Grading The “Experts”

In our modern world, we’re bombarded with the opinions of “experts.”  Virtually every news story about a development or an incident features a quote from an “expert” who interprets the matter for us and, typically, makes a prediction about what will happen.  “Experts” freely offer their forecasts on specific things — like the contents and results of the Mueller Report, for example — and on big-picture things, like the direction of the economy or geopolitical trends.

d36a6136-6dfd-425a-b7f7-2b2a1b446b1eThere are so many “experts” giving so many predictions about so many things that it’s reasonable to wonder whether anyone is paying attention to whether the “experts” ultimately turn out to be very good at making their predictions.

The Atlantic has a fascinating article about this topic that concludes that so-called “experts” are, in fact, dismally bad at predicting the future.  That’s not a surprising conclusion for those of us who’ve been alive, paying attention, and recalling some of the confident forecasts of days gone by.  Whether it’s the “population bomb” forecasts noted in The Atlantic article, or the predictions in the ’80s that Japan would soon own the world, or the prognostications about how elections will end up or whether one party or another has that elusive “permanent majority,” recent history is littered with failed expert predictions.

Why are would-be “experts” so bad at their predictions?  The article notes that academics and others who focus on one field tend to be especially wrong in their foretelling because they typically ignore other forces at work.  They also are often so invested in their specialty, and their belief in their own evaluations, that they react to failure by doubling down on their predictions — like doomsday cult leaders who tweak their calculations after a deadline has passed to come up with a new day the world will end.  People who are less invested in the belief in their own infallibility, and who are less focused on one discipline or area of study, tend to be much better at making predictions about the future than the “experts.”

Does the consistent thread of “expert” predictive failure mean that we shouldn’t try to see ahead at what the future may bring?  Of course not.  But it does mean that we should take the dire forecasts of “experts” with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Keep that in mind the next time a talking head says we need to make some dramatic change in order to avoid certain doom.

Advertisements

Pulp Fiction

I like a little shot of orange juice in the morning.  I’m not talking about gulping down a tumbler full, but just enough for a few swallows.  For me, at least, orange juice has a bright tartness that contrasts perfectly with that first cup of coffee, and it seems to help wake me up and get me going.

The question is, should it be orange juice with pulp, or without?  I’ve had glasses of orange juice in restaurants that have been more like a slurry than a juice, with so much pulp that the glass is coated with it when you’re finished.  That’s just too much pulpy sliminess for me, so I tend to get the low-pulp or pulp-free options.

But I feel guilty about it, because at some point in my life, someone — maybe my mother, maybe some health guru on TV, or maybe some well-meaning but insufferably know-it-all friend — told me that orange juice with pulp is “better” for you than drinking orange juice that has been strained.  Why?  I don’t really remember, but I think it had something to do with the pulp adding more intestine-scrubbing fiber to your diet.  It’s just become one of those nagging, potentially baseless health-related notions floating around in my subconscious, like the vague recollection that eating carrots is supposed to help your eyesight or that fish is “brain food.”

But does drinking orange juice with pulp, rather than pulp-free liquid sunshine, really better for you?  Good luck figuring that out!  The pulp isn’t fiber, that’s for sure, and it appears that if it does have health benefits they are at best indirect.  But if you google the question you get introduced into the greater debate about whether you should drink orange juice at all.  Some “experts” point out that it’s a good way or increasing your intake of vitamin C with all of its positive, antioxidant effects, whereas other “experts” say that drinking juice is suicidally stupid because it’s like liquid sugar.  And everybody seems to have studies performed on rats to back up their competing conclusions, too.

After reading a few of these competing positions, I’ve given up on trying to get to the bottom of the pulp benefits question.  I’ve concluded that I like a little orange juice in the morning, and since I’ve managed to follow that regimen for years without becoming super-sized, I guess I’ll continue to do it, sugar intake be damned.  And as for pulp — well, I’m going to buy pulp-free offerings sometimes, limited pulp offerings other times, and avoid the over-pulped offerings altogether.  That seems to be a good way of threading the health benefits needle, providing some balm for my guilty conscience, and avoiding the thick, pulpy slush that I don’t really like in the first place.