The Perils and Pitfalls to Professionals and Experts
I have always questioned authority but like most of us I gave "experts" and people with "credentials" a great deal of respect and put tremendous faith in their opinions and what they had to say. Of course they knew and understood what they were talking about more than I did, they were trained, they had studied, they were the experts after all.
That position has shifted over the years. It would start in high school with my teachers. But I would write much of that off with the idiom, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." especially when it came to public high school.
I would also assume for years that the people who were my superiors at work had earned their higher ranking, especially in a competitive field like the film business. As I got to know many of these very successful movers and shakers, I realized as often as not they had risen to their positions in any number of ways, many having very little to do with expertise.
Of course, Doctors and Lawyers and folks with PhD's, certainly they would know and be "right" about things in their specialties. I would find through personal experience that that was not necessarily the case.
Now don't get me wrong, I still seek out these experts and professionals when the need does arise. I am however much more skeptical about their advice and opinions. My grain of salt may be more pebble size, as it were.
I got to thinking about this again when I happened upon the article, Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us By Jonah Lehrer in this months Wired magazine (January 2012). It a very interesting piece, and I suggest you give it a read, just click on the link above.
There were several things that stood out for me, one was the results of one particular experiment, where as it turned out "the brain wasn’t seeking the literal truth—it just wanted a plausible story that didn’t contradict observation." That basic human response explains a lot of what confounds me on a daily basis. Although I would certainly hope that we, would dig a little deeper than a knee jerk reaction in regards to things that matter, such as global warming, the economy, education, where our food comes from, etc. etc.
Further on in the article we find that, " It turns out that disc abnormalities are typically not the cause of chronic back pain."
He sums up his findings with this good bit of advice, "And yet, we must never forget that our causal beliefs are defined by their limitations. For too long, we’ve pretended that the old problem of causality can be cured by our shiny new knowledge. If only we devote more resources to research or dissect the system at a more fundamental level or search for ever more subtle correlations, we can discover how it all works. But a cause is not a fact, and it never will be; the things we can see will always be bracketed by what we cannot. And this is why, even when we know everything about everything, we’ll still be telling stories about why it happened. It’s mystery all the way down."
I enjoyed it, got some fresh insights, but it was really just preaching to the choir as it were. Still very interesting.
One more article touching on this topic is in the Atlantic magazine,Why Experts Get It Wrong by James Warren