Mike the Mad Biologist

Pundits Aren’t Experts (Usually)

Matt Bai doesn’t get that. In the NY Times Magazine, Bai writes (italics mine):

The emergence of the Internet age has been accompanied, in general, by a steady devaluing of expertise. A generation ago, you went to the doctor to find out about the pain in your knee; now you go to WebMD, diagnose it yourself and tell him what medicines you want. People used to trust stockbrokers and insurance agents; now they buy and sell at E*Trade and compare policies online. American voters who once looked to newspaper columnists for guidance on politics now blog their own idle punditry. Suddenly, experience is downright suspect — it’s the barrier that so-called professionals use to wall themselves off from everyone else.

There is a tremendous between a trained medical professional and, let’s say, pundit David Broder. The medical professional knows a lot more about medicine than most–and has experience using that knowledge (or part of it, anyway). A newspaper columnist typically isn’t an expert in anything. When is the last time any newspaper pundit actually went out and did the nitty-gritty observation to truly understand the legislative process for a particular bill? The two pundits even remotely close to that standard are Norm Ornstein and Robert Novak (yes, that Robert Novak). Hell, I probably follow certain aspects of healthcare legislation more closely than the pundits who write about it. By “follow”, I mean I know who’s lobbying and pushing for particular wording, and why.

Part of expertise is possessing a particular body of knowledge and experience. Yet many pundits claim an aura of expertise that is unwarranted. They have no more expertise than you or I do, so why should they be granted any extra authority? They’re just another bunch of guys with a blog, just like the Mad Biologist.

And Matt Bai.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    July 16, 2007

    Yet many pundits claim an aura of expertise that is unwarranted. They have no more expertise than you or I do, so why should they be granted any extra authority?

    A bit overstated perhaps, but in general I agree with you.

    I would of course make a similar statement about almost all scientists talking about religion or politics or about the 99%+ of science in which they are not expert.

    “Let he who is without sin …” and all that … :-)

  2. #2 Koray
    July 16, 2007

    Why did people trust stock brokers anyway?

    Pundits used to live with the happy delusion that the public found their opinions as interesting as they themselves did. Now looking at the popularity of blogs they have to face the fact that the public just doesn’t think so.

    Thus, he’d like to see these “persons” eminently disqualified. All bogus arguments have their own bogus analogies: reading these disqualified bloggers is idiotic like self-diagnosing via webmd. Thus, you should stop reading them and come back to my column. Amen.

  3. #3 Dunc
    July 17, 2007

    Yet many pundits claim an aura of expertise that is unwarranted. They have no more expertise than you or I do, so why should they be granted any extra authority?

    Darn tootin’ that’s overstated! As far as I can tell, the main requirement for a pundit is to be completely wrong at least 90% of the time, to be totally impervious to learning from experience or history, and in fact to be utterly unaware of even the recent history of the matter in question – including the content of said pundit’s own previous writings on the subject.

    They have less expertise than you or I. Well, me anyway… In fact, they have anti-expertise.

  4. #4 QrazyQat
    July 17, 2007

    I used to read the motorcycle magazines all the time in the sixties and early seventies, and one thing I liked was their race coverage, where they obviously knew so much and dug out all the most interesting stories. I had no idea how they ever managed to do that.

    Then I started roadracing.

    After my first trip to Daytona Speed Week, I found out that all that fantastic inside knowledge was just stuff you hear around the pits — everyone hears it, it takes no digging, it’s just common knowledge. Turns out the magazines’ guys weren’t very special at all; any decent writer could’ve done the same job as well.

    And I’d say they were better than the vast majority of columnists.

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