Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Facebook: Digby Parton

@BloggersRUs (Tom Sullivan)

thedigbyblog at gmail
satniteflix at gmail
publius.gaius at gmail
tpostsully at gmail
Spockosbrain at gmail
Richardein at me.com


Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic

Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013 December 2013 January 2014 February 2014 March 2014 April 2014 May 2014 June 2014 July 2014 August 2014 September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 January 2015 February 2015 March 2015 April 2015 May 2015 June 2015 July 2015 August 2015 September 2015 October 2015 November 2015 December 2015 January 2016 February 2016 March 2016 April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016 August 2016 September 2016 October 2016 November 2016 December 2016 January 2017 February 2017 March 2017 April 2017 May 2017 June 2017 July 2017 August 2017 September 2017 October 2017 November 2017 December 2017 January 2018 February 2018 March 2018 April 2018 May 2018 June 2018 July 2018 August 2018 September 2018 October 2018 November 2018 December 2018 January 2019 February 2019 March 2019 April 2019 May 2019


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Thursday, March 26, 2009

All Hail Joe The Plumber

by tristero

Gail Collins. David Brooks. William Kristol. Thomas Friedman. With stiff competition like that, it's hard to believe, but I think that Nick Kristof may get the prize for having typed the stupidest thing ever written by a Times columnist. It starts off almost reasonably, but it isn't:
Ever wonder how financial experts could lead the world over the economic cliff?

One explanation is that so-called experts turn out to be, in many situations, a stunningly poor source of expertise. There’s evidence that what matters in making a sound forecast or decision isn’t so much knowledge or experience as good judgment — or, to be more precise, the way a person’s mind works.
Uh, no. That can't be right. Kristof has started to set up a false dichotomy between knowledge/experience and judgment. As the column goes on, that false dichotomy morphs into an accepted fact. And so, after discussing some studies, Kristof is led to this (with apologies to Somerby) spectacular howler:
Other studies have confirmed the general sense that expertise is overrated.
Well, I'm gonna remember that the next time I'm looking for a string quartet to play my music. Or the next time I need to have surgery on my abdomen. Or hey! when I need to call a plumber, why I'll just call the most famous plumber in the land! Who cares if he's not even a licensed plumber?

This is one of the silliest pseudo-American myths, pure Norman Rockwell, that the average Joe (never a Jane) can perceive The Bigger Truth that somehow eludes the so-called pointy-headed experts. No one really believes it about anything really important in a personal sense. Kristof isn't gonna let me fix his car if it breaks down, despite the fact that, if I say so myself, I usually have darn good judgment, generally. (Note: sarcasm). But the myth persists about the Big Stuff, the notion that anyone with the right attitude can make the right decision when it comes to "solving" the financial crisis, invading Iraq, or running a country.

It's dangerous bullshit. Of course, judgment matters. But judgment without expertise and knowledge is suspiciously close to what is meant by...I believe the technical term is " wild guess." If judgment is mostly what matters, generally - which is exactly what Kristof is saying - then everyone's opinion is worth the same. The brain surgeon who looks at Terri Schiavo's brain images is no more qualified to determine whether she is in a persistent vegetative state than the ignorant television anchor who tries to tell the doctor that she may recover. (This actually happened. Anyone have the link?)

And it's a simple step from this kind of flattening of authority to the construction of totally bogus experts. For example, take the case of Middle Eastern "expert" Laurie Mylroie. According to Peter Bergen (in a private email), despite her Harvard degree, Mylroie has never bothered to learn Arabic. Nevermind, that this clueless paranoid was doing analytical work for the US government as late as 2007: after all, Bush was in power so the hiring of long-discredited neocon nuts was common. No, the real problem is that for the longest time, no one - and I mean no one, including prominent liberals I discussed this with - believed that an "expert's" failure to learn Arabic meant s/he could not actually be an expert on the Middle East. *

Indeed, it takes good judgment to make a sound decision. It also takes knowledge and expertise. Real knowledge and expertise. And exactly what is meant by these concepts - judgment, knowledge, expertise - is very fuzzy. But from what I can tell, Kristof completely misunderstood the point of Tetlock's book. It's not that expertise generally doesn't matter as much as judgment. Rather, it's that certain cognitive styles provide more accurate analyses than others of expert knowledge, including the evaluation of who is an expert.

I have no doubt that is true and that future studies will further refine not only the notion of good judgment, but also what is meant by genuine expertise. But to create a dichotomy, as Kristof does, between expertise and judgment is simply idiotic. It leads to a decadent, brain-dead populism. It gives us, in all his glory, Joe the Plumber. And folks, that's the last thing this country needs.

*In a comment, Laurie Mylroie asserts that she has studied Arabic and directs us to her website, lauriemylroie.com for confirmation. I regret the error and can't help but note that this is one case when a cognitive style provided a far less accurate conclusion than one might like from her expertise.