29 September 2011

Mixed (mis)Trust in Experts

Why do we like experts for some fields and disregard them for others?  The answer does not seem too clear, but this section from Duncan Watts post at Freakonomics on the myth of common sense illustrates the problem well.
Why is it, for example, that most social groups, from friendship circles to workplaces, are so homogenous in terms of race, education level, and even gender? Why do some things become popular and not others? How much does the media influence society? Is more choice better or worse? Do taxes stimulate the economy? 

Social scientists have struggled with all these questions for generations, and continue to do so. Yet many people feel they could answer these questions themselves—simply by examining their own experience. Unlike for problems in physics and biology, therefore, where we need experts to tell us what is true, when the topic is human or social behavior, we’re all “experts,” so we trust our own opinions at least as much as we trust those of social scientists.
Aid is one that is rife with conflict over trusting experts.  Not that they are perfect, but it is interesting to see how this applies to other fields.  Even the biologists that Watts lists are not free from skepticism as many people still do not believe in evolution and others are not vaccinating their children.

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