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This review is from: Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, ... consultants, health officials and more (Hardcover)
Author David Freedman is a good writer and "WRONG" is a pretty good read. The book focuses on the many ways that experts, in numerous fields, can mess us up by passing on wrong information and advice. As you might guess, Freedman's warning is to beware of experts, particularly those claiming to know it all. He even tackles the question "is this book wrong" - a smart touch, given the subject.
Where WRONG comes up a bit short is on solutions -- how to tell questionable advice from the trustworthy kind. I wondered why a book that's so good at describing the problem couldn't muster a few more creative answers toward the end.
Freedman might have made a stronger case by weaving in some of the things that experts do "right." The contrast would have better highlighted their true failures while also helping readers know when to trust expert advice and when to question it. And that's critical if you want to use the info he shares to make better choices. Instead, Freedman suggests we can't trust most experts most of the time. That's a bit misleading and not as helpful as it could be in a world where most of us rely pretty heavily on experts for a range of basic services.
The research I've seen suggests the need to be especially wary when experts weigh in on topics outside their comfort zones or where answers to problems are unknown. By contrast, experts do better than non-experts on problems that have known solutions. There are always exceptions but this makes sense in general. For example, plumbers are experts who have seen thousands of drain clogs and know how to treat. Mechanics have a wealth of experience diagnosing common car problems. And ditto for many of the common problems a family doctor encounters or a tax accountant sees. Do these experts make mistakes? Sure. But, compared to the rest of us, they tend to do pretty well on problems in their fields that are well understood. Freedman has to know this but doesn't say it clearly, so readers may easily come away thinking otherwise.
Of course, unscrupulous people from doctors to auto-mechanics can also knowingly mislead us. Freedman addresses ethics in several places but tends to lump together experts who give us wrong info on purpose with those who do it by accident or ineptitude. The bad advice may look similar in these cases, but ethical wrongs spring from different problems and point to different solutions. Again, it would have made for a more compelling conclusion if Freedman had pushed harder on possible solutions here and in related areas. Maybe he wanted to do more but just ran out of time before publication. Overall, a good analysis but the payoff & solutions could have been more constructive.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 16, 2010 7:27:10 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 16, 2010 7:29:25 AM PDT
"And ditto for most problems a family doctor will encounter."
But see? That's exactly what he's addressing in this book -- your family doctor does NOT know what's right for most problems. S/He is diagnosing and suggesting remedies on the basis of all that flawed research! S/He may have some idea what has worked in patients, but s/he's also (unless s/he's extremely, extremely rare and unusual -- and the vast majority are neither) swayed massively by the drug detailers and all the wrong info s/he was taught in med school. Nearly all of them push statins on EVERY patient -- even though lots of research (ha.) shows that it is not effective in women of any age, in all men under 65, and in men over 65 who have not been shown to have heart disease -- and even then the results when the drugs are effective show their effects are so slim as to be useless for most patients. If a doctor suggests statins for ANY woman, then s/he is actively doing HARM because of what s/he "knows."
I think you've missed the point of this book!
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2010 8:21:43 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2013 10:19:44 PM PDT
Thanks. My point was that experts should get some credit where they deserve it, not to disagree with Freedman's general argument that they are still often wrong.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2010 8:40:17 AM PST
Linda Armstrong says:
I agree, Elenor. He has said that we need to think for ourselves and that we cannot trust any "expert" advice completely. Skepticism is healthy and all "experts" are human. I find it discouraging how much scientific method has been undermined by current academic culture, especially the tendency of institutions to pursue patents rather than to encourage students to think independently. In the US, on many fronts, our dialogs have been eviscerated by the "shh" factor.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2010 9:55:36 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2013 10:28:02 PM PDT
Thanks for your comment and no doubt that people make mistakes under the best circumstances.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2011 9:56:55 AM PST
Roy R. Beatty says:
One of Ken's main points was about providing examples of successful encounters with experts. It would indeed be a useful contrast. What does "success" look like or feel like ? Is it helping us achieve our goal ? Or is does it help us to frame our goals more usefully ? It depends. On what ?
... A rewarding chain of thought.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 19, 2011 10:08:27 PM PDT
C. Chesney says:
I don't see how Elenor can say "your family doctor does NOT know what's right for most problems." It is one thing to say that the doctor is not always right, which is evident to most of us from personal experience, but how in the world to you stretch that to the point of calling it "most" problems. If it is true maybe we should not use doctors at all, or ask the doctor for an opinion and do the opposite. Is this "most" backed up by any kind of survey, testing or study? Or is it what some people want to believe, and some people can write books about. We need to keep some reasonable pespective here.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 5:04:40 AM PDT
A Reader says:
Back to this review, which mentions professional coaches as sports experts. Have you heard of the book "Money Ball" which is now a movie?
The book is about how baseball experts had it all wrong on how to build a winning team. Have you heard about 'clicker training' for animals? The theory is contrary to the practice of nearly all the 'expert' coaches for human sports. There is a small minority of coaches who are taking the basics of 'clicker training' to gymnastics and golf and making better players much more quickly than the screaming and punishing activities of most coaches. Experts are the ones prescribing antibiotics for viral infections and destroying the usefullness of antibiotics.
Posted on Sep 29, 2011 10:15:38 PM PDT
Spike Spiegel says:
Freedman was not referring to plumber or mechanics whose jobs are fixing something tangible. clogged drain pipes, damaged flex disc (giubo) etc.
he was referring to those in the "forecasting" or "predicting" business.
i actually had a chat with an auto mechanic,
he complained that his customers kept asking if they could defer fixing some secondary mechanical issues and if their cars would go another 100 miles.
he said the only honest reply was "i don't know".
there are so many variables in one's driving environment that nobody could predict.
while the mechanic is the expert to fix your giubo but he would not be able to predict how long the giubo last.
anytime your mechanic predicts, the chance of him/her being correct is no better than random.
Posted on Oct 14, 2011 5:51:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2013 10:27:04 PM PDT
It's been a good conversation. We all agree that experts are often wrong. Even the most brilliant experts are wrong plenty of times. At the same time, it's hard to avoid the fact that we must regularly rely on expert advice and unrealistic to think we can do it all ourselves. So how do we navigate better in those situations where we don't know and probably can't figure out the answers ourselves? It would have been helpful if Freedman left us with more to go on.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2013 10:37:13 PM PDT
If your family doctor does not know what is right for most problems, you need to find another doctor.