18 March 2007

What is an Expert?

Over at Assignment Zero there is a discussion about the changing role of experts in the "new" media ecosystem:

In a traditional model the expert is regarded as the keeper of information, ideas and knowledge. In a dispersed network, the expert has some serious competition. If experts aren't the sole source for valuable information anymore, what makes them an expert? How do their roles change?
Robin Sloan (of EPIC 2014 fame) comments:
Besides being keepers of information, experts are also the people we go to for predictions, for guidance -- especially in traditional journalism. A standard trend piece goes like this: You interview some representative "data points," then go to an expert to ask what it all means, how it's going to play out. In fact, I feel like I see experts doing much MORE prediction than education in the media -- especially in domains like politics, technology, etc.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that experts are no good at making predictions.
I prefer to think of expertise in terms of a Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy. I think this would also be helpful for reporters to understand what their readers perceive concerning the quality and quantity of "truth" in their news. DIKW comes from the study of Knowledge Management and Information Science. A paper by Nikhil Sharma discusses the origin of the Data Information Knowledge Wisdom Hierarchy. I would also recommend a paper by Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, and Anthony Mills which discusses the role 'understanding' plays in Russell Ackoff's original version of the DIKW hierarchy.

In addition, Dr. Andrew Cline, an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Missouri State University, discusses this hierarchy based on Neil Postman's take on information science. Two posts by Cline on the topic that I recommend are Whither knowledge? and Making wise use of the Internet.


Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?:
I suspected at the outset that we as a society would be better off if we held experts -- be they pundits in the public arena or intelligence analysts behind the scenes -- systematically accountable to standards of evidence that command broad assent across the spectrum of reasonable opinion. Subsequent findings from this project -- as well as events over the last twenty tears -- have reinforced my suspicion that there is something wrong with existing mechanisms for getting to the truth both in the media-driven marketplace of ideas and in the top-secret world of intelligence analysis.
Everybody’s An Expert
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.

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