The two characteristics that meet the experts who are most wrong

The two characteristics that meet the experts who are most wrong

Each of us, lately, in the wake of Covid-19, we choose the expert who says what we want to hear . We repeat what he says without paying as much attention to what he says. They are expert opinions ready-to-wear. And that is possible only for a double reason: the experts are wrong, and there are many things that are not known and about which one can have different opinions.

Are the experts wrong? Are they not experts? Yes, but things are not that simple.

Peter Principle

There are learned , ignorant coarse who hide behind academic titles but who lack true scholarship because of their lack of curiosity and humility and their narrow-mindedness. There are also experts blinded by ideology. And other experts who have gotten where they are in ways that are far from meritocratic.

Postulated by the professor of educational sciences at the University of Southern California Laurence J. Peter , Peter’s principle or Peter’s principle of incompetence affirms that people who do their job well are promoted to positions of greater responsibility, to the point They reach a position in which they cannot even formulate the objectives of a job, and they reach their highest level of incompetence.

A group of researchers from the University of Minnesota, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Yale University proved this principle by studying more than 100 American companies in which the best performing employees in their role were promoted to positions manager. And when this promotion happened, those bosses weren’t competent in a leadership role .

That is, you can be good at a specific thing, but then fail when you are given more responsibilities. This also happens because there are many promotion mechanisms that have little or nothing to do with meritocracy: one can be promoted by being a conformist (one who does not question anything within the company and assumes the role of mere executor of what the hierarchy dictates) , for latent deficiency (those who are promoted well for reasons of seniority in the company, or for fidelity and a certain resolution in the previous position) and the best of all: flattering superiors, licking ass.

This certainly explains why there are many companies, even large companies or multinationals, that seem to be supported only by a couple of threads. That look like houses of cards about to collapse with a blow. I have had the luck or the misfortune to work for many of these companies and see them inside, and get scared. Really scare me. It is as if there is no one behind the wheel. As if those who are dedicated to hiring professionals only hit the mark by chance. Random workers that only have one neuron. Naturally, this also explains the so-called Pareto Law : it is enough that at least 20 percent of the workers perform their job well so that the company does not go down the drain even though the remaining 80 percent do it poorly. This principle can be found in many other organizations: for example, Wikipedia .

Two basic mistakes

Philip Tetlock , the youngest member of a committee of the United States National Academy of Sciences, undertook an investigation into the knowledge and judgment of experts in 1984. For 20 years, he studied experts (usually advisers on political and economic issues): political scientists, economists, lawyers, diplomats, etc. There were from journalists to university professors. More than half were doctors.

Tetlock’s method of evaluating the quality of the opinions of these experts was to ask them to make precise and quantifiable predictions (answering each other up to a total of 27,450 questions) and then wait to see if they were fulfilled. The point is, they were rarely met. The experts were failing, and their inability to predict the future was just one more symptom of their glaring failure to fully understand the complexities of the present.

The lesson to be learned from Tetlock’s research is that we shouldn’t believe that experts are always sure what to do (even if it seems so). That experts know more than we do, but not much more . And that experts still ignore much more than they admit (especially in the field of social sciences). The most interesting thing to know if we should trust an expert more or less, according to what Tetlock discovered, is that the experts who are most wrong have one or two of the following characteristics:

  1. They appear in the media . The longer they appeared speaking on television, for example, the more incompetent they became.
  2. It is hard for them to change their mind . Popularly, it is considered that having a reputation for changing your mind makes you a "weather vane", someone who does not have things too clear. However, it happens that it is just the opposite: a reliable expert is one who admits his mistakes and continually corrects his course, depending on new circumstances or new data.

In the following video, I talk more about some of these issues:

Ultimately: for that there are such harsh demands in science: because science does not trust experts, nor scientists . Science was precisely designed to overcome the fallibility of the human being, and scientists are human beings too. So ‘science’ and ‘scientist’ couldn’t be more different. Because scientists are also human beings and all humans have an ideology, or we are prey to biases, prejudices or various fools. That’s what science exists for: to discard claims that fail to pass its strict verification method. Science is the last line of defense of the shortcomings of human thought, also experts: faith, dogma, revelation, authority, charisma, mysticism, divination, visions, hunches or … the political ideology that you support with the fervor of a believer .