Tag Archives: expertise

Eric Drexler

In judging people and bodies of work, one can use stylistic consistency as a rule of thumb, and start by checking the statements in one’s field. The mere presence of correct material means little: it proves only that the author can read and paraphrase standard works. In contrast, a pattern of clearcut, major errors is important evidence: it shows a sloppy thinking style which may well flow through the author’s work in many fields, from physics, to biology, to computation, to policy. A body of surprising but sound results may mean something, but in a new field lacking standard journals, it could merely represent plagiarism. More generally, one can watch for signs of intellectual care, such as the qualification of conclusions, the noting of open questions, the dear demarcation of speculation, and the presence of prior review. In judging wild-sounding theoretical work standards should be strict, not loose: to develop a discipline, we need discipline.

Eric Drexler, ‘Abrupt Change, Nonsense, Nobels, and Other Topics’, Foresight Institute, 1987

Scott Sumner

In macro, it’s important for people like me to always search for the truth, and reach conclusions about economic models in a way that is independent of the consensus model. In that way, I play my “worker ant” role of nudging the profession towards a greater truth. But at the same time we need to recognize that there is nothing special about our view. If we are made dictator, we should implement the consensus view of optimal policy, not our own. People have trouble with this, as it implies two levels of belief about what is true. The view from inside our mind, and the view from 20,000 miles out in space, where I see there is no objective reason to favor my view over Krugman’s.

Scott Sumner, ‘Why Bryan Caplan Almost Always Wins His Bets’, EconLog, May 26, 2016

Cal Newport

The author Timothy Ferris, who coined the term “lifestyle design,” is a fantastic example of the good things this approach to life can generate (Ferris has more than enough career capital to back up his adventurous existence). But if you spend time browsing the blogs of lesser-known lifestyle designers, you’ll begin to notice the same red flags again and again: A distresingly large fraction of these contrarians […] skipped over the part where they build a stable means to support their unconvetional lifestyle. They assume that generating the courage to pursue control is what matters, while everything else is just a detail that is easily worked out.

One such blogger I found, to give another example from among many, quit his job at the age of twenty-five, explaining, “I was fed up with living a ‘normal’ conventional life, working 9-5 for the man [and] having no time and little money to pursue my true passions… so I’ve embarked on a crusade to show you and the rest of the world how an average Joe… can build a business from scratch to support a life devoted to living ‘The Dream.'” The “business” he referenced, as is the case with many lifestyle designers, was his blog about being a lifestyle designer. In other words, his only product was his enthusiasm about no having a “normal” life. It doesn’t take an economist to point out there’s not much real value lurking there.

Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, New York, 2012, pp. 119-120

C. D. Broad

When I ask my expert colleagues whether I can safely accept Eddington’s conclusions in these matters, they always answer in the negative. But this does not satisfy me. For I am quite convinced that their unfavourable answer is not based on a first-hand study of the arguments. It is quite plain that their attitude may be summed up in the sentence: “This kind of thing must be wrong somewhere; but I can’t be expected to waste my valuable time in finding out precisely where the mistake lies.”

C. D. Broad, ‘Sir Arthur Eddington’s The Philosophy of Physical Science’, Philosophy, vol. 15, no. 59 (1940), p. 312