• Blog Stats

    • 75,143 hits
  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 156 other followers

  • Copyright notice

    This blog entry and all other text on this blog is copyrighted, you are free to read it, discuss it with friends, co-workers and anyone else who will pay attention.

    If you want to cite this blog article or quote from it in a not for profit website or blog then please feel free to do so as long as you provide a link back to this blog article.

    If as a school teacher or university teacher you wish to use content from my blog for the education of students then you may do so as long as the teaching materials produced from my blogged writings are not distributed for profit to others. Also at University level I ask that you provide a link to my blog to the students.

    If you want to quote from this blog in an academic paper published in an academic journal then please contact me before you submit your paper to enable us to discuss the matter.

    If you wish to reuse my text in a way where you will be making a profit (however small) please contact me before you do so, and we can discuss the licensing of the content.

    If you want to contact me then please do so by e-mailing me at Chalmers University of Technology, I am quite easy to find there as I am the only person with the surname “foreman” working at Chalmers. An alternative method of contacting me is to leave a comment on a blog article. If you do not know which one to comment on then just pick one at random, please include your email in the comment so I can contact you.

Rejection of experts II

Dear Reader

Now after seeing how some experts get it wrong we will now look at the folly of when the public decide that because they are not experts that they know better than the expert. Now I have to confess that I have a liking for quotes from the great and the good, one example was President Lincoln of the USA, he once commented “He who represents himself has a fool for a client“.

Now I would not want to say that it is impossible for a person to act as their own lawyer and get a good outcome in a court case, I know a glassblower who defended himself in a minor criminal case and obtained an acquittal. But you have to ask yourself the question when dealing with a complex and/or high stakes case if you would be more wise to hire a lawyer. It might be your first major criminal case, but the chances are that the lawyer has done it many times before. If you hire a good lawyer we hope that you will be able to make good use of their greater knowledge and experience to get you the outcome you need.

In a similar way if your diesel car is making funny noises and has started to emit black smoke then which of the following people would you trust

  1. A random man in a bar
  2. The local midwife
  3. A motor mechanic
  4. A professor of embryology
  5. A designer of diesel engines intended for boats
  6. A university professor of law
  7. The lady who sells bread and cake
  8. A vehicle inspector working at an auction house dealing in classic vehicles
  9. Another random man in a bar
  10. A person doing a PhD on the relationship between air pollution and diesel engine design
  11. The chairman of the Bank of England (or another national bank)
  12. The economics team at the IMF or the OCED

Now go away for a moment and rank these people, think which ones you would want to trust when asking for advice for your car. Now I have marked in Green those who I would trust well, yellow for those I would trust less and red for the least useful ones.

  1. A random man in a bar
  2. The local midwife
  3. A motor mechanic
  4. A professor of embryology
  5. A designer of diesel engines intended for boats
  6. A university professor of law
  7. The lady who sells bread and cake
  8. A vehicle inspector working at an auction house dealing in classic vehicles
  9. Another random man in a bar
  10. A person doing a PhD on the relationship between air pollution and diesel engine design
  11. The chairman of the Bank of England (or another national bank)
  12. The economics team at the IMF or the OCED

I reason that the best two people are the motor mechanic as he/she is trained to fix diesel engines and may well have fixed many with the same fault as yours. The engine designer should be aware of all the common (and not so common) failure modes of diesels. You might want to question the vehicle inspector and the PhD student, depending on their experience they might be outstanding experts but on the other hand they might know little or nothing about your engine problem. For example the PhD student might be working on fuel injector design while your problem might be leakage of oil between the block and the piston. There is an outside chance that the embryologist might in his spare time have the hobby of restoring classic cars and thus be an expert on engine repair, but before I trust this one (or the men in the bar) I would want to know why I should trust them.

Now we have a different problem, suddenly you find out your wife / girlfriend / yourself is pregnant and you want someone to explain what is happening inside and what will happen next. Which person would you trust more. Think about it for a moment and case your votes. Here are my votes using the same color scheme.

  1. A random man in a bar
  2. The local midwife
  3. A motor mechanic
  4. A professor of embryology
  5. A designer of diesel engines intended for boats
  6. A university professor of law
  7. The lady who sells bread and cake
  8. A vehicle inspector working at an auction house dealing in classic vehicles
  9. Another random man in a bar
  10. A person doing a PhD on the relationship between air pollution and diesel engine design
  11. The chairman of the Bank of England (or another national bank)
  12. The economics team at the IMF or the OCED

Now I think that the best bet would be either the midwife or the embryologist, the woman selling cake / bread might be a reasonable person to ask. She might be a mother and thus have a greater idea than the average person. She is the only person in the list who I have indicated is female. While a woman who has had a child will know a bit more than a average person about the whole process I would expect she would know less than one of the two experts who spend their whole working lives dealing with reproduction.

Now we have a new problem, your country is going to have a vote about making a major change to its nature, such as withdrawing from the EU. Which person would you trust to explain the facts and what will happen, I am going to choose lets see who you choose.

  1. A random man in a bar
  2. The local midwife
  3. A motor mechanic
  4. A professor of embryology
  5. A designer of diesel engines intended for boats
  6. A university professor of law
  7. The lady who sells bread and cake
  8. A vehicle inspector working at an auction house dealing in classic vehicles
  9. Another random man in a bar
  10. A person doing a PhD on the relationship between air pollution and diesel engine design
  11. The chairman of the Bank of England (or another national bank)
  12. The economics team at the IMF or the OCED

I reason that the law professor, the chairman of the Bank of England and the economics teams at the IMR and OCED would be the best people to ask. All three are experts and have a lot of experience / knowledge of the issues of what will happen to the law / legal system and what will happen to the economy. Unless you can find a genuine problem such as a vested interested (conflict of interests) or signs of incompetence I would trust the three which I have highlighted in green.

My worry about the others is that you are taking a great chance as you have no evidence that any of them have the skills or knowledge required to deal with the complex problem. It find it of particular note that Nigel Farage likes to depict himself as a man having a drink in a pub (english for bar). I have to ask the question of why have so many people trusted “a man in a bar” with so much. I note that it has been reported by the Times Higher Education to have operated an anti-intellectual leave campaign, I have to ask why do they feel the need to do this.

Part of the problem is that after a few bad experts like Prof Meadows many people have fallen into the following four step mind trap.

  1. Some experts are self-serving or are incompetent.
  2. Therefore all experts are bad
  3. Therefore it is better to trust non experts
  4. Therefore I know better than an expert

This stupidity is one of the things which has resulted in the flight from expert advice, I would like to know if any of the people who have fallen prey to this four step mind trap are willing to make a point of never allowing themselves to be viewed as experts and to make a point of never trying to use their expertise (real or imaginary) to influence others.

I like to think that I have good powers of reasoning and a good quality mind, I hold the view that an important feature of a fine mind is the ability to deal with people who do not agree with you in a professional manner. I manage to stay on speaking terms with some members of the antinuclear industry despite two key issues.

  1. They do not agree with me on many issues.
  2. Some people make the foolish and irksome assumption that because I have done some research on nuclear issues that I must be pronuclear to the point of being rabid. A knowledge of a subject does not cause you to love it unconditionally and support it fanatically.

The smarter ones on point 1 agree to disagree and do not get sucked in by point two.

For example before the last faculty meeting I shared lunch with an antinuclear academic, I will not name him here to protect his privacy, while the two of us can not agree on many issues we can get along well. We can even eat lunch together, laugh, joke and work on things which are of common interest. <Sarcasm>Shock horror, I am half expecting the gutter press to write an article with the headline “Antinuclear prof plus somewhat more pronuclear prof ate lunch together“.</Sarcasm>

Neither of us feels the need to engage in dirty tricks or underhand methods. I suspect that both of us are attempting to apply the standards (Intellectual traits or dispositions) of Socrates to our own work as university academics. But I note that an academic at Liverpool (Michael Dougan) has been subject to a series of nasty attacks because he has spoken on the subject of the Brit-exit. What he did was to show that some of the claims of the leave side were based on dishonesty. One of the attacks is that he is paid by the EU to spread pro-EU ideas around.

He reported that many people who support the leave campaign continue to make the false claim that he is supported by the EU, even after the University of Liverpool released a statement in which they explained how he is not paid by the EU. I would have more sympathy for these people’s claims if they could provide some evidence that he is paid by the EU. To my mind if they could find a paper trail between the man and the EU then it would be more easy to believe.

Part of the problem these days is that for so many people their point of view is “why let the facts get in the way of a good story“. It seems as if the right combination of ideas can create a conspiracy theory even with no evidence or evidence which disproves the conspiracy exists.

Advertisements

Go on, Have your say !

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: