Monday, October 10, 2005

The Search for Expert Experts

In this latest missive from my Saudi friend (now enjoying Ramadan in California), he asks, "Are American experts lost?" and argues against the assertion of certainty where none exists:

'When it comes to expert opinion, we have heard just about everything over the past few years: the US economy in full recovery or nearing collapse; a stable $35 barrel of oil or one certain to head above $100; a war in Iraq based on WMD certainties and assured of rapid success or a war justified by innuendo and certain to spread havoc across the Middle East. These are only some examples of expert opinions of those in the know, circulated daily in the American media.
'The cast of characters usually includes those respectable experts from investment houses who, in their grey suits and with unmatched confidence, list their incontrovertible reasons why the US economy is on a full recovery. There are the morally unquestionable reporters, from conservative or liberal newspapers, who deliver compelling inside information removing all doubt that Saddam Hussein is fully armed with WMD and even making plans to use them in attacking the United States. Finally, there are those attractive and very blonde presenters who are able to convince us about anything from the likely outcome of an American football game to the future direction of the stock market....
'It is a mystery how almost every single economic commentator or analyst could continue telling the American public that their economy is doing great and that growth will continue to improve, when they know that this growth is based on an ever more untenable and growing national debt. How could the head of a household truthfully tell his family that they are doing great and will continue to prosper, when he knows that he is unable to repay those he continues to borrow from to keep his house afloat? ...
'These so-called experts exist not only in the United States, but also in Saudi Arabia where God knows how some come up with their predictions on the future of the oil market. Whether they represent vested interests or important clients is a question that must seriously be asked. ...
'The media are competing to attract our attention rather than to add to our knowledge, and government and business interests seem to be taking full advantage of this. Whether it be the mess in Iraq, our unpreparedness in the oil market, or the trials and tribulations of the economy, the experts have only added to the confusion.
'I wonder where that rare expert is who has the wisdom and the nobility to sometimes say that we really cannot know or be sure. Such qualities may be rare, but they are essential in any expert. It seems that, except for a rare few, such experts do not survive for long in the current media environment. We flip channels and see the same pre-packaged experts whose goal it is to keep us happy and to turn us into clones for the benefit of certain interests. We have entered a dangerous blind spot of spin, hype, and real disinformation.
'I may be no expert myself on some of these topics, but I don’t pretend to be one and I can smell a fish when I come across one. The official “experts” who crowd our daily lives have already succeeded in discrediting themselves, be it through their comments on the presence of WMD in Iraq or their chipper predictions for the US economy and the future of the oil market. We must not fall for this and we must make sure that there remains a wide enough access to more modest experts and more objective assessments.'
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