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No... You're wrong.

The World’s Worst Experts

Dec. 16, 2022
We have serious and even historical problems but we have almost no one who wants problems solved more than he wants to be right.

Pro and college sports are not as compelling to me as they once were, and there is more than one reason. There’s too much off-the-field melodrama by players, coaches, team owners and executives. Their issues may or may not be my issues – but these characters and their issues have nothing to do with what brought them to my attention, and it lowers the value of their actual accomplishments. But this much is not new.  

What is new in sports is the cajoling and messaging of a burgeoning crowd of experts preaching about details and “messages” of apparently enormous consequence, all linked to a personality or a game, or a contract or a draft pick. The gossip and arguments that fill time between events has become the staging process for those events. Last month, one NFL team fired its coach and replaced him with a new man who had no professional coaching experience. For a week, the expert panels howled their derision of this decision, the team, its owner and the coach – who guided the team to victory in his first game on the headset.

The job of an expert is (or ought to be) to be right – and in sports as well as other platforms that hold the attention of tens of millions of observers, their desperation to be right has drained even more of the appeal out of watching sports. They have created the impression that everything is part of a system, a structure, which can and must be analyzed and mastered. If you don’t have the data, you have nothing.

These new experts have a profit motive, of course. They build their own following; they become influencers. Their success is not the result of effort or discovery, but of how much attention they can generate by declaring themselves to be right – and their opposition to be wrong, wrong, wrong.

The problem of experts and influencers goes well beyond sports. Five years ago a book was published titled The Death of Expertise, arguing that individuals and society in general have become less willing to learn, less trusting of authority, and more satisfied by the comfort or pleasure of the moment than ready to discover and grow, or to sacrifice for improvements in themselves and in our nation and the world. The “death” of expertise, goes the claim, results in disorder in society and pessimism among individuals. The last point is arguably true, according to polling.

The author lays blame for all this on shifts in higher education that emphasize interpretation over understanding, and on the proliferation of media platforms from which ever-more dubious messages are propagated, and on the surfeit of “information” that can be located and transmitted without any responsibility.

But I am not naming the author because discrediting him is not my point. I merely observe that he is himself now an ‘expert’ whose platform is politics and “culture,” on which topics he routinely stirs the pot about how stupid or intolerable are the people who disagree with him. He’s an online and on-TV expert about everything that is wrong with me or you, unless we side with the him.

I think he was closer to correct five years ago. We need experts to serve as verifiers of ideas or developments that are largely unknown or unexperienced. Instead we have influencers, who crave attention that will raise their own status, and push us to take their side in arguments that will continue until new arguments takes their place.

In recent years the arguments have been much more consequential than sports – from politics and culture to public health, to business and finance, the economy, and law and order. We have serious and even historical problems on each of these subjects, but we have almost no one who wants the problem solved more than he wants to be right.

Today’s experts thrive on arguments, not on resolution, so few minds are changed even if the truth becomes known. Truth will be revealed and we must be humble enough to acknowledge it, because none of us will be the source of it.