001 FRE: Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When not to Trust Them

There’s an almost nihilistic undercurrent in David H. Freeman’s book, the idea that experts are often wrong (perhaps more often than not), and there’s really no good way to tell which is the case. Certainly the contradictory nature of expertise is obvious to anyone who has done a deep dive into anything beyond the hard sciences of math, physics and chemistry (and even these are not as immune to the problems raised by Freeman’s thesis as we would like). Dealing with the advice from various parenting books I’ve read when faced with the arrival of my progeny, it was easy to find clearly contradictory recommendations on nearly every aspect of caring for our children. Going online only makes things worse as most of the results from a given search result are parents relaying their experiences to other parents, very much a case of the blind leading the blind. I was ready to call out some of Freeman’s egregious cases of bolstering his arguments in his catalog of contradictory experts: For example, he confuses the “nice guy” with a man being nice (the former being, in many ways, a rather obsequious approach to relationships with women that borders on passive aggressive behavior and is often justly rewarded with rejection) and then later on the same page he points to different success rates for in vitro fertilization and fertility treatments not realizing that these are very different things, but in the final appendix, as an innoculation against precisely these sorts of criticisms, Freeman acknowledges that these sorts of biases are likely to have crept into his work as he seeks examples to bolster his argument while ignoring those which do not. 

Having said that, the appendix reflects a humility about the argument which is absent from the rest of the book, perhaps dangerously so. This sort of argument against expertise bolsters one of the concerns that he raises himself, that ignorance will tend to reinforce itself, creating a situation where the informed and educated can continue to be informed and educated while the ignorant become more ignorant.

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