89 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Misses What's Right
, July 25, 2010
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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