Why I’m skeptical of experts

I’m skeptical of experts.

Too many folks put blind trust in experts, or people they think are experts, but who really aren’t. Often, they think a rich dude like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are experts in everything, when the scope of what made them rich was fairly narrow and doesn’t necessarily transfer.

For example, Bill Gates is an expert in writing software and spending the money he made from writing software. It should really go without saying that doesn’t mean he’s an expert in everything.

In this post back in 2011, I criticized his policy-stances on education. I believe I just heard today that he’s running charter schools in Seattle now, instead of wanting to build a single point of failure into the public education system, like he was then. That might be progress for him. Though, given how innumerate we are these days, the damage he has done with common core math may already be baked.

At that time it had taken him 10 years and $5 billion to learn that in public schools he was fighting a vested interest (teacher unions), who also love single points of failure. So, my guess is that he hasn’t suddenly become a believer innovation and competition, but rather, even his billions couldn’t beat the political power of the union. He may be about to learn the same thing with WHO.

Lots of people try to convince skeptical folks, like myself, that I’m dumb for not trusting the experts, or pseudo-experts, like Gates.

Then the experts blow it. Sometimes big time. This pandemic is a good example of how experts have been blowing it time and time again.

That sometimes puts a little dent in their trust in experts, for a bit.

But, then the next time I express skepticism of some “expert” BS, I hear “you better trust the experts,” again. I ask if they remember the last time the experts blew it? “Well, they’ve learned,” or, “this is different.”

There’s no need to debate how much of an expert someone is. They may be the most expert in whatever topic we are discussing.

I keep one thing in mind: experts have been wrong, plenty.

I especially distrust experts that display classic tells that they use their status to manipulate (and sometimes fool themselves), like speaking with utmost confidence (that tells me they have rationalized away, rather than learned from, their past wrongs), not  willing to explain their work (they think their status puts them above scrutiny) or shutting down disagreement with fallacies (this tells me they may be over dramatizing their expertness to manipulate for achieve another end, like getting us to not wear masks when we should be or to avoid the obvious flaw in their pretty model).

Experts that I am more apt to listen to are ones that are humble because they remember their past failings and they know they could be missing something on this one, too. They often say things like, “I could be wrong.” Or, “If my theory is correct, this is what I would expect” and ask, “What do you think?”

They don’t mind being wrong. They seek it out because they are more interested in getting to a good answer than being right. And they know that it is rare that the first answer is the best answer. They realize that getting to a good answer is an iterative, trial-and-error process, emphasis on the error.

Most of all, they can and love to show their work. They don’t expect you to accept their conclusions just because they are the expert and you are not. They can explain how they got to their conclusions in a way you can understand.

They also welcome feedback, even from folks who aren’t experts. They know that fresh eyes sometimes see glaring flaws missed by experts who are down in the weeds and diverse world experience might bring in a viewpoint or idea from another field that can help.

That is my work on why I am skeptical of experts. Of course, I could be wrong.

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