Thursday, September 15, 2016

Experts and Fakers

A recent blog post caught my attention, titled There's an easy way to tell if you're talking to an expert or a faker. The world of workers' compensation is full of experts. We have experts on medicine, experts on attorney fees, and more.

At conferences and seminars, we also hear from a fair few who are experts on the entirety of workers' compensation. They know what is "wrong" with the system and know just how to "fix" it. Some write articles and blogs. There are those who point fingers and accuse others of inauspicious motivations and financial incentives. Some claim wide-ranging expertise, others profess expertise over some element or segment of workers' compensation, medicine, law, administration, billing, rehabilitation, settlement, etc.

This "faker" post was interesting, for its take on how to spot a faker. The author says that the key to spotting an expert is that experts "don't know that much." They are apparently the people who think a great deal and consider a great many options and alternatives. They formulate and postulate, but they may be the first to admit that a conclusion is possibly flawed or incorrect. They have an academic interest in the subject, and would think about it even if others ceased to be interested. According to this post, the expert is perhaps a thinker more than a concluder? 

The true expert, he says, is "skittish" and "consumed" by the possibilities suggested by all they "have yet to discover." The experts are in pursuit of knowledge, focused on gaining ground from the sea of ignorance that surrounds us all as human beings (a reference to an old Carl Sagan quote remembered from eons ago). In one example, the author recounts an expert's explanation for declining to adopt a question of "100% sure?" Asked why the avoidance of that question, the expert says "I am not 100% sure of anything." Are any of us? The author describes how "experts" will "point to the enormous degree of peer review and replication success in their field, then carefully explain all the questions they have yet to answer." Is uncertainty a valid harbinger of expertise? 

The author concludes that there is some population "of people who are making things up as they go along." Well, it has been said before that "over 85% of all statistics are made up." The author tells us that these "fakers" are confident and convinced. They exude an "absolutely confident tone." As I read that, I was reminded of an old saw that has been seemingly indiscriminately applied across repeated email jokes "often wrong, but never in doubt." Perhaps this best describes the faker? 

This author provides interesting examples from his perspective of scientific writing. Some are dismissive and other not so much. As much as he is inclined to decry certainty, as a sign of a faker, he is nonetheless himself very certain of things. He is dismissive of people who hold different views, based upon his near absolute conclusion that "the overwhelming scientific consensus" supports the result which he has selected. In that regard, one wonders if he is an "expert" or "faker?" Makes me wonder what any of us are?

Perhaps there is danger to our perspective when we, like the author, use terms like "always written," and "never talk that way." When we use absolutes like "always" and "never" are we considering all perspectives, or exhibiting that we have perhaps already reached our conclusions? Are "always" and "never" the purview of the "expert" or the "faker?"

The author finds expertise in less conclusory language. He finds confidence in contemplative reflection as opposed to rapid and certain responses to inquiry. He cites an example of a scientist that he interviewed. When asked a question, this scientist "was silent for sixteen seconds" before responding. I have notices that I am slower to respond as I have gotten older (I am not always contemplative, sometimes just trying to remember your question, or wondering where I put my cell phone down). 

The author assures us, again in absolute terms, that this particular scientist interviewed "is more qualified than almost anyone else on the planet." And this scientist "was silent for sixteen seconds." The author therefore urges support for his conclusions on "experts" and "fakers" because this better-than-anyone scientist nonetheless "wasn't willing to offer even a hint of an opinion he wasn't sure he could back up with empirical data." Instead, this scientist offered "might," "maybe," and "possibly," and then "then qualified the analogy with several caveats."

I found the discussion intriguing. A sure and certain conclusion that we should be skeptical of sure and certain conclusions. Perhaps oxymoronic? In what context does this have any relation to workers' compensation? 

There are a multitude of workers' compensation systems in the world. Each is a product of legislative effort and action. Some would perhaps argue that each is likewise to some extent the product also of the inverse ignorance and inaction. Many might likely agree that each is to some extent the product of compromise, as are most legislative efforts. Compromise could be an accepted part of democracy and government, some feeling it is a great strength and others concluding it the Achilles heal. (How about those caveats and cautions, am I sounding "expert?") 

I am confident that each of our workers' compensation system represents some level of compromise regarding competing interests. They are hybrid systems of benefit delivery and liability protection. Those compromises and contributions have each come from specific perspectives, varying degrees of self-interest, and untold influences of unrelated legislative issues. Observers of each jurisdiction's system may be quick to conclude that their own iteration is "the best" or at least "better than _________." Those observations may be driven to some degree by a given speaker's perspective. They may be driven in part by familiarity (are we not all prone to preferring that which we know well?) 

A hospital executive, doctor or therapist might lament or extol her state's system because of the reimbursement system. Whether impairment or disability is compensated and how might lead to praise or criticism from an employer, labor representative, or vocational provider. Fairness and sufficiency may be so dependent upon perspective that gaining a holistic view of any system may be as elusive to us as description of the elephant once was to six blind men? It may all come down to picking the right "expert" to follow? 
Are there experts in the field of workers' compensation? Certainly there are plenty who would wear that mantle. But labels aside, are there "experts" in the sense described by the author of There's an easy way to tell if you're talking to an expert or a faker? Are there those who are able to stand on empirical data and conclude that one course or the other is "better" or "best," while admitting that there is no perfection? While admitting that there remains a great deal that we simply do not know? 

In Florida, the law has seen a number of panaceas over the years. For every perceived problem, there is a solution. And with every solution seems to come an equal and opposite new problem spawned by the solution of seemingly best intentions. Impairment benefits yielded in the 1970s to "wage loss," which yielded in the 1990s to impairment once again. Each had its proponents and fans, and each had its critics. Could it be that Socialism is no more capable of perfection in all facets than is Capitalism (or any other known system)? 

Those who have been in this industry for decades perceive a roller coaster-like chronology in which "solutions" are born, gain acceptance and prevalence, peak, and then descend into disrepute and criticism. The promises of spine fusion, opioids, wage loss, the SSD permanent total standard, bad faith fees and a multitude of other "solutions" have come, peaked, and faded. And each has been suggested to us, proclaimed, by some population of "experts."

I have heard some of them speak. There is never any inkling that some prior solution was wrong or ill-conceived. The conclusions are usually about how a solution failed for unpredictable reasons, usually associated with some random force, event, or interpretation that simply could not be foreseen or accounted for. 

The Expert or Faker author says that "fakers have opinions on everything." He contends that "no matter how nuanced" a question might be, the "fakers" will "have a sure, ready answer — sometimes about topics you didn't ask about in the first place." The strength of "experts," he contends, is their drive to "poke holes in common ideas." He believes that "experts" therefore "ask better questions." 

And that, in the end, is really the point. I suspect that human nature leads us all to be many things. Singer Meredith Brooks makes a similar point with her compelling lyrics
I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way

We are all inconsistent beings. We are all amalgams of thought and experience and perspective. We are all self-contradictions. And, we each bring something a little different to the table and discussion. This is succinctly stated in a 2003 movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In it, Dorian Gray is shot repeatedly at point-blank range before calmly slaying his assailant. As the assailant slumps to his knees, taking Dorian's shirt with him and thus displaying multiple bullet wounds, healing rapidly, the assailant questions "what are you?" Dorian confidently replies "I'm complicated." And aren't we all?

Meredith and Dorian bring home a point. We are all complicated. We are each comprised of what we have seen, heard, and said. Perhaps each of us will be "experts" at times and "fakers" at others? And as the author of Expert or Faker may have unwittingly illustrated, our evolution to "faker" may occur when we least suspect, when we are the most confident in our conclusion. Perhaps it is an eventuality, but even so it may be one that we can individually and collectively guard against.

Perhaps there is merit in the caution of W. Edwards Deming "in god we trust, all others bring data?" If the "expert" is the one who refers to, and relies upon, volumes of "peer review and replication success," should that be our touchstone? Should our current approach be to consider the original purposes of workers' compensation? And should our discussions be focused on how the empirical data supports we could best serve the employee and employer relationship in furtherance of that purpose?

Let's recognize that socialism is not perfect, though we work in a socialistic system. We can likewise admit that capitalism is not perfect. Perhaps our Achilles heal is "isms" generally. As Ferris Beuller noted "isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself." Not a bad bit of advice. I think we can make real progress if we refer to empirical data, remain focused on the real goal, admit that none of us know everything, be wary of vested interests, and believe in ourselves.


Workers' compensation is depending on us. Not to overstate it, but America is depending on us. Employers deserves a functional and appropriate system of predictability. Workers deserve that predictability, functionality, and support of their recovery and return to functionality. Socialism has been selected as the path to these goals. If the various perspectives can be considered, then perhaps we can work to a better compromise while we admit that nothing we do will ever be any more perfect than any of us is individually? Oh, and "save Ferris."




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