In Defense of Experts

As a website devoted to providing an interactive, online forum with global thought leaders, you can imagine our dismay when we read Nicholas Kristof's evisceration of "experts" in today's New York Times. Then we took a closer look.

We concede that the perils of over-the-top intellectualism are ever present in the world of expertise. Indeed, there's nothing that will make a lay audience tune out quicker than an expert who gives actionable advice to the world but sounds like a pale recluse wrapped in tweed and cloistered in a tower of ivory. The only thing worse than that is the amateur loudmouth who successfully passes him or herself off as a sage.

While Kristof may have decried the blind belief in expert opinion, he also decried spurious expertise-making. And we are in agreement. But on one point Mr. Kristof does not go far enough. While his assertion that the "marketplace of ideas for now doesn’t clear out bad pundits and bad ideas partly because there’s no accountability" is true, what's equally true is that the public's capacity for critical thinking and analysis--to minimize the damage from the bad pundits--has gone the way of the dodo bird.

True, the real estate "experts" who proffered bad mortgages and, as a result sunk the US housing market, were nothing of the sort, but the buyers who defied the most basic norms of logic and common sense to believe the mortgages they were buying were sound were equally, if not more, at fault. What we need are better venues where good ideas can be discussed and debated--and where the best can rise to the top.

Egghead gurus are not going away. In fact, the internet had given every man woman and child in the world, just about, a soapbox for broadcasting expertise and, as Jon Stewart has proven, any platform is now game for vetting the pundits. That's good news. But Mr. Kristof's call for a "system" to catch the charlatans seems a bit overwrought.
Experts, even expert impostors, fill a vital role, and it's probably a worthwhile exercise for all people to know how to separate the expert wheat from the faux-expert chaff. Especially in times of upheaval like the current one, conclusions should be derived empirically. It's one of the pillars of the western tradition after all. And for that approach to function sustainably, we need to hear all the voices. Vetted expert opinion, because we do not have the time, gumption or intellect to form it ourselves, will continue to inform out conclusions, and, more importantly, arm us against all that specious hooey flying around out there.

Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Scientists just voted to change the definition of a kilogram

The definition of a kilogram will now be fixed to Planck's constant, a fundamental part of quantum physics.

Greg L via Wikipedia
Surprising Science
  • The new definition of a kilogram is based on a physical constant in quantum physics.
  • Unlike the current definition of a kilogram, this measurement will never change.
  • Scientists also voted to update the definitions of several other measurements in physics.
Keep reading Show less