Saturday, May 23, 2020

Creeping Expertism, Revisited

This worthless sack of shit was, at one time, an expert witness.   Need I say more?

Expertism is again in the news.  I covered this before and illustrated why over-reliance on "experts" is short-sighted.  After all, I have testified as an expert witness twice - and I don't know my ass from a hole in the ground - as helpful readers continually remind me.  The idea that we should blindly follow the instructions of an "expert" is a fatally flawed idea.   Experts can fake credentials or over-state them.  Experts can be totally wrong.  Experts can be mentally imbalanced.  The science relied upon by experts can later be found out to be fabricated or just factually incorrect.

For example, people are being let of jail today because "blood splatter science" turned out to be complete hooey - as well as "forensic arson investigation" science.   Turns out a lot of the "science" behind this expert testimony was just folklore handed down from one "expert" to another, without a lot of science behind it - no testing, no publication, no peer review, no replication of test results.   People have been imprisoned for a good portion of their lives - or sent to the electric chair - based on expert testimony that we are finding out today is, well, utter bullshit.

Even if the science is sound, the expert might not be.  We've had cases where lab technicians have altered test results in drug cases to make a conviction, or even in fingerprint analysis (which is not like on the television, where they look at two identical fingerprints and they match up on a computer).  No, it is more like counting bumps and whorls, and it is not as exact a science as they lead you to believe.  If it was just looking at two prints side-by-side, they wouldn't hire expert witnesses at trial.

People use expertism or credentialism all the time in arguments - whether economic or political, whether just online flame wars, or Presidential debates.   Usually when someone throws expertism in your face, it is like throwing sand in your eyes - they are trying to momentarily blind you.   So, the Motley Fool, for example, lauds themselves in their sidebar with quotes from Wired magazine (that respected financial periodical!) so you will believe whatever utter bullshit clickbait-titled article they are selling this week.   Sooze Orman calls herself an "internationally acclaimed financial expert!" because a Canadian said something nice about her.  As you can see, credentials can be fabricated from whole cloth.

In recent weeks, there have been calls to let science govern us.  "Leave it to the experts!" they say, or "I believe the science!" which again, is odd, as science has nothing to do with belief.   Leave belief in the church, and the scientific method for the laboratory.   Science itself is never 100% right, and is always subject to correction and update - or even entire theories being tossed out.   Governing by science isn't a bad idea because of that.  No, it is a bad idea because it describes totalitarianism.  As Stalin's Russia illustrated, the government can dictate what is and is not "science".   Hitler did it, too.  Fortunately, he dismissed nuclear physics as "Jewish Science" or we'd all be speaking German.

But beyond that, Democracy means we have a voice in our government - even if, as is often the case, that voice is so totally wrong.  It is like with kids - you have to let them make mistakes, even expensive ones, even dangerous ones, or they never learn.   Yes, we could have had a "lockdown" in January if you think about it - but since there would have been even far fewer deaths than today, people would have bristled at these restrictions that much sooner - and argued that since so few died, they were unnecessary!

No, we can't just let "educated men" lead us and hope they are right about everything.  As messy and wrong as it is sometimes, democracy is a better bet.  Life is not an optimized event, but democracy has shown to be more optimal than relying on the opinions of one man or group of men - or women for that matter.

Human beings are not efficient animals.  Life is not an optimized event.  And yes, this means people die unnecessarily.  We kill 40,000 on the highways every year.  We likely have executed innocent prisoners.  This doesn't mean we are abolishing automobiles or our criminal justice system.  Just get over the idea that thing have to be "perfect" or idealized.  That's irrational thinking.

Tara Reade, the lady (and I use that term loosely) who comes out of the woodwork at a late date to make wild accusations against Joe Biden, was once an "expert witness" in domestic violence cases.  Turns out, her credentials in this field (and what qualifies you to be an expert in domestic violence, anyway?  Going to college?) were pretty thin, if not fabricated.   How she got into law school with only three semesters of undergraduate work is beyond me.   But a lot of people convicted based on her testimony are now demanding new trials - and will likely get them.

Her lawyer - who was representing her in this accusation against Biden (why do you need a lawyer for that?  Oh, right, the book deal) has quit - and surprise, surprise, he's a big Trump supporter.  I did not see that coming!  You mean this whole thing could be politically motivated?  Well, at least Trump himself wasn't involved, right?  Right?

On his way out the door, the lawyer - who gives no explanation for why he quit - says he still believes Ms. Reade, and offers up surveys of public opinion as "proof" that she is telling the truth.  I don't know which is worse - expert witnesses or surveys.   Maybe in the future, instead of trials in a court of law, we can have opinion polls run by AC Nielsen - "guilty or not guilty?"  It could be a tee-vee show.  Oh, wait, it already is.

That's the problem with expert opinions and surveys - they are both ways of suppressing argument.  The person offering these as "evidence" of their "rightness" in an argument is basically shutting down argument.  Unless you can dig up your own expert or run your own survey (or vet both of his) there is nothing further to be said - the merits of the argument itself, tossed aside like so much trash.  This is not intellect, it is anti-intellect.

Meanwhile, many of her friends and acquaintances are calling her a chronic and manipulative liar and asking where's that twenty bucks they lent her.  This blogger chronicles her whole life, and from what I can make of his research, her first words uttered as a baby were lies.  I am not sure that is fair, though.  I thought she was excellent in all those "Sharknado!" movies.  Whoops, wrong Tara.

It is interesting how people view these things through a political lens, though.  Belief trumps science, and a person's personal prejudices get in the way.  For example, AP publishes this weepy piece about how tragic Ms. Reade's life was - but this is assuming she is telling the truth about her life - right?  Funny how her friends call her a deadbeat who owes them money while Snopes calls this a "life marked by financial hardship." 

This illustrates the fallacy of expertism.   As I noted before, if something doesn't make sense to you, and "experts" talk down to you in explaining it, perhaps what is really going on is that you understand it perfectly and someone is lying to you.  Act shocked.

We see this all the time in financial transactions.   The car salesman will bamboozle you with leasing arguments - "it frees up your cashflow!" which is a nonsensical statement, but he can point to an article on his smartphone from a "financial expert" saying the same thing - and you don't have the time and energy to analyze the argument or vet the expert.  The White Van Scam people use the same technique.  If you don't understand it and someone can't explain it to you in simple English in ten words or less, chances are, it is a lie.

Truth isn't owned by anyone - it belongs to everyone and no one at the same time.  A credentialed "expert" testifies in court that the sun rises in the West, while a toothless, illiterate hillbilly says it rises in the East.  Who is right?  If we go by credentials, we will come to the wrong conclusion.

And experts disagree all the time - in fact, all of the time.  Particularly in court cases, one side will present their "expert" and the other side theirs - and both will have opposite opinions, about evidence, about the sanity of the defendant.  If we want to "believe the science" then who do we believe?  Suppose the "expert" we believe is Tara Reade?

This is not to say that we can ignore experts or ignore science.  Sorry flat-eathers, anti-vaxxers, and climate change deniers!  No get-out-of-jail free card here.   You have to examine evidence (which is not the same as opinion, and oh-by-the-way, it has to be real evidence - sorry Area 51, Bigfoot, and Loch Ness Monster fans!) and see if the conclusions make sense.

I don't know what got me started on this, other than when I found out that Ms. Reade was an "expert witness" with fabricated credentials, I nearly fell out of my chair.  It illustrates how we are all-too-willing to rely on the advice of others, and in fact, crave it.   It is why I say again and again, I don't give advice, nor do I suggest anyone seek it.    Seek information, consider opinions, but draw your own conclusions.

Blindly following the advice or testimony of "experts" is, in my opinion, fraught with peril.

But then again, I could be wrong about that!