An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.
― Werner Heisenberg
In today’s world from work to private life to public discourse, experts are receding in importance. They used to be respected voices who added deep knowledge to any discussion, not any more. Time and time again experts are being rejected by the current flow of events. Experts are messy and bring painful reality into focus. With the Internet, Facebook and the manufactured reality they allow, it’s just easier to dispense with the expert. One can replace the expert with a more comforting and simpler narrative. One can provide a politically tuned narrative that is framed to support an objective. One can simply take a page from the legal world and hire their own expert. The expert is a pain to control, and expertise is expensive. Today we can just make shit up and it’s just as credible as the truth, and much less trouble to manage. Today our management culture with its marketing focus has no time for facts and experts to cloud matters. Why deal with the difficulties that reality offers when you can wish them away. The pitch for money is much cleaner without objective reality to make things hard. Since quality really doesn’t matter anyway, no one knows the difference. We live in the age of bullshit and lies. The expert is obsolete.
The more interviews that an expert had done with the press, Tetlock found, the worse his predictions tended to be.
― Nate Silver
I will acknowledge that the problem is somewhat of a modern problem where everyone can feel like an expert. Anyone can publish stuff online whether its Twitter, Facebook or a blog (fingers pointing at myself). There is a lot of self-promotion and institutionalized catfishing going on. As a result, almost, anyone can be a self-identified expert, and as a consequence no one is an expert. Meanwhile our educational system is completely out of date with modernity, and people have no ability to tell shit from shinola. People are not educated to think critically, instead they are indoctrinated to be servile pawns of the management class. As a result, the masses are utterly incapable of judging legitimacy of sources and trusting credible sources. The impact of this illegitimate basis of reality, trust is crumbling, and people increasingly choose to listen to the voice that matches their own biases. This is creating a huge number of problems as the truth of the world begins to diverge from any objective reality. This whole process is leaking over into the technical world although the effects are subtle. Most acutely the tendency to produce marketable results has replaced quality as the focus. Difficult problems and unforeseen results are easily ignored when something more comforting can easily be manufactured. When that comforting creation produces funding for more work, the ruse gets all the validation it needs from our increasingly corrupt system.
Wise people understand the need to consult experts; only fools are confident they know everything.
― Ken Poirot
Listen to the experts. They got that way for a reason.
― Erica Larsen
When leaders lack expertise, nothing else works
― V.S. Parani
Experts are complicated, difficult, hard to control, and bring painful objective reality to the table. When subjects are difficult it is appealing to choose the simpler and cheaper point-of-view. An expert will steer you away from this and keep the conversation from over simplifying things. Experts also tend to be passionate about their topics of interest. As a result of their passion, the expert is hard to control. This is an issue with management who want to control everything. All the realities that the expert brings up only make the work harder. Thus, the expert makes everything less in control, more difficult and expensive. What’s the point of applying expertise if you can massage and manage the results into something nice and marketable. With abysmal standards for quality there is no reason to deal with complex realities any way. Everything is simply a sales pitch. The reality and expertise only make the job of success harder. Experts only matter if you have high standards and want to accomplish something real.
Reality is messy and full of problems. The expert knows this and provides the best way to navigate the mess. Since reality has become optional and the objective is a marketed result, the expert is also optional. Messy reality is also a problem for marketing, which needs to be simple. Problems that are hard to solve are risky too. This is also something to be avoided. The best way to avoid a potential failure is to focus on past success and simply repackage it into something new. Since there aren’t any experts there to digest the results, the ruse will likely work. This sort of cozy relationship is widespread. Repackaged, and marketed results are simply easier to deal with and sell. If your remove experts and their passion for a topic, no one will notice anyway. We simply create a system where no real progress is made. All that is necessary is to keep any experts from being involved and the whole system works like a charm. Increasingly work and education are conspiring to cut off the supply of experts too. We are simply not learning or working in a way that creates deep knowledge and without depth of understanding there aren’t experts.
Incestuous, homogeneous fiefdoms of self-proclaimed expertise are always rank-closing and mutually self-defending, above all else.
― Glenn Greenwald
All of these horrors have been slowing dawning on me while seeing our broader world begin to go up in flames. The evening news is a cascade of ever more surreal and unbelievable events. The news has become absolutely painful to watch. A big part of this horrible discourse is the chants of “fake news” and the reality of it. The problems with fake news are permeating the discourse across society. Science and scientific experts are no different. A lack of confidence and credibility in the sources of information is a broad problem. Unless the system values integrity, quality and truth it will fade from view. Increasingly, the system values none of these things and we are getting their opposites. For each thing experts acts as gatekeepers of integrity, quality and truth. As such they are to be pushed out the way as impediments to success. The simple politically crafted message that comforts those with a certain point of view is welcomed by the masses. The messy objective reality with its subtle shadings and complexity are something people would rather not examine.
The crux of the problem is the recession of experts from dialog is happening at research institutions too. It is more muted than the trend in the broader public sphere but happening quite surely. The expert is reviled as being harder to control, and generally more expensive. They represent a real threat to the encroachment of the management class and ethos into every leadership role. Expertise supersedes the concerns that the management focuses upon bringing up difficult topics like quality and correctness. These things cannot be managed in the shallow manner we have become accustomed to. Marketing pitches and sales do not lend themselves to the expert. Moreover, the expert will not bend to the politically correct messaging with a tendency to speak uncomfortable truths that managers would just as soon hide away. In today’s world every message is politically crafted, and facts are fungible. The credibility of experts used to transcend these concerns to the benefit of all, but now they are simply nuisances. Today experts are only used when they can be manipulated to the benefit of some vested interest.
At some point this trend must end. Our ability to function at all in the current environment is a testament to our societal largess. If we are to recover the expert needs to return to a more prominent role in providing competence and truth. The adherence to some basic set of facts and truths is necessary to keep our direction focused in a constructive direction. Deep knowledge and experience is invaluable in doing difficult things. The lack of objective reality in our dynamics is evidenced by the chaos we are descending into. Some common ground would assist the orderly solution of problem. Experts provide an objective reality that is sometimes unremittingly unpleasant, and difficult to deal with. It often opposes deeply held beliefs and views. We need this sort of input to our struggles. People need to be challenged and consider their beliefs critically. Some problems need to be confronted head on and viewed in an objective manner. We should welcome this much the same as the doctor’s or dentist’s visit. Unpleasant and uncomfortable, but necessary for our health. As long as we allow ourselves to avoid the painful truth by thrusting experts out of the public life, our problems will grow, and we will continue to tumble into chaos.
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
― John F. Kennedy
Ultimately leadership worth believing in and following would tell us some difficult truths. We would be encouraged to confront painful truths and make genuine efforts to overcome these. We would do some difficult things and court failure as a necessity for success. We should be committed to progressing toward a better world as a society through solving our most difficult problems. Experts are among our best sources for defining and solving such problems. As long as they are pushed out of the public sphere by political concerns, our most difficult problems will go undefined and lack solution. I would go so far as to say that our entire society is mostly headed backwards. We are not creating a better world, we are moving into a worse one. Lack of objective truths and basic facts is a big part of the recipe. Valuing, listening and engaging expertise is one way to reverse this worrying trend. Now we need leadership that can recognize how dire the danger is and do something. The rejection of expertise in managing our affairs is widespread and pervasive. We need real leadership to recognize that solving our collective problems needs expertise to be a part of the solution. We need to affirm the fundamental value of experts, facts and truth in managing our affairs. We need leadership with the courage to face reality and make difficult decisions. Expertise is a big part of defining that reality in a comprehensive manner that lends itself to action.
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
― John F. Kennedy