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Ch. 2 - Experts: Benefits and Limitations 
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Post Ch. 2 - Experts: Benefits and Limitations
Ch. 2 - Experts: Benefits and Limitations



Thu Jul 30, 2009 12:57 pm
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In a nutshell, it frequently helps to refer to an expert when evaluating a claim. But caveat emptor, experts can be wrong and frequently are, especially when going outside their own area of expertise.

Riniolo refers us to James Randi's famous "Project Alpha" in which Randi trained two amateur magicians in basic conjuring tricks and used them to bamboozle scientists at the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research.

If you're not familiar with "Project Alpha" it was quite an elaborate hoax that took 21 months!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Alpha

Here's the quote from the beginning of this chapter:

James Randi: "Many men of science stupidly assume that because they have been trained in the physical sciences or medical arts, they are capable of flawless judgment in the investigation of alleged psychics. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more scientifically trained a person's mind, the more he or she is apt to be duped by an enterprising performer."

I think this assumption to which Randi refers underscores the importance of intellectual humility. A scientist or other "expert" can be easily led into believing he or she is superior than others in evaluating claims. Likewise, people tend to have a great deal of confidence in scientists and if they get burned once or twice they'll tend to mistrust scientists and science in general.


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Wed Aug 05, 2009 3:02 pm
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However, Riniolo strives to make the point that using experts in their own field is a good thing. An expert may be wrong, but in his field, he is much more likely to be right.

I think this is why they use dr.s and skinny people to sell exercise equipment and diet pills on late night TV. They give the presecnce of 'experts' to the sovle the "problem".


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Thu Aug 06, 2009 2:32 am
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I would speculate that people who are studious have more firmly formed opinions. In this sense, it would seem that the more you read and the more you learn, the more important it is for you to have intellectual humility.



Thu Aug 06, 2009 11:56 am
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There is so much specialization in science and technology that we might wonder if an expert is really able to give a view on a larger question we might be interested in. Maybe climate is an example of no one expert being able to have a comprehensive view of the whole field. Experts in a given specialty also are often divided on an issue, and you wonder why this would be so.


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Thu Aug 06, 2009 9:39 pm
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My book came in the mail today!! I'll join in the discussion more tomorrow.



Fri Aug 07, 2009 1:36 am
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DWill wrote:
There is so much specialization in science and technology that we might wonder if an expert is really able to give a view on a larger question we might be interested in. Maybe climate is an example of no one expert being able to have a comprehensive view of the whole field. Experts in a given specialty also are often divided on an issue, and you wonder why this would be so.


I think you're right that some things are so complex that any conclusion must be considered provisional. Actually that's the approach one should take with any scientific theory. With global warming you can look at much of the data and have different opinions about how valid it is. And, also, as you say, even experts are limited to their area of expertise. One can be an expert in one area, but not necessarily in other areas. And something like global warming encompasses different disciplines, so who's an expert at analyzing all the disparate data and be able to come to any definite conclusion. Anthropogenic global warming seems a vast, complex issue to me, so I don't think it's reasonable to come out with a definite opinion, one way or another. I think we should continue to listen to the experts, but also understand there's political pressure to rush to a conclusion and decide on a response all before the extent of the problem is fully understood.


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Last edited by geo on Fri Aug 07, 2009 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Aug 07, 2009 9:21 am
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Interbane wrote:
My book came in the mail today!! I'll join in the discussion more tomorrow.


Great!


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Fri Aug 07, 2009 9:22 am
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I had another thought about this topic that I don't think Rinolio mentions, at least not yet. Yes, we should definitely consult experts when researching something, but we should not turn off our own brains in the process. I think, in fact, we do take intellectual shortcuts all the time and we should try to be aware of this.

I mentioned this study here a while back which demonstrates that people tend to turn off executive function when asking advice of experts, especially when dealing with something complicated like financial matters.

http://www.physorg.com/news157098577.html

"Study participants were asked to make a series of financial choices between a guaranteed payment and a lottery while undergoing MRI scanning. During portions of the testing, the participants had to make decisions on their own; during other portions, they received advice from a financial expert about which choice to make.

"Results showed that brain regions consistent with decision-making were active in participants when making choices on their own; however, there occurred an offloading of the decision-making process in the presence of expert advice," says Jan B. Engelmann, PhD, Emory research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and first author of the study.


So, yes, by all means consult the experts. Just be careful not to turn off your own brain in the process. :hmm:


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Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:24 pm
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Financial forecasting is a great example of when expertise becomes a cult, in which powers are imputed to experts but where research shows that experts have no better success in choosing what people should invest in than a guy who pitches darts at a board to select his investments. I believe, anyway, that this has been shown to be the case.


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Fri Aug 07, 2009 10:07 pm
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I think the main thrust of this chapter isn't that experts are sometimes wrong in their own field of expertise(although sometimes they are), but rather, experts are only experts in their field of expertise. Outside of their field of expertise, there is something of an 'expert bias', where people unknowingly assume an expert's opinion is more credible, even though that expert is an expert in another field of study.

An expert in biology is no better at giving advice in other fields, unless he's also an expert in that other field he gives advice on. For example, if an expert biologist is also an expert financial adviser, then their advice on financial matters is more credible.

For more complex problems, such as global warming, one would need to be an expert in a number of fields of study to give credible advice. Advice from experts who are only experts in one applicable field to global warming just confuse the issue.



Sat Aug 08, 2009 4:31 pm
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This is off-topic, but I haven't been able to get the book yet, so I can't do better. I think it's interesting how being in the expert's seat affects the expert. Has it ever happened to you that you felt people were looking at you as an expert, or that maybe you wanted to project yourself as an expert? This can right away cause a drop in warrantable uncertainty, as you try to act the part by making assertions you probably can't back up. We should keep this in mind when we see people in the media who are paid to speak as experts. They want to live up to their billing.


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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Sat Aug 08, 2009 10:13 pm
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