How the World changes. And how quickly!
- There was a time when you might have aspired to being an expert.
- You might have gained some status from it and a sense of self-worth.
- People might have respected you.
Over this last year or two, however, almost all kinds of experts have come into disrepute. It is almost a thing to be ashamed of. I do not know if I dare call myself a ‘risk management consultant’.
What has gone wrong? Here are a few examples.
- The pollsters got the results of the elections here and in the USA wrong. And the EU Referendum.
- The economy did not collapse when we voted for Brexit.
- We have all got used to experts contradicting one another when it comes to our health, especially regarding healthy eating and exercise.
- Weather forecasts have been spectacularly wrong rather often.
Our perception was heightened because:
- The Leave campaign made a point of rubbishing experts, because almost every reputable (?) organisation supported Remain and emphasised the risks of Brexit.
- The Leave campaign tried to sound as if they were outsiders up against the Establishment. How members of the Cabinet pulled that one off, I do not know. Experts were virtually defined as Establishment insiders.
- Donald Trump was even more scathing in his attacks on all the American Establishment and everyone else who disagreed with him about anything. That included experts. A billionaire managed to sound like a Man of the People who had got where he did by ignoring experts. Really?
Why have experts got it wrong so often?
Pollsters rely on the information they collect. If people change their minds, or simply lie, there is not much pollsters can do. I do think, however, that they might have thought that conservatives could be less likely to respond to a questionnaire than others, as I have said previously.
- Economic forecasting can never be an exact science.
- It was impossible to know how international businesses would react to a Brexit vote, especially regarding the timescale of any reaction. Some say the worst is yet to come.
- Some of the most extreme predictions of doom if we left the EU were made by politicians, not economists.
Our health is affected by so many factors:
- everything we eat, not just one particular food,
- our exercise regime
- our whole lifestyle
- each one’s personal metabolism
So you might follow the latest advice and find it does not work for you. You could be the exception. Or you misunderstood it. I am not going to start smoking just because some heavy smokers get away with it.
Britain is unusual in being affected by so many weather systems. Forecasters have to predict so many factors and get them all right at once to make accurate predictions. Sometimes they succeed. That is not news.
So should all experts be forgiven?
Not quite. Some are far too confident, if not arrogant, in the way they state things. In reality, you should express predictions in terms of probabilities, or ranges of likely outcomes rather than trying to be more exact than is realistic.
To be fair, the failing in this respect is often the fault of the media. A report showing probabilities or ranges is likely to be summarised and oversimplified in a newspaper article. Headline writers are the worst culprits of all. Sometimes, the body of an article sets out the caveats stated by the experts, but if you just notice the headlines you will get an oversimplified view.
Perhaps you should read my book
How to avoid being misled by statistics.