Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Explaining The Experts.

It's unfortunate Josh Freed's latest documentary The Trouble With Experts is coming on CBC TV's Doc Zone so early in the season.
Viewers frantically trying to sample all the new series shouldn't overlook this entertaining look at how we seek out self styled experts in almost every walk of life.
I was thinking of this the other night when I watched a 1968 Walter Cronkie news broadcast that originally ran on CBS.
It seemed so weird --it was wall to wall news with no opinionators whatever. Until the end when Cronkite offered his opinion that the War In Vietnam was not winnable.
Contrast this with Anderson Cooper who uses banks of experts in faux fights every night of the week.
At one point we're told there are so many TV experts these days because TV has expanded to all day news and experts are needed to fill up the air time because they're cheap to hire.
And maybe the real problem isn't with all these confident experts who frequently dole out information that's just plain wrong.
The fault may be with ourselves --we're trying too darned hard in today's rush of a society that we try to get experts to tell us what to do. And sometimes it just doesn't work.
Freed's response is light hearted. He's got a knack for making us laugh uneasily at our foibles. And here he's got a lot of ammunition to work with --I think he could have tackled TV's political experts as a separate subject.
These pontificators analyze everything and they're on all day. I was watching a pair go at each other onCNN in the mid afternoon. Then at night I caught one of the guys ranting again on Cooper.
In fact Freed even uses other experts to grade the experts he's profiling particularly science writer David Freedman author of the book WRONG.
One of the best segments is on talented painter John Myatt who began replicating paintings by famous master painters and doing so well he sold them as authentic works to the great museums of the world.
These days he still does forgeries but only on commission and with the understanding the buyer knows he's getting a bogus painting.
Most pompous are the incredibly snobbish wine experts who in one test couldn't even tell red wine from white wine that was dyed red.
I liked the work of Berkeley professor Phillip Tetlock who studied 300 experts in politics over a rwo decade period and studied over 82,000 predictions for a 2005 study. He found their prognostications only slightly better than random guesses.
On TV shows one expert says that verbal battles are encouraged because it makes for exciting TV.
That segues into a great bit at a college where experts are trained in the art of seeming authoritative --how to dress, talk slowly and deeply. There's a course that takes several days of training."
The Oxford doctor Ben Goldacre tells us about the bad scientific information being dispensed on TV health shows.
But the real kicker is a look at a prison expert who counsels white collar criminals who are entering jail about what to expect behind bars.
If anything The Trouble With Experts suffers from a bit of information overload. It's so jam packed with necessary stuff you really should tape it to watch again a few months from now when TV experts are getting on your nerves.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

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