Thursday, January 28, 2016
The victory of the TV "expert"
The first chapter of the long-awaited new season of the "X-Files" tells the story of how the former agents of the FBI Scully and Mulder are pushed to get involved again into the investigation of para-normal phenomena involving alien beings, because of the interest of a mega-rich popular TV journalist. After more than a decade in the dark, this new episode reflects one of the trends of what has been happening on Planet Earth during the long pause of the famous FBI fictitious files. This trend is the increasing role played by supposed "experts" that base their popularity on the appeal of their theories and fantasies on TV. The victory of a popular TV pundit as president of the Portuguese Republic also shows that being famous on TV (or having chaired a famous soccer club, as in Argentina) is a big asset to become a successful politician. Unfortunately, as explained by the great expert in expertise, Philip Tetlock, in his books, having a high profile in the media, and especially on TV, is very poorly correlated with true expertise, measured for example by the ability to make accurate forecasts. Becoming famous because of a talk show on radio or TV does not guarantee any particular level of wisdom, although it may guarantee a substantial pay cheque. Depth of knowledge is not even correlated with having a column in a newspaper. Some individuals that write in newspapers and that can be seen on TV (from time to time) may be wise and their judgement may provide socially useful insights, but most of what's in the popular media is there to satisfy a demand for stories that most of the time have nothing to do with true explanations of social phenomena, or with plausible solutions to our social problems.