Spisode #57 - The Experts Speak

On this episode, Ed and I discussed the book, The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, expanded and revised edition, 1998.

The two authors are interesting—a National Lampoon Contributing Editor, and a  Sesame Street contributor (Cerf) and editorial director of The Nation, Navasky.

They created The Institute of Expertology, a group of scholars who record sayings from experts for posterity.

The book describes three kinds of experts: past, present and future. Also, three type of expertise: descriptive, prescriptive and predictive.

Richard Feynman reminds us, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Samples from the “Experts”

Politics

WSJ Editorial, “Bill Clinton will lose to any Republican who doesn’t drool on stage.”

“FDR will be a one-term president.” Mark Sullivan, New York Herald Tribune columnist and political commentator, 1935.

"The race will not be close at all. Landon will be overwhelmingly elected and I’ll state my reputation as a prophet on it." William Randolph Hearst, August 1936. [FDR in 1936 won 523 electoral votes to Alf Landon’s 8, 11M vote margin].

"And while I'm talking to mothers and fathers, I give you one more insurance. I have said this before but I will say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” FDR October 30, 1940.

"It is highly unlikely that an airplane or a fleet of them could ever think of fleet of navy vessels under battle conditions.” FDR as Secretary of the Navy 1922.

"I have no political ambitions for myself or my children.” Joseph P Kennedy.


"I favor the civil rights act of 1964 and it must be enforced at gunpoint if necessary.”1965.

"I would have voted against the civil rights act of 1964.” 1968. 

Both Ronald Reagan.


"There are only two ways to reduce the budget deficit. We must do both.” April 1987.

"There are only three ways to reduce the budget deficit. We must do all three.” September 1987.

"There are only four ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. We must do all four.” August 1988.

All Michael Dukakis.


Economics

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Irving Fisher, Yale Economist, October 17, 1929 [one week prior to the $6 billion stock market crash].

“1930 will be a splendid employment year.” US Dept of Labor, New Year’s Forecast, December 1929.

“In all likelihood world inflation is over.” Managing Director, IMF, 1959.

Hitler

“There is no doubt that he [Hitler] has become a much more quiet, more mature and thoughtful individual during his imprisonment than he was before and does not contemplate acting against existing authority.” Otto Leybold (Warden of Landsberg Prison), letter to the Bavarian Minister of Justice, Sept 1924.

“Hitler is a queer fellow who will never become Chancellor; the best he can hope for is to head the Postal Department.” Paul von Hindenburg, President of Germany, 1931.

War

“The Hawaiian Islands are over-protected; the entire Japanese fleet and air force could not seriously threaten Oahu.” Captain William T. Pulleston, former Chief of US Naval Intelligence, “What Are the Chances?” The Atlantic Monthly, August 1941.

“Among the really difficult problems of the world, the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the simplest and most manageable.” Walter Lippmann, April 27, 1948.

Invention

“The phonograph is not of any commercial value.” Thomas Edison, 1880.

“For God’s sake go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who’s down there. He says he’s got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him—he may have a razor on him.” Editor of the Daily Express, London, refusing to see John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, 1925.

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” Dr. Albert Einstein, 1932.

“What, Sir? Would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense.” Napoleon Bonaparte, to Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, c. 1805.

“God himself could not sink this ship. Titanic Deckhand, responding to a passenger’s question, “Is this ship really unsinkable?” Southampton, England, April 10, 1912. [Sunday, April 14, 1912 it struck an iceberg].

“This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done…The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” Admiral William Daniel Leahy, advising President Truman on the impracticality of the US atomic bomb project, 1945.

"X-rays are hoax.” Lord Kelvin

"Radio has no future.” Lord Kelvin

"My dynamite will sooner lead to peace." Alfred Bernhard Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prizes.

Ed’s Favorite

"I have often thought that if there had been a good rap group around in those days I might've chosen a career in music instead of politics.” Richard M Nixon.

Ron’s Favorite

“Nothing of importance happened today.” George III (King of England), diary entry, July 4, 1776.