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Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how…

Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust…

by David H. Freedman

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Freedman offers anecdotal evidence with a suggestion of "studies" that most expert opinions should not be considered as such. He tackles medicine, business practices, leadership, health among others. A bit repetitive but some entertaining insights, especially those relating to how involving more people in brainstorming and decision making do not improve the results. ( )
  CarterPJ | Sep 15, 2012 |
It was an interesting read and readable once picked up but I did struggle to want to pick it up.
Mainly I think because its theme was so negative. I agree that a healthy dose of scepticism is needed in the modern world but this book would make you think that you cannot believe anybody or anything. And I don't think that's true. ( )
  infjsarah | Aug 11, 2012 |
A television-news watcher has only to consider the issue of health advice. One day, we are advised to take such-and-such vitamin to prevent this or that disease. The next, a study tells us that that vitamin actually causes said disease. What or whom are we to believe?

After reading Wrong, I would say we shouldn’t believe any of it. And David H. Freedman gives readers chapter and verse about why we should take most such pronouncements with even less than a grain of salt.

The most cynical reader may ask why we should believe David H. Freedman. Not to fear, he very thoughtfully includes an appendix entitled “Is this book wrong?”

It’s not only medical doctors and studies that Mr. Freedman skewers. Also in the mix are “Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, high-powered consultants, health officials and more.” Particularly satisfying, in my estimation, is Chapter Six: Experts and Organizations, in which the author takes on -- in Dilbertian fashion -- all the business gurus (and all their buzzwords) that come and go in the corporate world.

Wrong is a gem of a book, well-written, funny and right on target. ( )
1 vote NewsieQ | Oct 14, 2011 |
This book looks at many different types of research and expertise, from studies in research journals, to popular financial advisors, to celebrity spokespeople, to your local doctor. Freedman considers how and why their advice so often steers us in the wrong direction. He also considers why certain studies and certain gurus get so much attention when others, sometimes more reliable others, get ignored. It seems that people want dramatic results and easy-to-follow steps. Nuance and negative results are less interesting. And then there’s the whole problem of falsified data, which seems more common than most of us would like to think.

One of my favorite chapters, “The Idiocy of Crowds,” takes on the common notion that the best ideas arise from people working together. Freedman talks about how dominant personalities and groupthink can lead people who see a problem with the team’s solution to keep their mouths shut. Besides not always leading to the right answer, teamwork is also sometimes more inefficient than individual work. Interestingly, in a later chapter on technology, Freedman decries the lack of expert participation in collaborative online ventures, so there’s a tension in his argument. And that’s perhaps a good thing. Collaboration doesn’t have all the answers, but neither does working in isolation.

I loved Freedman’s skewering of management gurus and their TLAs (“three-letter acronyms”). I know I could make a long list of TLAs I’ve encountered (and used!) in my job. I bet many of you could, too. This chapter, “Experts and Organizations,” points out how ridiculous it is to think that a management book available at any airport would contain the secrets that would enable every company out there to be a winner. Jerker Denrell of Stanford’s business school points out that this is not unlike a swim coach saying that every swimmer who follows her advice will win at swim meets.

My only real problem with the book is a problem that I’ve found in a lot of books of this type—a piling on of examples. After a while, they do tend to become a blur. Maybe if I weren’t already inclined to accept Freedman’s main idea I would need all those anecdotes and examples, but he didn’t need to work quite so hard to convince me. Still, the examples are easy enough to understand, and the book’s accessible, journalistic style kept it from ever feeling like work to read.

Freedman does acknowledge the irony of presenting himself as an expert on expertise, and in the final appendix, he fesses up to the ways in which he might have massaged his findings to support his thesis. So maybe some of his examples wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. His central ideas, though, are probably sound enough, based as they are on common sense. His main point seems to be not to accept everything you read at face value. It’s not advice a cynic like me needs all that much, I suppose, but I’m glad Freedman said it.

See my complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
  teresakayep | Jul 7, 2010 |
David Freedman’s thesis in Wrong is almost a flat-out pronouncement that all experts, advisors and gurus -- even the most prestigious and even those quoted in the most prominent sources -- are always wrong.

According to Freedman, everyone involved with expert advice is motivated by self-interest: experts are biased toward results that promote their careers; the media is biased toward flashy results and personalities that increase ratings; and the public is biased toward simple, sure-fire, actionable advice. Even today’s democratization of expertise (via blogs, rating/review sites, Google rankings) doesn't overcome these biases.

Freedman even dulls the shine on research’s gold standard (the randomized, double-blind controlled trial) by exploring how sloppy mistakes taint the data; how the pressures of academic tenure, lab funding, corporate profits and consultancy contracts drive fraud (data invention and falsification); and how little of this is caught through the peer review process.

This is an important topic and the book is accessibly written. But to be clear: it's very similar to the expert advice he skewers -- full of broad, sweeping statements and detailed examples biased toward his thesis. (Freedman acknowledges this late in the book and amends his thesis, but only to, “there is some reason to suspect that most experts are usually wrong.”) During my reading, frustration and pessimism grew into profound discouragement and then a spiraling hopelessness. There is no optimism here; even his chapter, “Eleven Simple Never-Fail Rules” -- a summary of red flags about advice -- is the height of irony with its (seemingly) sure-fire, actionable content.

And thus my advice (!): if this thesis is new to you and you want to know more, read this book but read it fast -- get in, get the overall picture, get out. Then decide how much of it you're going to fit into your worldview.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.) ( )
1 vote DetailMuse | Jun 20, 2010 |
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Explains why experts often give wrong information, the reasons that bad advice gets the most attention, and how it has adversely affected society, and offers suggestions to eliminate this destructive cycle.

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