Expert opinion

18 Sep

I saw a fine interview of Netflix founder Reed Hastings by the great venture capitalist John Doerr of kleiner Perkins in which he made a  observation of hiring candidates by focussing on references because  a savvy candidate can ” buffalo you”  and said ” It’s much more better to do references as people are likely to display actions consistent to their past “. I think its true and great to do references. It’s invaluable. It’s the best way to hire smart people.  I will post that interview soon.

But this left me thinking ” What If  some references also ” buffalo you” ?  I am not talking in a hiring situation but generally in life. People just tend to badmouth others. There is so much opinion that is motivated and plain bogus. Psychology calls it ” cognitive bias”.  I have never been one for expert opinion.

I feel we can have intellectual ideals and role models. But generally expert opinion has as much accuracy as dart throwing monkeys. I learnt this from a Vinod Khosla talk. I am a start up guy, sincere and non conformist. There is no contradiction in my mind. It’s perfectly possible to be nice and dissent. All my ideals Gandhi, Mandela, Leonard cohen, Richard  Feynman, Steve Jobs, Vinod Khosla, Nasserddin shah are an intersection of same in  some measure. But experts are cynics and do not interest me. I am sorry.

Here is a New Yorkers piece  ” Everybody’s an expert”. I want to share :

” Prediction is one of the pleasures of life. Conversation would wither without it. “It won’t last. She’ll dump him in a month.” If you’re wrong, no one will call you on it, because being right or wrong isn’t really the point. The point is that you think he’s not worthy of her, and the prediction is just a way of enhancing your judgment with a pleasant prevision of doom. Unless you’re putting money on it, nothing is at stake except your reputation for wisdom in matters of the heart. If a month goes by and they’re still together, the deadline can be extended without penalty. “She’ll leave him, trust me. It’s only a matter of time.” They get married: “Funny things happen. You never know.” You still weren’t wrong. Either the marriage is a bad one—you erred in the right direction—or you got beaten by a low-probability outcome.

It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton; $35), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones.

 “Expert Political Judgment” is not a work of media criticism. Tetlock is a psychologist—he teaches at Berkeley—and his conclusions are based on a long-term study that he began twenty years ago. He picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends,” and he started asking them to assess the probability that various things would or would not come to pass, both in the areas of the world in which they specialized and in areas about which they were not expert. Would there be a nonviolent end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Gorbachev be ousted in a coup? Would the United States go to war in the Persian Gulf? Would Canada disintegrate? (Many experts believed that it would, on the ground that Quebec would succeed in seceding.) And so on. By the end of the study, in 2003, the experts had made 82,361 forecasts. Tetlock also asked questions designed to determine how they reached their judgments, how they reacted when their predictions proved to be wrong, how they evaluated new information that did not support their views, and how they assessed the probability that rival theories and predictions were accurate.
Tetlock got a statistical handle on his task by putting most of the forecasting questions into a “three possible futures” form. The respondents were asked to rate the probability of three alternative outcomes: the persistence of the status quo, more of something (political freedom, economic growth), or less of something (repression, recession). And he measured his experts on two dimensions: how good they were at guessing probabilities (did all the things they said had an x per cent chance of happening happen x per cent of the time?), and how accurate they were at predicting specific outcomes. The results were unimpressive. On the first scale, the experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned an equal probability to all three outcomes—if they had given each possible future a thirty-three-per-cent chance of occurring. Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices.”
Please see : ” Every body’s  is an expert ”  by Louis Menand, The New Yorker
I want to reiterate from this article ” But the best lesson of Tetlock’s book may be the one that he seems most reluctant to draw: Think for yourself.”
It is always best to ” Think for yourself.” As for hiring do references. In life, talk to people but think for yourself..
Remember all expert opinion have as much accuracy as dart throwing monkeys. Thank you Reed Hastings. Thank you Vinod Khosla. Thank you Philip Tetlock
” It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”
―  Richard Feynman
Have a good day dear friends! Apologies for being away..
Love, Suresh

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