from a range of experts when we’ve been skirting the edges of a new depression, the divorce rate is around 50 percent, energy prices occasionally skyrocket, obesity rates are climbing, children’s test scores are declining, we’re forced to worry about terrorist and even nuclear attacks, 118 million prescriptions for antidepressants are written annually in the United States, chunks of our food supply periodically become tainted, and, well, you get the idea. Perhaps a reasonable model for expert advice is one I might call “punctuated wrongness” — that is, experts usually mislead us, but every once in a while they come up with truly helpful advice.

(2) Sure, experts have been mostly wrong in the past, but now they’re on top of things. In mid-2008 experts were standing in line to talk about the extensive, foolproof controls protecting our banks and other financial institutions that weren’t in place in the late 1920s — just before those institutions started collapsing. Cancer experts shake their heads today over the ways in which generations of predecessors wasted decades hunting down the mythical environmental or viral roots of most cancers, before pronouncing as a sure thing the more recent theory of how cancer is caused by mutations in a small number of genes — a theory that, as we’ll see, has yielded almost no benefits to patients after two decades. Most everyone missed what was happening to our climate, or even spoke of a global cooling crisis, until we came to today’s absolutely certain understanding of global warming and its man-made causes — well, we’ll see how that turns out. How could we have been so foolish before? And what sort of fool would question today’s experts’ beliefs? In any case, the claim that we’ve come from wrong ideas to right ideas suggests that there’s a consensus of experts today on what the right ideas are. But there is often nothing close to such a consensus. When experts’ beliefs clash, somebody has to be wrong — hardly a sign of an imminent convergence on truth.

And, finally, (3) So what if experts are usually wrong? That’s the nature of expert knowledge — it progresses slowly as it feels its way through difficult questions. Well, sure, we live in a complex world without easy answers, so we might well expect to see our experts make plenty of missteps as they steadily chip away at the truth. I’m not saying that experts don’t make any progress, or that they ought to have figured it all out long ago. I’m suggesting three things: we ought to be fully aware of how large a percentage of expert advice is flawed; we should find out if there are perhaps much more disconcerting reasons why experts so frequently get off track other than “that’s just the nature of the beast”; and we ought to take the trouble to see if we can come up with clues that will help distinguish better expert advice from fishier stuff. And, by the way, if experts are so comfortable with the notion that their efforts ought to be expected to spit out mostly wrong answers, why don’t they work a little harder to get this useful piece of information across to us when they’re interviewed on morning news shows or in newspaper articles, and not just when they’re confronted with their errors?

Given that I’ve already started throwing the term “expert” around left and right, I suppose I ought to make sure you know what I mean by the word. Academics study “expertise” in pianists, athletes, burglars, birds, infants, computers, trial witnesses, and captains of industry, to name just a few examples. But when I say “expert,” I’m mostly thinking of someone whom the mass media might quote as a credible authority on some topic — the sorts of people we’re usually referring to when we say things like “According to experts . . .” These are what I would call “mass” or “public” experts, people in a position to render opinions or findings that a large number of us might hear about and choose to take into account in making decisions that could affect our lives. Scientists are an especially important example, but I’m also interested in, for example, business, parenting, and sports experts who gain some public recognition for their experience and insight. I’ll also have some things to say about pop gurus, celebrity advice givers, and media pundits, as well as about what I call “local” experts — everyday practitioners such as non-research-oriented doctors, stockbrokers, and auto mechanics.

I’ve heard it said, half kiddingly, that meteorologists are the only people who get paid to be wrong. I would argue that in that sense most of our experts are paid to be wrong, and are probably wrong a much higher percentage of the time than are meteorologists. I’m going to show that although the process of wringing useful insights and advice from complex subjects may indeed be an inherently slow and erratic one, there are many other, less benign reasons why experts go astray. In fact, we’ll see that expert pronouncements are pushed toward wrongness so strongly that in the end it’s harder, I think, to explain why they’re sometimes right. But that doesn’t mean we’re hopelessly mired in this swamp of bad advice. With a decent compass, we can find our way out. Let’s start by exploring some of the muck."
experts  expertise  authority  2010  davidfreedman  wrongness  science  medicine 
february 2018 by robertogreco
blogging, being wrong, malcolm x & the pharcyde — cecile emeke
"Being wrong has taught me so much. You have to be wrong sometimes to be critical. Logically you can't always be right and think critically; you have to have a moment of realising you're incorrect to push you to move past your current line of thinking to something new. Even if your moments of being incorrect are in private or don't last long, they still happen, they are still necessary. So I guess the scary part about a blog is that you might be wrong in front of other people or that it's recorded 'permanently'. I personally really respect people who aren't comfortable with being wrong."

Malcolm X's autobiography was one of the first books I ever read that really changed how I saw the world. One of the things I respected about him is that he was wrong very publicly and had no qualms in owning that, forming a new conclusion and keeping it pushing. It made me value what he said more because it was clear he was committed to truth and liberation, not his own pride and the bragging rights that come with the fallacy of infallibility. So I'm not too scared about being wrong, I'm more scared about being silent. Audre Lorde always talked about how silence can't and won't protect you and how often what we fear has already happened, so why remain scared and quiet?"
cecileemeke  malcolmx  audrelorde  2015  blogging  criticism  criticalthinking  silence  wrongness  truth  liberation  thinkinginpublic  fallibility  infallibility  paulgilroy 
april 2015 by robertogreco
DAILY SERVING » Summer of Utopia: Interview with Ted Purves
"I feel like a project is successful if we have had substantive encounters with people, if we have created spaces where a kind of exchange—whether it’s family history, or talking about why something should or shouldn’t be in an art museum, or sometimes it’s just swapping recipes—some form of animated or engaged dialogue comes out, or some sort of story emerges. It means we learn something, a story can be brought forward from that, that’s when things are successful. Another high-five moment comes when there is something compelling to look at. A lot of times when you see a social practice show, it’s either a room full of crap to read, or it looks like a place where they had a party and you didn’t get to go. I’ve been to a lot of those, and they’re not satisfying! You either wish they had just printed a book you could take home and read in your own chair—because it’s not very comfortable to sit in a museum—or you wish that you’d been at the party."

[via: http://randallszott.org/2012/05/25/ted-purves-aesthetics-social-practice-personal-economies/ ]
urbanism  rural  cities  urban  suburban  suburbia  suburbs  belief  via:leisurearts  democracy  alteration  change  perception  lemoneverlastingbackyard  wrongness  weirdness  glvo  openendedness  seeing  art  aesthetics  fruit  dialog  publicspaces  publicspace  workinginpublic  disagreement  decisionmaking  debate  negotiation  unplanning  thebluehouse  temescalamityworks  susannecockrell  sharing  2010  overlappingeconomies  capitalism  economics  utopia  thomasmore  socialpractice  tedpurves  dialogue 
may 2012 by robertogreco

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