Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kling on Experts

Arnold Kling explains when to trust and when to dismiss experts:
I have faith in experts. Every time I go to the store, I am showing faith in the experts who design, manufacture, and ship products.

...Expertise becomes problematic when it is linked to power. First, it creates a problem for democratic governance. The elected officials who are accountable to voters lack the competence to make well-informed decisions. And, the experts to whom legislators cede authority are unelected. The citizens who are affected by the decisions of these experts have no input into their selection, evaluation, or removal.

A second problem with linking expertise to power is that it diminishes the diversity and competitive pressure faced by the experts.

Read the whole thing.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I always listen to Klingon experts (especially when it comes to security of the Enterprise).

Joking aside, it's an interesting article. In my community, we designate people as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and send them to classes and training. Though on the military side, people don't often have a choice in becoming an expert, and sometimes superiors deliberately pick the people they can do without. ("You! You're smart. Go to this class and learn about electronic warfare. And then we'll send you to Iraq.")

The author makes a good point about the "knowledge czar" positions attracting people who are prone to hubris. Often the best people for a job like that wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole. And his point about unreasonably high expectations was valid as well. TSA sucks, and there are things about it that could be improved, but ultimately the job is impossible and we'd be better off to just arm everyone on the plane and tell them to look out for suspicious behavior. I'm not sure about his solution of using private sector and nonprofit experts to replace government experts. Working separately they aren't likely to go anywhere, and if they are brought together to make decisions, then they become de facto government experts, and you run into the same knowledge-power discrepancy. I'd rather have medical decisions for the country made by a flawed Surgeon General who at least has medical knowledge than by a group of politicians who have no clue what's going on or a HMO executive, though ideally there would be a better choice than any of these.