Wednesday, September 15, 2004

More on Expertise and Hiring Reasoners

A couple of ya'll (gently) busted me for the post about hiring others to do one's reasoning, in particular with regard to the possibly-forged CBS documents. Actually the reasoning in that case does seem to be pretty easy, and it is the knowledge that's esoteric. But the general point stands, I think.

A better example of hiring someone to do our reasoning for us is when we (in effect) hire statisticians to interpret data for us. We could reason about it ourselves, but we'd just botch it.

The Feith memo was another such case. There the reasoning and judgments of trained intelligence analysts was the only thing for it. As I noted when that memo came out, any layperson who thought he could make heads or tails out of that thing was just fooling himself. It ended up being a Rorschach test that allowed the more partisan among us to "see" whatever they wanted to see. Part of that had to do with our lack of knowledge about such matters, but part of it was because we have no experience in reasoning about such things. Sure, the general rules are the same--modus ponens is always valid, and in its general outlines, reasoning will always be a matter of hypothesis formation and testing. But cognitive scientists seem to have shown that reasoning skills are domain specific; that is, one's ability to think well about, say, computers does not mean that one will be able to think well about, say, history. In very many cases, we're just better off listening to the experts.


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