What is the most important life lesson you've learned so far? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
The experts are usually wrong.
Experts (those who predict the future for a living) are, more often than not, dart-throwers. They perform no better than chance. And recently they have performed even worse than chance.
"Economists have predicted nine of the last five recessions."
Most experts are biased by their experiences. In fact, the most dangerous person is one who says they are unbiased. "I am just using facts, not opinions, for this prediction" is almost always wrong.
We are ALL biased. We see the world through a very hazy prism of our experiences.
There is no unbiased news outlet. Even "real news" has an element of untruth to it. Almost every news story I had intimate knowledge of made a significant reporting mistake or factual error in the story.
We're human, and we make mistakes. We're human, and we see the world with our strong bias. We overweight individual sources and underweight others. We discount data that is very good, and we rely on data that is wrong. We see patterns when there are none and see coincidences when there are conspiracies.
The "expert" can be dangerous.
We live in a world where people spend a lot of time building their bona fides so they can make their living off their "expertise." Most of the top 1% of earners make their living predicting the future. But because people come with huge biases, their predictions can often be very, very wrong.
In even the noblest professions (like medicine), people have huge biases. Study after study finds top surgeons recommending treatments that they specialize in even when the problem may be better served from another procedure. That's because, for most of us, every hammer is a nail.
Sacred cows tend not to be that sacred.
Experts tend to talk to other experts and can get sucked into a dangerous groupthink. Once all experts agree on something, even when it is highly speculative, it can become calcified.
Experts often say "this cannot be done" like it is a rule of the universe. But instead of a law of gravity, it is more akin to a custom (like setting a fork on a left side of the plate).
We see groupthink happen most often is the softer sciences like political science, sociology, foreign policy, and economics. The more specialized the field, the more people find themselves talking to each other and the more they will be prone to repeat one another.
While it is harder to happen in hard science, we see it happen there too. Wrong ideas are clung on to too long because it is hard to change one's mind about the world.famously said, "Science advances one funeral at a time."
None of this means experts are trying to be sinister. Yes, sometimes people are on the payroll of an interest (for instance, many people who campaign against oil pipelines are indirectly funded by the railroad companies), but that is not usually the case. Biases control people's thoughts much more than money.
Protect yourself from experts through contrarian thinking.
is often very conventional thinking.
Before accepting opinions as truth, think through the issues yourself. Don't just look for agendas but look for biases. If a surgeon recommends a particular procedure that only her hospital does, seek out other opinions.
Seek out outcasts. Seek out non-expert experts who often challenge the status quo. Some that I would recommend are, , , John Hempton, Charles Songhurst, , and . I'd even throw in some mainstream thinkers like , , , , , and because people like them will always make you think.
Of course, experts can be right. They often are.
You don't have time to question everything in this world -- you might turn into the Unabomber if you did.
For instance, even if you cannot prove the earth is round, it is not a good idea to think the world is flat. It is likely that the government did not fake the moon landing. And when you were born, you probably were not delivered by a stork.
The 40-year life lesson: experts are (very often) wrong.
Just because someone knows much more about you about a particular subject, do not assume they are correct. Do not bestow authority on them just because they are wearing a lab coat or possess a Ph.D.
Just because someone has spent more time learning about something, it does not mean that they are a closer to the truth than you.
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