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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Define "expert."

 Continuing a broad theme I recently commenced with my prior post "Define 'evidence'."


A person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area. - Google result
One with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject. - Mirriam-Webster
A person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority. -
A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area. - Oxford Dictionary
We certainly expect that of our physicians, even as it goes to the "Art of Medicine."

Below, I cited Tom Nichols' excellent book some time back.

Recall how some people confidently claim to know more than the "experts" irrespective of the topic.

In Trump’s World, Reality Is Negotiable
The president’s resistance to learning will long outlive his administration.
Tom Nichols

“Stories that should be good, are bad. Stories that should be bad, are horrible,” President Donald Trump complained in December. But that tweet wasn’t just the latest entry in an endless series of gripes about the press—it revealed something essential about this president’s relationship to facts, and the experts who produce them. For Trump, praise is truth, criticism a lie. Reality itself, like everything else in Trump’s world, is negotiable.

Over the past two years, Trump and his enablers have accomplished something even more dangerous than trying to run a government on gut feeling and conspiracy theories. They have, by attacking sources of authoritative knowledge beyond the president himself, inoculated a huge swath of the American public against ever being informed about anything, providing millions of Americans with a resistance to learning that will long outlive his administration…

Now comes a new release I've been eagerly awaiting since reading "The Peculiar Blindness of Experts."

…I dove into work showing that highly credentialed experts can become so narrow-minded that they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident—a dangerous combination. And I was stunned when cognitive psychologists I spoke with led me to an enormous and too often ignored body of work demonstrating that learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when that means performing poorly on tests of immediate progress. That is, the most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind…

…One revelation in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis was the degree of segregation within big banks. Legions of specialized groups optimizing risk for their own tiny pieces of the big picture created a catastrophic whole. To make matters worse, responses to the crisis betrayed a dizzying degree of specialization-induced perversity. A federal program launched in 2009 incentivized banks to lower monthly mortgage payments for homeowners who were struggling but still able to make partial payments. A nice idea, but here’s how it worked out in practice: a bank arm that specialized in mortgage lending started the homeowner on lower payments; an arm of the same bank that specialized in foreclosures then noticed that the homeowner was suddenly paying less, declared them in default, and seized the home. “No one imagined silos like that inside banks,” a government adviser said later. Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.

Highly specialized health care professionals have developed their own versions of the “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem. Interventional cardiologists have gotten so used to treating chest pain with stents—metal tubes that pry open blood vessels—that they do so reflexively even in cases where voluminous research has proven that they are inappropriate or dangerous. A recent study found that cardiac patients were actually less likely to die if they were admitted during a national cardiology meeting, when thousands of cardiologists were away; the researchers suggested it could be because common treatments of dubious effect were less likely to be performed…

Epstein, David J. Range (pp. 11-12). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Lovin' this book thus far, notwithstanding my minor quibble with his take on the 2008 financial meltdown. I used to work in subprime risk management, and had a front-row seat viewing forces that led up to the crash. See my 2008 post "Tranche Warfare." Also, Google "Gresham's Dynamic." Human affairs get regulated one way or another. Let the foxes guard the henhouses, well, you get what you get. Hyperspecialization, while certainly a major contributory factor, was by no means the whole story.

A core finding in Range is one that succinctly demolishes the specious "transfer of training" argument. Highly trained mono-hyperspecialists tend toward unwarranted overconfidence, both within their specialties, and with respect to opinions going to other knowledge/skill domains.

Title taglne, "why generalists triumph in a specialized world."

Money shot early on:
Scientists and members of the general public are about equally likely to have artistic hobbies, but scientists inducted into the highest national academies are much more likely to have avocations outside of their vocation. And those who have won the Nobel Prize are more likely still. Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least twenty-two times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer. Nationally recognized scientists are much more likely than other scientists to be musicians, sculptors, painters, printmakers, woodworkers, mechanics, electronics tinkerers, glassblowers, poets, or writers, of both fiction and nonfiction. And, again, Nobel laureates are far more likely still. The most successful experts also belong to the wider world. “To him who observes them from afar,” said Spanish Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, “it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality they are channeling and strengthening them.” The main conclusion of work that took years of studying scientists and engineers, all of whom were regarded by peers as true technical experts, was that those who did not make a creative contribution to their field lacked aesthetic interests outside their narrow area. As psychologist and prominent creativity researcher Dean Keith Simonton observed, “rather than obsessively focus[ing] on a narrow topic,” creative achievers tend to have broad interests. “This breadth often supports insights that cannot be attributed to domain-specific expertise alone.” [ibid, pp. 32-33]
Interesting, especially given that "I am not a scientist."
My late Dad (career Bell Labs semiconductor R&D technocrat) loved to sarcastically spout the gibe "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." He repeatedly admonished me during my childhood to find a technical niche and become "expert" in it. That was the path to success in life. The exhortation fell on deaf ears, to my parents' acute aggravation. When I finally got my Master's in 1998 at age 52, a favorite riff of mine was the late Eric Sevareid's "Jack of All Trades, Master of None, Save For That of Jack of All."
apropos of where this all points to, "Is there a science of deliberation?" Would it necessarily entail "Range?" How does all of that cohere with "Open Mindedness?" We're gonna have to get good at all of this stuff if we're to be effective "Champions of Science" at all levels.

Particularly in the medical field. e.g., here, and here, to cite just a couple of relevant prior posts.

Need I put up a subsequent post "Define 'Science'?" to wit,
Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science
WASHINGTON — President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.

Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests…
If we don't get climate science right, little else will matter.

Mr. Best Words.

Need we also have a post entitled "Define 'definition'?" Should we go all the way to annoying sophomore undergrad Phil101"Define 'truth'?"


New issue of Science Magazine showed up today. This new book is reviewed. I downloaded it. Stay tuned.

As noted at
The decline of trust in science “terrifies” former MIT president Susan Hockfield
If we don’t trust scientists to be experts in their fields, Hockfield says on the latest episode of Recode Decode, “we have no way of making it into the future.”
Dr. Susan Hockfield
…[O]ne of the things I really do worry about is this current lack of confidence in experts and expertise. It’s what science is about. We test ideas, we contest ideas, and if we don’t believe that there are things that are more right than others, which is where we place our bets now, we have no way of making it into the future.

KS: I agree. The truth is now political, you get that? So you have to be political.
I get that and it terrifies me. So we have to continue to insist on an apolitical realm. Politics are never out of it entirely. We have to insist on an understanding that there are people who understand areas better than we do. I don’t pretend to be an engineer. I don’t pretend to be a physicist. If the physicists at MIT tell me that they’ve figured out gravitational waves, I’m going to trust them more than I’m going to trust myself to imagine whether or not there are gravitational waves.

KS: Right.
But this idea that there are people with expertise that we should value and value their opinions greater than others. I understand that people might debate the fine points of climate change, but the fact is that the best science indicates that we’re in trouble.

KS: Right.
If an asteroid were coming toward Earth, don’t you think we’d mount every possible defense to send it off its course, rather than say, “Asteroids don’t exist?” Of course we would. So it’s simply folly to my mind not to step up and invent the technologies that are going to prevent us from the ravages of climate change that we’re inflicting on the planet, or frankly whether it’s us or anyone or some other natural operation.

KS: Right.
It’s our job to protect ourselves so that we have a better future.

KS: Absolutely. Or maybe we’ll just learn our lesson. It’s probably the way it’s going to go, unfortunately the way it’s going to go.
Well, I hope not…


More to come...

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