These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

What’s the best thing to do on an airplane? Twitter fight, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says:

I tried to get in a fight with an Indian fellow who’s repeating that story that we’re refusing expertise at all. Remember that cartoon? They’re imitating that cartoon in The New Yorker that shows people with the sign that they don’t need the expertise of the pilot.

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

You cannot compare a macroeconomist to a pilot. There are two classes of experts. Belly dancers are experts at belly dancing. The people who steal radios from cars are experts at stealing radios from cars. Dentists are experts at dentistry. I’m not sure macroeconomists know anything about anything.

Because there’s no feedback, so we don’t know. Maybe they know. Policymakers or people in the State Department, I’m not sure they know anything because there’s no feedback. We definitely know that a carpenter is an expert at carpentry, you see?


  1. Charles W. Abbott says:

    Nice cartoon!

    IMHO, Taleb does better explanation of his view of expertise in The Black Swan. It’s in the index, probably under “experts who are experts and experts who are not experts”

  2. Kirk says:

    When one is a young officer in the military, a key and essential skill that you need to develop early on is an instinct for identifying which NCOs and troops in your unit are full of shit and advising you improperly. Officers are managers, and need to rely on the resident subject matter “experts” and people who actually make things happen. Fail to develop this key skill, and the only thing that’s going to save you from failure is incredible luck or having everything else around you fail as well.

    Removed from a military context, the parallels are there in daily life: Which set of “experts” do you listen to? The wisdom of your experience, the words of your grandmother, or the genius from the government who’s telling you that the diet your people subsisted on for generations successfully is unhealthy? “No, don’t eat fats and proteins… You need carbohydrates and processed foods, instead…”. Erm. Yeah. How did that work out, again? Turns out, those “experts” had an agenda, and were being paid by industrial interests for certain specific results, which have resulted in an explosion of obesity here in the US since this Department of Agriculture started us down this path.

    So… Experts. The trick is, I’m afraid, to identify which ones are actually worth listening to, and who really know what the hell they’re talking about. That’s the key and essential skill you need, today–The ability to identify the bullshit artists and scammers which infest the body politic and who populate our media.

  3. Lucklucky says:

    “Turns out, those “experts” had an agenda, and were being paid by industrial interests”

    Most experts believe they are doing good, have nothing to do with financial interests.

  4. Kirk says:

    Mmmm… The inimical sort of expert is usually benefitting somehow, if only with ego boosts. The trick is to figure out what is in it for them, and work from there to assess their input.

  5. Lucklucky says:

    Correct. I didn’t specify, but that is my point; “profit” came in many ways to people.

  6. Jim says:


    We obviously need experts on identifying which experts to listen to.

  7. Kirk says:

    Jim, I think it’s more a case of needing to learn that skill for ourselves.

    I can’t honestly remember how many times the “approved wisdom” has changed on varying subjects; coffee has been a health hazard, and then good for your health so many damn times since I first started paying attention to it that I no longer care to even keep track of it all. The story changes so damn often that you’re hard pressed to even keep up with what the latest thing is. Are eggs healthful, this week? Or, are they unhealthy…?

    The wonder, to my mind, is not that the experts keep changing their stories, but that anyone, anyone at all, even listens to them. For anything…

  8. Mike says:

    Giving out wrong advice about food (esp. fats and carbs) and drink is nothing new. Dieticians have been doing it for at least a century:

    “It is a common misconception about the history of American food habits that we only recently began to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. In part this error is due to the fact that it was indeed just yesterday, after the discovery of vitamins early in the present century, that professional dieticians began to tout them. During the decades just before the discovery of vitamins…the same professionals crusaded against fruit and vegetable eating, particularly among the poor, because fruit and vegetables were a relatively expensive way to fuel up in calories. But the generation of 1849 was not burdened by the counsels of professional dieticians. They made do with their mothers’ judgement.
    —Bacon, Beans, and Galantines, Joseph R. Conlin

  9. Graham says:

    I just watched a great West Wing clip

    I don’t think any president outside of fantasy could have quite made these remarks. I think Bush 41′s foreign policy team was excellent, ditto Reagan’s, and although both were pretty good I can’t quite imagine them as the masterminds. Nixon I could, but he wouldn’t be this, shall we say genteel and paternal of manner. I know Democrats think Clinton was like this. But geez. His team was competent and so was he, ish, even if I disagreed with their values, goals, and choices, but he was no chessmaster either. Of the last 18 years, the less said the better all around.

    So I’d like a foreign policy/natsec team of real experts and this clip reminded me I’m definitely not getting it.

    Then I thought of JFK and LBJ’s coterie of the self-identifying Best and Brightest. And they were brilliant men. Somehow, still a shambles.

    I don’t know what to make of it.

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