The Incompetence of Expertise

In the fourth chapter of his book ‘True Enough- Learning to Live in a Post Fact Society’, Farhad Manjoo explained how peripheral processing of finding the answer to a question takes over central processing. People tend to prefer “peripheral route”, a simple and shortcut method to make a choice when they are ignorant in certain field and prefer a “central route”, a complicated and long method to make a choice when they are comfortable with the complexity of the route. The central route is more accurate because it is based on facts and need expertise, a expertise that vary significantly within a discipline even within sub-discipline, hence less subject to adoption. That is why, when reality splits, peripheral route takes advantage over central route.

Way of presentation is more important than the content. We write the content in MS Word, evaluate the data in MS Excel and present the idea on MS Power point. All three platforms are specialized/expert for their intended use, but MS Power point has more power than any other two to influence non-expert audience. Power point slides are short, designed to fit the audience and that is why this source is more effective. As Farhad Manjoo says, amateurs who pretend as expert, exploit weak zone of the peripheral route and deceive people.

Few months back in October 2016, Danny Hakim, an investigative reporter in New York Times published a post in which he questioned the benefits of genetically engineered crops (GMOs) in terms of increased yield and reduced pesticide use in the US and Canada. He compared the US and Canada, leading countries in GMOs use with European countries which has been refusing the adoption of GMOs. He compared both sides by presenting several graphs derived from data on crop yield and pesticide use. This post sparked the debate on use of GMOs and widely circulated by anti-GMO folks. If you are not expert in genetic engineering and neutral on this topic, this post is biased enough to make you anti-GMO as it seemed so realistic. His content was not fake but way of presentation was biased.

There were several flaws in his graphs and next day, Andrew Kniss, a Weed Scientist at Wyoming State University published a blog post on his webpage in which he pointed out those flaws. First, the data, Hakim used from both sides were in different units, which is not a valid comparison. Second, the data he used for pesticide use comparisons were not interpreted per unit area basis. The farming practices in US and European countries are far different and there are several factors that need to be considered when making such wide comparisons.

Benefits of GMOs is a complex topic and has been remained on debate since the time of their release.  Now in this context, there are two experts on the same topic who are presenting the same issue in two different way. Anti-GMO folks found Hakim’s post accurate and circulated the post to others in their group. They are ignoring Andrew Kniss’s post that has proved Hakim’s post inaccurate with facts. Pro-GMO folks, whether had not considered the Hakim’s post or had a second thought, but then they found the Andrew Kniss’s post and firmed with their belief. Hakim’s post spread more rapidly and got more attention, since there were anti-GMO folks who were waiting for someone who can raise questions on benefits of GMOs.


Trash About Trash: Expert Confusion

I LOVED the name of Katie’s blog post this week! She did well starting with discussion connecting the ideas of experts into the conversations we had surrounding Booth’s three different types of rhetoric.

This book is really political. That’s not a problem, but every time I open it up to do my reading I cringe a little bit.


Manjoo states: “Expertise presents another mechanism for reality to shatter: we choose our personal versions of truth by subscribing to the clutch of specialists we find agreeable and trustworthy” (107). To me, this relates back to the news websites we trust and the media we digest. Which directly relates to this graph I saw on the internet a while back (I can’t even tell you where I saw it, so it might as well be fake itself.):


Where somehow Buzzfeed can both tell me what my dream job is based on watercolor paintings is, inform me about different drinking customs around the world, and also provide me with information on the latest tragedy of my concern. I’m not saying it’s a go to news site by any means. Heck, before looking at this graph I never even thought about them presenting news at all. I thought they just provided me with weird videos and quizzes to take on Friday nights with the people I’ve known for 5+ years. But When we think about expertise we also think about the political stuff too. Everything left to right. Everything good to poor quality. Trash and not trash.

“We choose our personal versions of truth by subscribing to the clutch of specialists we find agreeable and trustworthy”

This is more important than ever when I wake up this morning with my Facebook friends (who are as liberal if not more than I am) talking about the importance of taking Trump’s “Media Accountability Survey” which was sent to what I can figure to be… only Trump supporters. But sending things strictly to those who support you has yet to trick the internet. Somehow the link and the image below still ended up in the hands of my political activist pals.

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And, as with many things, my friend explained the importance of participating in these kinds of things (where the wording is discomforting and the psychologists wouldn’t be able to use it in their real research).

Love Trump? Hate Trump? I don’t have the energy to fight you right now. Rather, these are the experiences I’m having, and I’m talking about them. When I was in theater we used to talk about how acting on a stage wasn’t lying. It couldn’t be based off of lies. Acting on a stage was telling the truth, so in areas where truth and lies combine and blur, it’s really important for us to think about WHO is feeding them to us.

I only feel vaguely bad about making all of my recent posts POLITICAL, but this text keeps bringing up politics, which makes it WAY too easy to relate it to current events. Something the rest of my group mates seem to be doing a reasonable job avoiding.

But somehow, within this easy access to knowledge we find it all too simple to be lost and caught up in moments where we are uncertain about the expertise of anyone. Manjoo explains this by stating: “Today, experts come at us from all directions, in every medium, through every niche. But their quality–their education, their experience, their reputation, their ideological and financial allegiances–is growing ever more difficult to ascertain” (108). This is why there’s such a big push for “credible sources” when you’re doing research. Are you using a “scholarly journal” or is it Wikipedia? It’s why there are annotated bibliography assignments, because often times they try to force you to think about the sources you’re using in academia.

This last week in The Exponent (an article I can’t quite find online, but will link or at least give the title of once I get back to a hard copy of the newspaper) talked about professors sharing their political opinions in classes and how that could or could not cause issue surrounding the class because professors are seen as an authority figure, and we are in a current cultural and political climate that is full of emotions (to say the least). And it’s interesting to think in the aspect of how academic authority could play into what different ideas we value in a liberal education system and how we then see experts as being (back into us trusting peer review journals over Wikis for me, I think).

So I took A LOT OF THINGS out of context for this blog post and went pretty big with it. Plus I’m sure it’s probably a little long too? Don’t know! But what I do know is that it talked about historical polling and polling accounts and how that’s something that certainly continues to be important today.

I’d like to add that I didn’t see my classmate’s posts until after posting because they weren’t in “Response 6” until I looked at the posts as a whole, and I think the visuals they’ve put in there are super awesome and discuss the same sorts of things.Casey’s “Feature image” talks about stuff that’s also really important to be aware of when consuming information.

Who is The Expert on Experts?

Katie Kelly

Manjoo’s chapter 4 brings to light, once again, the credibility of any source. Recalling Booth’s commentary on rhetoric, it seems that all it takes is general and academic rhetoric to make a large enough impact on audiences; regardless of the validity of content. The worse is the term ‘expert’ that gets thrown around with a vague understanding of what it entails. Ask as many people as you want and the general consensus on the definition of “expert” is someone who knows a lot about something. But the actual use and dictation of the title is something far deeper.

Many of the examples used in this chapter when discussing the peripheral and central channels of processing really are concerned with how we shortcut ourselves into knowing who is an expert and who is not. The numerous letters and certifications that follow a name are a big tell, and sometimes if we are not convinced, a list of accomplishments should get us to the conclusion of who’s an expert. Should a list of letters and accomplishments be the determining factor? What about in areas that don’t exactly get to have those kinds of lists? And who is verifying the list? Manjoo almost assumes everyone has a political agenda to some extent that determines the ultimate bias being contributed to anyone conclusion, which is a bleak outlook, but potentially realistic.

In forensic sciences there is a Daubert standard. This standard deals with determining the validity of an expert witness (ex document examiner, latent print examiner, etc.) and the associated evidence in court. The standards put forth to determine the “expertness” of these witnesses are usually determined by professional societies. This is to ensure that everyone met the proper testing and training requirements prior to performing an exam and making conclusions. This may be a shortcut for the jury, assuming the professional organization went through the central route to verify the credentials, to assume the expert on the stand is in fact an expert. However, it is up to the lawyers in the courtroom to call out any one person trying to pass as an expert witness, if this is not done, the jury can mistake an amateur who dabbled but was never trained seem like an expert.


What about the fields that there is no professional organization vetting the kings of content? There are plenty of new emerging fields everyday that have yet to set standards as they are still being carved out. For simplisty sake, let’s take something a bit more abstract like relationship advice. Which friend to you go to for advice? A friend who dates around and has many relationships but is still single or a friend who has had one partner this entire time and still in a committed relationship? Who is the true expert in this case? On one hand, the long term partner friend obviously knows how to keep a relationship going but the single one knows what can make and break relationships. In this case, it is up to you to decide the expert. And in many cases, regardless of lettered credentials and accomplishments, it is up to us to decide who is an expert and who is not.

That’s a very dangerous game to play when selective exposure is how we decide who’s conclusions are valid.