I’m An Expert: I Must Be Right

I’m An Expert: I Must Be Right

For the closing days of summer, I am posting every chapter of the first edition of Everything You Believe Is Wrong. My enemies ravaged the first edition, inserting typos galore while I was distracted in the service of our people. I here leave their efforts untouched, so that the insidiousness of their behavior is plain. Meanwhile, I am completely revamping and expanding the book, and looking forward to incorporating your comments and criticisms (no need to point out typos and grammar errors). The second edition will be glorious.

This is the Chapter 2: I Must Be Right.

Listen to Me

Expertologists Agree

The I Must Be Right Because I Can’t Think How I Can Be Wrong Fallacy, which is well to shorten to the I Must Be Right Fallact, has always been with us, the disease of experts with degrees in expertology, but its use has latterly accelerated because of our culture’s fascination with self-esteem and credentials. It is the other side of the Big Muscles Fallacy in Chapter 1.

Schools and universities in the West are turning out self-assured credentialed-yet-ignorant sensitive over rewarded and awarded graduates at rates heretofore thought impossible. The consequence, besides that of relying on these individuals to lead us into the future, and therefore guiding us to our inevitable doom, is that an accelerating proportion of the population is surer of itself than ever, while at the same time knowing less.

The I Must Be Right Fallacy is thus everywhere. It is heard whenever somebody says, “What else could explain it?”, “I can’t think of any other reason”, “I have to be right”, “There can’t be any other possible explanation but this one”, “Only an idiot…” and the like. This fallacy is what allows legal convictions based on scanty circumstantial evidence. It is how the self-credentialed and deluded convince themselves they are in possession of the truth.

Unknown Identities

Before I give a practical example, don’t confuse the I Must Be Right with the Who The Hell Are You To Question Me? Fallacy, which shares certain aspects and which is routinely invoked by the arrogant, those who have reached the top of their fields, men who either don’t want to be pestered or who have for too long believed their own press. The Who The Hell Are You? is also called the more familiar Appeal To Authority Fallacy, where propositions are asserted to be true because of the authority of the person stating the proposition. The Who The Hell Are You? is applied by one man seeking to cow or convince others, while the I Must Be Right is a fallacy used to convince oneself.

Be wary. The Who The Hell Are You? is not always a fallacy; rather use of the fallacy does not prove (as use of any fallacy does not prove) the falsity of the proposition under consideration. If an astronomer says, “Listen to me, I know what I’m talking about. Venus is the second planet”, we have good reason to believe “Venus is the second plant” because the astronomer is an authority on planets.

Again, be wary! Some scientists are not claiming Mercury is closer to earth than Venus!1 How do we know Venus is the second planet? Only because we observe that is what people, in the West, call it. We observe what experts call it. We do not usually observe what, say, the Chinese call it. We argue, to ourselves, “Venus is what these experts agree on what the call the second planet; therefore it is true Venus is the second planet.” If the Appeal to Authority held each time an expert gave his view, then we could throw out all textbooks and classrooms.

Only On Wednesdays

The I Must Be Right is different. Suppose you’re wondering where your wife could have got off to. “It’s Wednesday. On Wednesdays she visits her mother. I can’t think where else she’d be. Therefore, she’s at her mother’s.” Given the wife’s past behavior, about which the husband knows best, it is likely but not certain she is at her mother’s. She could be off shopping. The husband is committing a weak version of the fallacy but judging the wife must be at her mother’s because he can’t think of any other place the wife would be.

Suppose the man wanders into the bedroom and something he sees reminds him that his wife mentioned something about shopping. He now argues, but of course not using such formal language, “It’s Wednesday and she should be at her mother’s, but she could be shopping; therefore, she is still likely at her mother’s.” The man himself expanded the options, and came to greater uncertainty in “Wife is at mother’s.”

Consider this carefully, because this trivial example has wide-ranging and profound implications. When the man thought of only one option for his wife’s location, he concluded the local truth that his wife had to have been at that one option. This follows in a formal fashion. Given “Wife can only be at her mother’s”, then “Wife at her mother’s” must be true. Given “Wife can be at mother’s or shopping”, then “Wife at her mother’s” is only probable.

Heating Up

A person who has proudly given himself the label “SninkyPoo”, writes in Daily Kos on the subject of global warming and a colleague of mine who came to the unwelcome conclusion that global warming isn’t that scary2. Sniky said “What I don’t understand about Willie Soon and any other `scientist’ who sets aside his or her intellectual integrity for cash…What completely baffles me is how that [oil money] influences his research – if he is really a scientist. If he is really a scientist, and the evidence clearly shows that climate change is being caused (or influenced, or goosed, or forced) by human activities including massive use of fossil fuels, then how can he reach the opposite conclusion?”

Mr Poo by his own admission is baffled. But given he offers his own solution to his own imaginary predicament, this bafflement is only pretended intellectual humility, a form of “humble bragging”, a rhetorical trick that often works, but only in those that have no natural resistance to bad ideas.

Stinking Up The Place

Anyway, Mr Poo asks this conditional: if it is true that climate change is caused by man, how can a scientist claim climate change is not caused by man? There is nothing wrong with this conditional question. The fallacy enters when Mr Poo says (in effect): I can think of no other reasons than corruption or (he says later) reliance on “ideological filters” which insist man cannot cause climate change, therefore there are no other reasons.

It is a fallacy because there are many other ways for a scientist to conclude that man does not have (much of a) climatological influence, even if it is true man does cause climate change. It could be that the scientist is ignorant of the basics of his field, which certainly isn’t true in Soon’s case (he is a well-published physical scientist). The scientist may have been misinformed (again not true in Soon’s case). Or it could be that evidence has not been sufficient to conclude mankind’s influence is certain.

Even the last is not true; indeed the opposite is. There has been plentiful and sufficient evidence to conclude that mankind’s influence, while certainly present, is not as large or as dangerous as Mr Poo implies (hopes?). Yet that Mr Poo argues fallaciously and in ignorance cannot be much of a surprise.

Mr Poo also attempts to taint Soon with racism:

In Stephen Jay Gould’s excellent book “The Mismeasure of Man” he discusses the 19th century “science” on race that led to incorrect – and horrifying – conclusions about differences in intelligence among the human races. Mismeasuring – misrepresenting – confirmation bias – the book is full of fascinating examples of scientists who massaged their data to “prove” what they already believed.

And I get that. But at the time that work was being done, pretty much everyone believed that there were differences among races that included differences in intelligence and aptitude. Those beliefs were WRONG. Stark, staring, ravingly MADLY wrong. But that was majority opinion. So confirmation bias and massaging of data makes more sense at that time and in that context.

So, as admitted by Mr Poo, sometimes confirmation bias is excusable, or at least understandable. (And he really should have picked a better example than Gould’s failed, ideologically driven book.) This is why Mr Poo dismisses confirmation bias as an account for Soon’s science and instead concludes Soon, and other scientists who do not agree with Mr Poo’s own preconceived notions, are “absolutely disgusting and wicked.”

It’s In The Bureau

The Deepest State

The Bureaucrat Fallacy is deadly. It is a species of the I Must Be Right in which an expert believes he is right because he cannot think of an alternate explanation. The bureaucrat is an expert, or rather he is credentialed and given a position of what is supposed to be an expert, and so comes to think himself an expert despite any of possible intellectual failings.

The Bureaucrat Fallacy is more of a corporate than an individual fallacy. The bureaucrat not only thinks he must be right because he is the man in authority, but he thinks the process itself into which he is embedded must be right because it is the process. That process came from “on high” and assumes the status of holy writ. To the bureaucrat the process is the answer to every question. Thus the bureaucrat is only right when the question is in regard to the process.

Wet Minds

A citizen comes to the bureaucrat with an argument, such as the puddle that has formed on his land after the latest heavy rain is not a “wetland.” The bureaucrat says, “Yes, it is a wetland, because it meets the definition of a wetlad given in such-and-such regulation.”

This is and isn’t a fallacy. It isn’t in the sense that the bureaucrat is arguing “Any parcel of land is a wetland if it meets these criteria; this parcel meets these criteria; therefore, this parcel is a wetland.” It is, or could be, a fallacy if, in fact, the regulation is wrong in its definition, or if the bureaucrat is stretching or interpreting the definition such that more land comes under his watchful eye and guidance.

The real problem is circumstance. Regulations, distilled from laws, but written by bureaucracies, restrain behavior when certain circumstances are said, by the bureaucrat, to be found. The EPA bureaucrat patrolling neighborhoods after rainstorms seeking for parcels that could be classed as wetlands is this kind of example. The law was never meant, we are supposing, to be applied to all parcels of any kind anywhere. The law was written in a spirit, but that spirit never makes it into the subsequent regulations, which must be concrete.

What Does It Mean?

Yet it is impossible to anticipate every possible circumstance. Interpretation is thus impossible to avoid, and since it is also impossible for every interpretation to be correct, fallacy will sometimes be found. So much is obvious. Less clear, perhaps, is that the Bureaucrat Fallacy will and must be found more and more often as our culture moves ever closer to a “Managerial State”, a term given to us by James Burnham.

Experts will rule over us. How can a parent raising his own child, his only child, perhaps, know more than the managerial government-credentialed expert? The expert is credentialed. The parent is not. The parent has no experience whatsoever, says the expert. The expert has a mountain of regulations upon which to rely. Whatever the expert says must take precedence over the desire of the parent. If not, we run the risk of a non-expert making suboptimal decisions.

This fallacy is subtle. The expert’s argument sounds plausible, perhaps not for control over your children, but for, say, how to lay out your home. Why it is a fallacy is because it has forgotten a key premise assumed but unarticulated by the parent. The parent is not relying on “research” and “studies” like the expert, but on the cumulative wisdom of his culture and people, a culture which has already conducted more investigation than the expert can ever hope to.

The conceit experts have is that they are discovering new things about mankind, when, as the saying has it, there is nothing new under the sun. Men are not machines. Technology has increased, but wisdom about men has not. As this book shows, we are going in the opposite direction.


… Venus!1


… scary2


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  1. Joey Zamboni

    Just how does one become an ‘expert’ you ask…?

    Why they are deemed ‘experts’ by ‘other experts’ of course…!

    ‘Experts’ at being ‘experts’…

    The idolatry of self…

  2. Cary D Cotterman

    Thanks for providing the reference for your Venus claim, so I could fact-check it.

    As far as regulations are concerned, they, like protocols, are intended to remove the need for thinking. They appeal strongly to people who can’t or don’t like to think.

  3. Milton Hathaway

    One pervasive example you can file under the “I Must Be Right” category is gun control. Common sense should tell us that a problem with thousands of causes probably doesn’t have a single fix, especially with no evidence that the proposed single fix has ever been effective.

    With that in mind, I found this article interesting; superficially it says one thing, but reading between the lines it makes the opposite point:


    It’s not hard to image the article’s liberal author getting this assignment, grudgingly covering the topic, but disdainfully layering on top his self-assured knowledge that while the best solution is certainly gun control, here are some examples of some workaround approaches being tried in US cities where gun control isn’t politically feasible.

    Particularly revealing is the term “evidence-based”, as if to say “well, since the only obvious solution that would clearly work is off the table, and something still needs to be done, maybe an approach based on evidence of what works in practice might be worth a try”.

    Admittedly this article gives little hope that the gun-grabbers are finally grasping reality; it’s ends with quoting naysayers offering the usual completely impractical approaches, such as “alleviating poverty and racial disparities” and other “I Must Be Right” evidence-insulated prescriptions.

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