The word expert carries with it a lot of weight. When you hear that someone is an expert, you expect they have donated much of their life to learning about something specific. They have studied, mastered, and know this thing inside and out, whatever it may be. That’s the idea, anyway. But as it happens, sometimes people who are called experts have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. They just hope you believe them because why wouldn’t you believe an expert?
10. Fingerprint Experts Change Conclusions Under Pressure
Fingerprinting has been used to aid in criminal investigations for over 100 years. Very little about the technology has changed in that time, because why would it? Comparing one fingerprint to another is fairly simple, even if the technology used to compare the fingerprints might have changed. That doesn’t mean it’s foolproof by any means.
Evidence has shown that so-called fingerprint experts can change their conclusions based on outside considerations. In so many words, they make mistakes. For instance, a fingerprint expert working for the FBI wrongly identified a lawyer from Oregon as one of the suspects in the 2004 Madrid train bombing.
According to a later report, the fingerprint they had was of poor quality. But due to the high pressures of the case, it was wrongly identified as belonging to the Oregon lawyer. Subordinates of the fingerprint expert stated they didn’t feel they could challenge the expert’s findings.
9. Wine Experts Consistently Have No Idea What They’re Talking About
The world of wine is no stranger to accusations of pretension. For many years, it’s been a common belief that expensive wine must be good and cheap wine must be terrible. For instance, the idea of wine in a box was considered a joke for years after it was introduced. Some of that tarnish has worn away in the last while, but not completely. This is all exacerbated by wine experts, or at least people who think they’re wine experts.
In 2001, a study was released that tore the world of wine tasting apart. The man behind the study had added red food coloring to white wine and then had wine experts taste it. Most of them described it the way they would describe a red wine, even though it wasn’t. All it took was a little food coloring to expose them as having no idea what they were talking about.
Another test saw 25 cheap wines tested by blindfolded experts. They all picked different wines as the best; only one was a top pick on everyone’s list. There was nothing linking one to another beyond that.
In yet another test, wine experts were given the same wine three different times. Some judges had mostly consistent scores; others varied wildly. And these were all recognized experts whose ratings could mean the difference between a wine winning a competition and the vineyard behind it becoming incredibly popular and wealthy or remaining obscure. The result was that medals distributed through these contests were essentially handed out at random.
8. Art Experts Are Easily Fooled Even by Animals and Children
If wine experts are not to be trusted, then what should we make of art experts? People are fond of saying that art is subjective, so what exactly can you trust an art expert to tell you about art? Certainly, there is a section of expertise that can deal with whether a painting is truly by a certain artist and not a forgery or if it is representative of the art style, but an expert telling you if art is good or bad? That’s a little shady.
In 1964, Pierre Brassau set out to test the pretension of the art world. He made four paintings, each commissioned by a Swedish journalist specifically to test the expertise of art critics. If the critics liked the art, the journalist believed it would prove how little they knew because Pierre Brassau was a chimp from the zoo. One critic said it looked like an ape had done it. Another said Brassau was “an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”
A more recent experiment pitted experts against non-experts. Each was given photos, some of real art, some just passport photos, and asked to identify which were from the Museum of Modern Art. Some of each had a faint MOMA stamp in the corner. Both experts and non-experts were equally as bad at identifying “real” art vs. “fake.”
Back in 1993, a panel of experts chose 150 works of art for a fine art exhibition in Manchester. One painting was later revealed to have been done by a four-year-old. The painting was allowed to remain in the show and got six bids.
7. Audio Experts Cannot Tell The Difference Between Cheap Cables and Expensive Ones
Some people are really into their stereos and cables. If you’ve ever had to buy cables, then you may be aware there’s a whole world of audio experts who recommend one kind over another. Some cables can get incredibly expensive with gold or silver connectors and other snazzy elements inside. But are they really better?
It turns out that some of the self-proclaimed audio experts out there can’t tell the difference between a high-priced audio cable and a simple coat hanger.
Some people maintain that higher-priced wires are made from higher-quality materials and allow certain attributes of sound to travel better. A sound engineer went out of his way to create a null tester device that strips down every possible aspect of a signal traveling through wires to expose any potential differences to show that audio through cheap wires comes out exactly the same as audio through expensive wires by testing four different sets ranging from $5 to $700 and getting the same results each time.
6. Handwriting Experts Verified Hitler’s Diaries Only Top Have Them Outed as Fakes Days Later
Heading back to the courtroom, handwriting experts have also been used for their expert testimony to help convict criminals. They have also been relied on to confirm historical documents. Unfortunately, they’re just as liable to make mistakes as every other expert. The most famous case of this relates to the Hitler Diaries.
Supposedly discovered in 1983, the diaries of Hitler were said to have been hidden away since 1945. A trio of handwriting experts confirmed them as genuine, and they were sold for $6 million. No German experts were asked to authenticate the works. Two weeks after they were published, a German newspaper absolutely raked the diaries over the coals exposing an abundance of evidence that they were fake. They’d been made very recently and were produced as a forgery to get money.
A reporter for the magazine that paid for the diaries had commissioned the fakes with a known forger. He ended up going to prison, as did the forger, and the main handwriting expert suffered a massive blow to his reputation
5. A Kidnapping Expert Was Kidnapped After Giving a Speech About Avoiding Kidnapping
This one is a lot grimmer than our other entries. Still, the irony is too high to ignore. Felix Batista was an expert in kidnapping and went to Mexico in 2008 to speak at a seminar on the subject of how to avoid being kidnapped.
After his seminar, Batista got a call from a friend who claimed to have been kidnapped. Batista, a negotiator who had secured the release of many kidnapping victims, began to work to help his friend get free. He was told to go to a restaurant and, while there, got a call saying his friend had been released and they were driving him to the restaurant to meet Batista.
Batista went outside, leaving his phone and ID in the restaurant, and was promptly kidnapped by whoever had been calling him. He was never seen again.
4. Recruiting Experts Gave Opinions on a Fake Player
College sports are worth a lot of money to people, and recruiting experts have to try to make bank by trying to convince people they know who the next big thing will be. In 1993, coach Bobby Knight made many of these experts look like fools by recruiting 6-foot-8 basketball phenom Ivan Renko from Yugoslavia.
Experts quickly jumped on the Renko bandwagon and began analyzing his skillset, talking him up and even referencing the times they’d seen him play. The fact that Knight made Renko up and he wasn’t a real person at all exposed the fraud for what it was.
3. Reports Written by AI Are Able to Fool Experts
There is quite a controversy over the use of AI to write content on the internet these days. Amazon is being flooded with books written by AI, and if you’ve read any creative writing by an AI program, you’ll notice it’s not very good. On the other hand, AI is very good at writing technical reports. So good, in fact, that experts can be fooled by artificial intelligence.
In one test, cybersecurity experts were tricked by reports written by AI about threats in their field. Misinformation written by AI can convincingly make its way online, and if it can trick experts, such as with cybersecurity or Covid-19 reports, it could just as easily fool everyday people.
2. Family Court Experts Are Often Unqualified
Some topics are a little more difficult to become experts in than others. An expert golfer, for instance, would be able to play a good round of golf almost every time objectively. But what does it mean to be a family court expert? Unfortunately, far less than you might think.
Psychologists are often called as expert witnesses in family court settings. But research has shown that these experts aren’t always qualified to do what they’re asked to do. A 2012 study showed that 20% of experts called to testify are unqualified to do so. The report went on to find much more damning results. Two-thirds of the reports made by the so-called experts reviewed for the study were found to be poor or very poor, and 90% of the experts weren’t even in clinical practice when their expertise was called upon. One single expert was even used in 90% of the cases reviewed.
1. Experts in Every Field Fail at Predicting the Future
Have you ever heard someone online joke about how they expected to have flying cars and jetpacks by now? This stems from predictions we and our parents grew up with that by the year 2000, we’d be living in some kind of science fiction utopia. If you go back far enough, they were probably predicting a sci-fi utopia for the year 1900 as well. It turns out that experts in all fields suck at predicting the future.
Foreign affairs experts were once asked to predict future geopolitical events, like if the Soviet Union would fall by 1993. Their predictions were on par with “dart-throwing chimps.” In 1934, Albert Einstein said there was no indication that nuclear power would ever be attainable. In 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted global chaos and mayhem where, in the absolute best case, half a billion people would die of starvation as governments enacted population control. The opposite ended up happening, and starvation went from claiming 50 out of every 100,000 people in the ’60s to 2.6 out of every 100,000 by the ’90s.
People are predisposed to hate randomness. Things like the gambler’s fallacy have shown this: people will throw the dice harder to try to get higher numbers and softer for lower numbers as if it makes any difference. We want to believe we can control things even if it makes no logical sense. So the idea of a random future doesn’t work with our brains. We make predictions, and time and time again, they are horribly wrong.
Well, unless we’re talking about the writers of The Simpsons.