Friday, September 10, 2004

One More Thing: Reasoning, Expertise, and the New Bush Documents

One more thing about something I mentioned in the last post: waiting for the judgments of the experts. Many "critical thinking" courses and textbooks promote the myth that we should always try to do all of our thinking for ourselves. But one thing you have to do in order to become a good reasoner is learn to identify those cases in which you should not do your own reasoning. Many experts are, in fact, people who we hire to do our reasoning for us. (Of course some--but not all--of their expertise has to do with knowledge that they have and we do not.) Although we can sometimes be of assistance to such experts, that is not usually the case. As an example: suppose a competent engineer is designing an airplane in which you will have to fly. Do you (a) leave him the Hell alone and trust his judgment, or (b) re-draw his plans so that they seem better to you? If the latter: nice knowing ya.

Many people are now arguing that the new documents concerning Bush's performance in the Texas ANG are forgeries, and they are doing so by, for example, superimposing the documents on MS Word documents and arguing that the documents are identical and therefore forged. First and less importantly: these superimpositions seem to me to be rather fuzzy, suggesting that the documents are similar but not identical. Second and more importantly: since none of us know a goddamn thing about this subject, none of us have any idea what it would show even if the documents were identical. Left to my own devices, I'd guess that this strong similarity is very suspicious. But I also know that I don't know anything about typwriters, nor about forgeries. For all I know, electric typwriters of the appropriate kind used fonts and spacing that were exactly like most laser printers. The documents are aparently in Times New Roman or somesuch, and for all I know that's always absolutely the same everywhere. Furthermore, using MS Word to produce such forgeries may be, basically, the stuff of inside jokes among forgers--that is, the kind of thing that not even a freshman at forgery college would do. Until we get the straight dope from the experts, we don't even know what to make of the evidence that is available to us. So, again, I suggest that everybody just chill out and wait a week.

Look: you wouldn't try to cure yourself of cancer, you'd hire an expert to do the job. I advise the same course of action in the case at hand, and in all similar cases.

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