Recognising Bad Advice and Expertise Failure

Why do we blindly fol­low experts when their advice is so often so wrong*? How can we dif­fer­en­ti­ate between good advice and bad? These are just two of the ques­tions Dav­id Freed­man attempts to answer in Wrong: Why Experts Keep Fail­ing Us (a book that sounds like it could be a nice com­ple­ment to Kath­ryn Schulz’s book, men­tioned pre­vi­ously).

In an inter­view with Time, Freed­man dis­cusses top­ics related to his thes­is, such as our reac­tion when con­fron­ted with experts, experts and the con­firm­a­tion bias, the “Wiz­ard of Oz” effect, how anim­al exper­i­ments help to advance sci­ence but don’t always provide suit­able advice for humans, and what he knows about bad advice and how to recog­nise it:

Bad advice tends to be simplist­ic. It tends to be def­in­ite, uni­ver­sal and cer­tain. But, of course, that’s the advice we love to hear. The best advice tends to be less cer­tain — those research­ers who say, ‘I think maybe this is true in cer­tain situ­ations for some people.’ We should avoid the kind of advice that tends to res­on­ate the most — it’s excit­ing, it’s a break­through, it’s going to solve your prob­lems — and instead look at the advice that embraces com­plex­ity and uncer­tainty. […]

It goes against our intu­ition, but we have to learn to force ourselves to accept, under­stand and even embrace that we live in a com­plex, very messy, very uncer­tain world.

via @vaughanbell

*Some depress­ing facts from Freedman’s book, as chosen by Time:

About two-thirds of the find­ings pub­lished in the top med­ic­al journ­als are refuted with­in a few years. […] As much as 90% of phys­i­cians’ med­ic­al know­ledge has been found to be sub­stan­tially or com­pletely wrong. In fact, there is a 1 in 12 chance that a doctor’s dia­gnos­is will be so wrong that it causes the patient sig­ni­fic­ant harm. And it’s not just medi­cine. Eco­nom­ists have found that all stud­ies pub­lished in eco­nom­ics journ­als are likely to be wrong. Pro­fes­sion­ally pre­pared tax returns are more likely to con­tain sig­ni­fic­ant errors than self-pre­pared returns. Half of all news­pa­per art­icles con­tain at least one fac­tu­al error.