Should We Trust Expertise? My Practice: Anonymity

This correspondence started out as a debate over whether or not, and if so to what extent, should we trust expertise. But, then, it turned into a discussion about my practice on this blog: I post any correspondence I think will be of interest to readers of this blog; however, I strive mightily to keep my correspondents anonymous. So, if you engage in a dialogue, debate, discussion, with me, and I think it is worthy of sharing, I’ll do so without asking permission, but, I’ll keep you anonymous, just as I am doing in this case.

Letter 1

From: R

Sent: Thursday, October 10, 2019 6:58 PM

To: Walter Block Ph. D

Subject: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Hi Walter

One other point I wanted to make about your debate. You said that you accept the conclusions of experts in other fields because division of labor.  This is not implausible, and is unavoidable because we can’t all be experts on more than a small number of things.

But it turns out that most of what most “experts” say in most fields is nonsense or worse, propaganda.  Most fields are dominated by intellectual cartels that defend their own positions and prevent intellectual inquiry.  You are probably aware of how this works in economics – the Keynesian cartel prevents correct scientific work from displacing its own theories.

The worst cases of this are fields like pharmacology where there is industry that funds the studies to get the public to use their products.

If you are not aware of the “replication crisis” type that into Google.  Most “scientific” research can not be replicated.  Professor Ioannadis at Stanford a statistician published a paper showing that 80% of published research that relies on statistics does not use statistical techniques correctly in reaching the conclusion of the paper.

A random selection of things that I have become aware of that are blocked by the knowledge cartels.  I choose these examples from things that I have researched but there is no reason to think that other fields are any better.

•        dietary cholesterol does not raise blood levels of cholesterol

•        cholesterol does not cause heart disease – there was never any evidence that this was true

•        statin drugs do not prevent heart disease

•        statin drugs increase your chances of dying of cancer or diabetes

•        higher cholesterol in the blood is positively correlated with longevity and with higher mental function

•        type 2 diabetes is not a progressive incurable disease – it can be cured in a few weeks or months

•        the recommended dietary advice from government nutritional agencies is harmful

•        depression is not caused by serotonin uptake inhibition

•        a number of simple things like exercise, sunlight, and walking your dog test better than anti-depression drugs in controlled studies

R

Letter 2

From: Walter Block <wblock@loyno.edu>

Sent: Saturday, October 12, 2019 10:50 PM

To: R

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Dear R:

Good points. But, who else can we rely upon in fields far away from our own?

I rely on my GP doc, even though medicine is not an exact science. Ditto, on my auto mechanic. I know nothing of either field

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 3

From: R

Sent: Sunday, October 13, 2019 9:45 AM

To: ‘Walter Block’

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Hi Walter

You are raising a different question, which is a good question but I think it is a non-answer to my point.   I am trying to address the question,  “Is it rational to assume that we can rely on experts in other fields due to division of labor having selected the best ideas”.

If someone asked you “Should the general public rely on the opinions of expert academic economists in deciding who to vote for and what economic policies to support?”  and “Should the general public rely on the advice of foreign policy think tank experts, generals, and retired military in deciding whether to support or oppose a particular war?” would you tell them, “yes — but who else can we rely upon, I mean we are not all experts on these fields?”

You are probably familiar with that one Austrian economist, Boettke, I think, who is always arguing that the marketplace of ideas is efficient, that it has already converged on the optimal answers, and the reason that the Austrian ideas are not accepted is that Austrian economists aren’t very good economists.

Letter 4

From: Walter Block <wblock@loyno.edu>

Sent: Sunday, October 13, 2019 11:14 AM

To: R

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Dear R:

I’m a moderate on this one. That’s why they call me Walter Moderate Block.

Your view is that we shouldn’t trust the experts at all. They are idiots.

Boettke’s (?) view is that we should trust them fully (please get me some cites on this)

My moderate view is that we should trust the experts more than the non experts.

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 5

From: R

Sent: Sunday, October 13, 2019 11:40 AM

To: ‘Walter Block’

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

You’ve only pushed it back one level:

•        How do you identify who the true experts are?

•        When should we rely on them and when should we not?

I don’t have links to Boettke and I am relying on memory.  I think that some of the discussion was on the old Yahoo Mises Scholars group email and therefore not public and some of it was on the newer Google Group Mises Scholars email.   I believe that those lists have searchable archives on groups.google.com so you could try searching there.    If I recall this discussion you debated him on one of these mailing lists on this exact point with your position being that these journals have criteria that are inherently unfavorable to the Austrian view regardless of the quality of scholarship.

If you type this search expression into Google you might get a good sampling of what is public that Google can reach:

site:mises.org salerno boettke

R

Letter 6

From: Walter Block <wblock@loyno.edu>

Sent: Sunday, October 13, 2019 2:30 PM

To: R

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Dear R:

•        How do you identify who the true experts are? << those with advanced degrees in the subject

•        When should we rely on them and when should we not?  << always rely on them, always with a grain of salt, but compared to whom? Compared to those without advanced degrees in the subject

What’s the alternative? Rely on your own tuition in fields you know nothing about? Rely on the non experts. I accept the idea of specialization and division of labor more than you do.

Joke: the economist was asked, “how is your wife.” Came the answer: “compared to what?”

I compare expert opinion to non expert opinion. To what do you compare expert opinion?

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 7

From: Walter Block <wblock@loyno.edu>

Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 7:09 AM

To: R

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Should We Trust Expert Opinion?

Walter E. Block, Ph.D.

Letter 8

From: R

Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 1:12 PM

To: ‘Walter Block’ <wblock@loyno.edu>

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Hi Walter

I guess that’s ok but if you plan to republish emails I would prefer that you ask first.  I might say things that are intended for you that I might not consider public, and I would want to clean up the writing a bit before I put something out there with my name on it.

R

From: Walter Block <wblock@loyno.edu>

Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 11:22 AM

To: R

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Letter 9

Dear R:

I made you anonymous, did I not?

Best regards,

Walter

Letter 10

From: R

Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 1:32 PM

To: ‘Walter Block’ <wblock@loyno.edu>

Subject: RE: division of labor and accepting the conclusions of experts in other fields

Yeah, that helps but it’s still my writing and I should have a say over whether it goes public or not.

That’s how I think about it.  I think that there is a difference between private and public communication.

If you want me to treat any email I might send to you as if it were going to be posted to the internet, I can take that into account in the future.

Letter 11

Dear R:

I greatly regret that I gave you a moment’s disquiet on this matter. I respect you, and think of you as a friend. I’m glad you acknowledge that anonymity “helps” take some of the sting out of what I’ve done. All I can say in my defense is that in the LewRockwell.com web, where I post my responses to queries, objections, every once in a while (one or two times per year? I don’t keep track), I announce that I am going to feel free to post communications, but I will strive mightily to keep my correspondents anonymous.

Yes, in future, please realize that I am going to feel free to publicly post what you send me, UNLESS YOU ASK ME NOT TO SO DO (which you didn’t, this time), on an anonymous basis.

I think the implicit contract we all have with each other is that pretty much anything goes in this regard, given that full anonymity is provided.

Best regards,

Walter

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10:09 am on November 25, 2019