Wednesday, January 23, 2008

1-23-08: Expert Criticism

It seems with all this talk of a recession, there are many non-economists in the news talking about how likely it is that we're either in or will soon be in a recession. Yet, whenever a report is made by an economist, say... Ben Bernanke, that states that a recession is not being predicted, there's another person saying the data points the other way. It might just be the news trying to create an argument for ratings, but it seems to be a theme: experts can't be trusted.

Well... not exactly. Experts can, and should, be trusted. That's why they're called experts. If there aren't many people who know more than you about a particular topic, and you maintain objectivity, then you should be the go-to person. But, no matter how smart you think you are, there's somebody with an opinion out there that's the complete opposite. It happens all the time. Despite all the expertise that exists in governments and companies worldwide, there's enough ignorance out there to fuel newsworthy arguments.

A month or so ago, an intelligence report came out saying that Iran had likely shut down its operations to enrich uranium several years ago. Despite the length and expertise devoted to the report, many people doubted it (including President Bush). Now, I voted for Bush, and I agree with a lot of his views, but this is one that I'll chalk up to his biggest flaw (and strength): his stubbornness. It's a common human trait, and it crosses party lines. People often find it difficult to change their minds about something once it's set. It's just natural. There's some good psychological study somewhere that would explain this, but for now let's just call it stubbornness.

Expertise is no match for stubbornness. You see it every day. Here's an experiment you can try for yourself: find some one you know and talk to often, propose some fact (it doesn't have to be true, just make it appear that way) that you think would disagree with one of their political beliefs, and see what happens. I would bet that they would either find holes in the methodology of whatever study found the fact, or they'd propose another fact that would counter it. It depends on how strongly they feel about the topic, as well. If they don't really care, they're more likely to either agree with it or just take it at its face value. Try it out.

It's remarkable how often some one with an expertise, like economics, is criticized using arguments that are often baseless, incorrect, or simply strange. I heard a caller on a radio program last week say that we're in a depression because of the state of the housing market. They guy was a civil engineer in the construction industry, so it would make sense that he not only knows the poor state of housing, but he also feels very strongly about it. But his argument is far too narrow, which shows a bit of ignorance on his part. I'm sure he's a great engineer, but he's no economist. I wonder how he'd think if an average economist came up to him on the job site and told him the house he was building was going to fall down because one nail was hammered in wrong. Wow, that's a hell of a metaphor.

1 comment:

scycle said...

So what you're saying is, if Iran is enriching Uranium then we're going into recession. Genius, pure genius. I'd like to see your experiment in work.