Thursday, May 19, 2022

Expertise is Disrespected Because Dumb People Can't Judge it Properly

It's frequently been observed that we have less and less respect for experts.

As a related observation, consider Twitter, where at any given moment hordes of ordinary people may suddenly transform into constitutional scholars, virologists, Kremlinologists, etc etc. Every week, another wave of fresh genius. It used to be that an expert would expound on Azerbaijan or particle physics, and we'd listen humbly, because we knew nothing about those things. But now anyone can flip over to Wikipedia, read for three minutes, and claim to have researched the matter. Voila, an expert!

This explains why everyone's suddenly an expert, but not the evaporating respect for actual experts (Tom Nichols wrote a great book on the topic). But I think I've got it.

I love the observation that Donald Trump is a poor guy's idea of a rich guy. So consider a dumb guy's idea of an expert: Someone who's always right. Just like experts in the movies; like the professor in Gilligan's Island. A bona fide expert says how it will turn out...and it actually goes that way. He doesn't say "I don't know". He's certain and he's right. 

If you're uncertain or wrong - if it doesn't turn out like you say - then you're just some fancy talker. Put up or shut up! Produce!

Of course, expertise doesn't work that way. Experts aren't devoted to being accurately predictive. They're often less certain than non-experts. And they can absolutely be wrong, and aren't particularly ashamed about it. They're more occupied with deep understanding of hidden factors and mechanisms. They can explain the basis for things, but can't always place it in current context or issue incontrovertible pronouncements. That's not what expertise is.

But a dumb person can't gauge that deep understanding or parse those nuanced factors. So none of it matters. All a dumb person has to go on is your predictive value and track record. Your stats.

This explains the contempt for Dr. Fauci. Dumb people recall every little thing which failed to come to pass exactly per his prediction. Ample proof of fatal flaw! He's no expert, because expertise means being unassailably right. If I ever catch you being wrong, that makes you less expert than me!

By this standard, society is desperately parched for expertise. Doctors (unlike faith healers or TV quacks) can be uncertain, and unwilling to make solid predictions. And experts often can't even agree with each other, which means they're not expert at all! The experts who warned about high fat last year are warning about low fat this year. That's not expertise, that's flip-flopping bullshit! A real expert knows the absolute truth, and sticks with it, period. If you bounce around, that means you never really knew, and if you don't know, how can you call yourself an expert?

Of course, none of that has the slightest to do with genuine expertise. Just as genuinely wealthy people don't really shit in gold toilets.

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