When Experts Disagree –

For some time now I have been pondering the conumdrum of what to do When Experts Disagree. Naturally the next line would have to be, ” And, When Don’t They?”

My interests (as with many people) lie in the political, economic, financial and investment worlds but like most folks I dip into other worlds such as medicine, environment, education and social policy as I meander down life’s paths. And as I peek into those side worlds and stare at my intrinsic worlds I am confident that this issue of When Experts Disagree flows into nearly (if not every) facet of our modern life. The great question is what, exactly, do we – the decided non-experts do when those experts upon whom we supposedly depend disagree?

As an example,Professor Don Boudreaux wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, noting one such disagreement among economics experts:

Justin Lahart accurately reports that, as recently as last year, the late Paul Samuelson dismissed F.A. Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom as alarmist and wrong: “Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbors are among the most socialistic countries in the world, as Mr. Hayek defined them, Mr. Samuelson pointed out.  ‘Where are their horror camps?’ he [Samuelson] wrote” (“The Glenn Beck Effect: Hayek Has a Hit,” June 17).

Indeed, do physicists even agree on the speed of light? The short answer is, at best, maybe, maybe not. From another area, Curious About Astronomy, comes another type of disagreement among experts.

However, other astronomers disagree that the experiment is able to measure the speed of gravity, arguing that the effect is much smaller than the scientists claim and that (in effect) they got their arithmatic wrong when they decided that the speed of gravity did come into the equations. They are not claiming that the speed of gravity is different to that of light, just that it could not be measured in the experiment.

Clearly this disagreement is at an intellectual level far beyond my capability. But, then, I’m not an expert in anything so almost every disagreement by experts is beyond my intellectual capability. The question though remains: what do I (we), as  non-experts do when experts disagree – as they almost always do?

Take another set of disagreements at the stratospheric intellectual level. This is the abstract for a translation of a disagreement between Albert Einstein and Walter Ritz.

During 1908 and 1909 Ritz and Einstein battled over what we now call the time arrows of electrodynamics and entropy. Ritz argued that electrodynamic irreversibility was one of the roots of the second law of thermodynamics, while Einstein defended Maxwell-Lorentz electromagnetic time symmetry. Microscopic reversibility remains a cornerstone of our current paradigm, yet we are finding more and more evidence that experimentally discerned time arrows are asymmetrical and that they all point from past to future. This paper furnishes some comments about events leading up to the Ritz-Einstein confrontation, some subsequent developments, and an English translation of their agreement to disagree. A side by side comparison of two recent summaries of their battle communiques is included to provide an overview of what they had to say about this current issue.

In matters of scientific fact we may – and most assuredly I emphasize MAY – allow scientists to conduct their experiments to discover the facts of a situation. But what happens when the science community cannot experiment but can only create models they think mirror reality? This is precisely the circumstance in the arguments regarding global warming. Or, more specifically, anthropogenic global warming (AGW), warming caused exclusively by the acts of man. The facts cannot be determined by experiment. The various scientific camps create computer models and argue about the models and the input data and it all has taken on the slimy sheen of a political argument, not a scientific one.

What would we do if our lives were dependent on deciding which of these experts, these intellectual giants was correct? Or even which was more correct? How would we decide? What would be the basis of our decision? Ultimately, might one even be so arrogant as to ask why even consult the experts? For if they ultimately disagree and we are not expert yet we must make a decision then why consult them at all? How would we, on what basis would we, differentiate between the various expert camps?

What do we do when our experts disagree?

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