Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our Experts Aren't Expert

The world's leading experts can't figure out how to stop the economic decline, when just a year or two ago, the world economy was growing.

In the 1970s, the experts were predicting global cooling. Then they insisted it's warming; they even gave Al Gore a Nobel Prize for publicizing that theory. Yet, for the last decade, the earth's average temperature has dropped,  and now scientists are telling us to not expect warming for at least another decade. 

We've given billions to experts on curing cancer. Yet we still treat it with medieval crudeness: Cut out the cancer you can see and poison the body, hoping you kill the cancer without killing the patient. Often, it doesn't work.

U.S. News & World Report called me "Career coach extraordinaire" and the San Francisco Bay Guardian called me "The Bay Area's best career coach. " Yet often, I'm not sure how to help a client. Procrastinators particularly challenge me despite my having often been published on the subject.

The experts told us an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Then they told us not to eat apples because of something called alar. Then they went back to "an apple a day."

The experts told us to switch from butter to margarine...until they decided to tell us to switch back to butter.

The experts told us to control our dietary cholesterol. Now they tell us it doesn't matter much.

For decades, education experts insisted that teaching newcomers to the U.S. in their own language would ultimately improve their skills both in English and their native language. Until they decided they were wrong.

Since 9/11, the experts told us we will likely soon have another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It's been eight years and a terrorist hasn't broken a twig here.

Experts insisted that phonics was the best way to teach reading...until they decided that whole language was...until they decided phonics was. Meanwhile the reading achievement gap between society's haves and have-nots is as wide as ever.

To navigate our complicated world, we all seek a guide. Religious people turn to a deity while we atheists smugly prefer science. Yet at this still primitive stage in science's development, even an inveterate atheist like me must acknowledge that my science-based guide isn't as superior as I'd like to think it is. At least the theists' Gods don't keep changing their mind.


Anonymous said...

Religion vs. science? Nobody's going to yield in that battle.

"One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing," Socrates said reportedly.

If the most influential figure in philosophy can admit that he is no expert, I think the rest of us can admit that we're still learning without the sky falling in. I don't know of any person who can claim to be smarter than Socrates.

Kevin Donlin said...

Excellent! This remminds why I'm a libertarian ... and why I loved the book, "The Wisdom of Crowds." Thesis: The many are smarter than the few.

In other words, nobody can know everything about anything -- the Bernanke Bailout is only the latest and most egregious example. That's why top-down decision making is almost invariably the wrong approach.

Grace said...

"Experts" are not perfect, but it is often a more efficient way to get information out into a public forum and create discussion. Each expert brings new information to the table, but we need to bounce that info off of our own values, knowledge and experiences.


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