Experts All the Way Down

Whether it's global warming, racism or deficit spending, beware of the experts you're listening to. They know far less than they claim.

Issue: Nov-Dec 2010

David H. Freedman, Wrong: Why Experts* Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010), 304 pp., $25.99.

Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York: Ecco, 2010), 416 pp., $26.99.

Charles Seife, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (New York: Viking Adult, 2010), 304 pp., $25.95.

[amazon 0316023787 full]CHAFE THOUGH we might at our helplessness, even the most abrasive cynics cannot avoid relying on various species of experts—economists or oncologists or climatologists or . . .—in forming opinions. The world is just too complex to decode it on our own. And as the world has grown evermore complicated, there has been a corresponding surge in demand for metaexpertise—for those who promise to guide us through the intellectual labyrinth, distinguishing the snake-oil salesmen from the fact profferers. Of course, just because we want something does not mean that it exists. But it is a good bet that people will pop up claiming they can deliver the answers gift wrapped tomorrow morning.

 

THANK GOODNESS, it would seem then, that there are three new books by accomplished journalists David Freedman, Kathryn Schulz and Charles Seife to help us laymen figure out who is engaging in trickery-by-data-distortion and who not, so we can all better decode whom and what to trust.

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