The Value of Experts

It is often debated whether "experts" should be the ones that decide how to structure our food health, safety, and quality system.  The standard thought is that people are too busy and distracted to properly consider all the relevant evidence and make an informed decision.  As a specialist (dare I say "expert") myself, it is humbling to read pieces like this that show how wrong we often get it.  It is also useful to keep the following in mind when "experts" forecast the impact of some new food or farm policy.

The interview is with Jeremy Howard who works for a website ( that pays people for correct predictions.  Here are some interesting bits:


PA: That sounds very different from the traditional approach to building predictive models. How have experts reacted?

JH: The messages are uncomfortable for a lot of people. It's controversial because we're telling them: "Your decades of specialist knowledge are not only useless, they're actually unhelpful; your sophisticated techniques are worse than generic methods." It's difficult for people who are used to that old type of science. They spend so much time discussing whether an idea makes sense. They check the visualizations and noodle over it. That is all actively unhelpful.

PA: Is there any role for expert knowledge?
JH: Some kinds of experts are required early on, for when you're trying to work out what problem you're trying to solve. The expertise you need is strategy expertise in answering these questions.

It does make me wonder about the value of theory relative to trial-and-error empirical methods.