September 30, 2016 Leave a comment
‘People in this country’, said Michael Gove, ‘have had enough of experts’. During the run up to the referendum, geeky Gove was ridiculed for his views. Brexiteers who dismissed the predictions of the Chancellor, the Bank of England, the CBI, the universities and the rest were reviled. If you reject expertise then you must be stupid.
After the vote, the experts predicted that the economy would shrink, the collapsing pound would cause inflation and jobs would disappear. Now, three months on, the experts have changed their tune. Even the Guardian is running headlines saying ‘The Brexit economy: post-referendum data defies gloomy UK predictions’. But do the readers believe the new data? No, they do not. Almost six thousand Guardianreaders were upset and left comments after the article, and most are sceptics. It is not just the Brexiteers who have had enough. Michael Gove was surprisingly percipient.
Why have we stopped believing in experts? Psychologists believe that, to have a healthy personality, you need to trust your parents. The Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT has studied the effects of lying on children and found that children who have been lied to, begin to distrust the world outside the home. Self-doubt turns into suspicion of authority.
Adults are the same. If they feel that they have not been told the whole story, they begin to doubt their ability to know what is a dependable source of information.
I agree with almost all she says, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. In fact, I commented that often my definition of an expert is anybody more than 50 miles from home. That’s my definition because I have seen it happen often, all my life. It’s worth noting that it has worked both for me and against me all my adult life.
But the kind of expert Cresta is mostly talking about here, is the government consultant, engineer, whatnot. The same is true in the private sector, innumerable times I have seen consultants say exactly what lower level people in the company said, but because they were paying the consultant ‘the big bucks’, which were not always that big by the way, but because he was away from home he was credible. Insurance companies are infamous for doing this, especially when something goes wrong. Well, it makes a payday for some, although it often damages the company, sometimes irreparably. But that’s not the insurance company’s problem, much better, from their standpoint, that the formerly productive company goes out of business (and all the employees be made redundant) than that there should ever be another claim.
In truth, a lot of engineers fit into this category as well. Many haven’t actually done the things they are designing a machine for. That is why I’m very chary of driverless cars. It’s very easy to design, and frankly, I think a driverless motor home would be quite wonderful. Imagine sitting there behind the big windshield, watching the world go by, having a beer (or six) if you wish. Sounds good to me. But then I remember, aircraft have such good autopilots now that they can fly from the gate halfway around the world and taxi to the gate, without a pilot doing anything. But you know something, there are still two pilots on the flight deck, and I’ve heard no one saying they shouldn’t be.
Why is that? Because things can go pear shaped in the strangest ways, and bloody quickly as well. In fact, reading Cresta’s article made me remember there is a movie I wanted to see. It’s called Sully, and it’s about US Airways Flight 1549 back on January 15, 2009, when Captain Sullenberger, managed to dead stick land it on the Hudson river in New York. If you watch the movie you will learn the difference between an expert who has the experience, and the academics. You may also learn why so many aircraft accidents are ruled pilot error, although I suspect a fair percentage really are. But sometimes you really need a guy who has sat in that seat to understand how it happened.
You also need people that know enough about it that they can process information very quickly indeed, and that only comes from experience and thinking about it before it happens. That is why I almost never judge things like police shootings, while I sometimes do on what happens on the power line. I’ve never been a cop, but I know line work inside out.
In any case, see the movie, I liked it quite a lot. And here’s the trailer.