How to Use Experts



"In a world of data deluge and extreme complexity, we believe that experts are more able to process information than we can -- that they are able to come to better conclusions than we could come to on our own. And in an age that is sometimes nowadays frightening or confusing, we feel reassured by the almost parental-like authority of experts who tell us so clearly what it is we can and cannot do.
But I believe that this is a big problem, a problem with potentially dangerous consequences for us as a society, as a culture and as individuals."

"We've become addicted to experts. We've become addicted to their certainty, their assuredness, their definitiveness, and in the process, we have ceded our responsibility, substituting our intellect and our intelligence for their supposed words of wisdom. We've surrendered our power, trading off our discomfort with uncertainty for the illusion of certainty that they provide."

"In a recent experiment, a group of adults had their brains scanned in an MRI machine as they were listening to experts speak. The results were quite extraordinary. As they listened to the experts' voices, the independent decision-making parts of their brains switched off. It literally flat-lined. And they listened to whatever the experts said and took their advice, however right or wrong."

"For the sake of our health, our wealth and our collective security, it's imperative that we keep the independent decision-making parts of our brains switched on."

What's the definition of an expert?
The conventional notion is that experts are people with advanced degrees, fancy titles, diplomas, best-selling books -- high-status individuals."
What sort of qualifications do someone have to have to be considered an expert...
-in media?
-in your own social circle?

Three problems with experts, according to Noreena Hertz:
Experts tend to form very rigid camps, that within these camps, a dominant perspective emerges that often silences opposition, that experts move with the prevailing winds, often hero-worshipping their own gurus. Alan Greenspan's proclamations that the years of economic growth would go on and on, not challenged by his peers, until after the crisis, of course.

Experts are also governed, by the social and cultural norms of their times -- whether it be the doctors in Victorian England, say, who sent women to asylums for expressing sexual desire, or the psychiatrists in the United States who, up until 1973, were still categorizing homosexuality as a mental illness.
And what all this means is that paradigms take far too long to shift, that complexity and nuance are ignored and also that money talks --

Experts, of course, also make mistakes. They make mistakes every single day -- mistakes born out of carelessness.

Some solutions proffered by Noreena Hertz:
Be willing to question experts. Recognize that experts' assumptions and their methodologies can easily be flawed. Be willing to dig behind their graphs, their equations, their forecasts, their prophecies, and be armed with the questions to do that -- questions like: What are the assumptions that underpin this? What is the evidence upon which this is based? What has your investigation focused on? And what has it ignored?
It recently came out that experts trialing drugs before they come to market typically trial drugs first, primarily on male animals and then, primarily on men. It seems that they've somehow overlooked the fact that over half the world's population are women. And women have drawn the short medical straw because it now turns out that many of these drugs don't work nearly as well on women as they do on men -- and the drugs that do work well work so well that they're actively harmful for women to take.

Managed dissent: "If we are to shift paradigms, if we are to make breakthroughs, if we are to destroy myths, we need to create an environment in which we're bringing in new, diverse, discordant, heretical views into the discussion."
Perhaps what Noreena Hertz means here is that one must actually invite dissent, give it space to breathe, and see what can be learned from it. This is quite hard. It "goes against our very instincts, which are to surround ourselves with opinions and advice that we already believe or want to be true."


If we keep our independent decision-making part of our brains switched on, if we challenge experts, if we're skeptical, if we devolve authority, if we are rebellious, but also if we become much more comfortable with nuance, uncertainty and doubt, and if we allow our experts to express themselves using those terms too, we will set ourselves up much better for the challenges of the 21st century. For now, more than ever, is not the time to be blindly following, blindly accepting, blindly trusting. Now is the time to face the world with eyes wide open -- yes, using experts to help us figure things out, for sure -- I don't want to completely do myself out of a job here -- but being aware of their limitations and, of course, also our own.


One way to make the entire groups your expert, crowd-sourcing expertise: Prediction markets. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/030508-google-prediction-markets.html
How prediction markets work within Google
Prediction markets in Taiwan

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