“Don’t believe anything your teachers tell you!” I used to tell my economics classes this in the beginning of each semester. Usually one or two students would respond with, “Wait, can we believe that?” “Good question kid. If you believe it, you can’t believe it.” I use this paradox as a starting point for the students to see that critical thinking and questioning are integral parts of life.
But, the other point about this statement is the importance of questioning those who are seen as experts in their field. Before believing an expert, we need to know what their incentives are when giving us advice, and whether their incentives and our incentives line up.
As a social studies teacher, my incentive may have been to convince hundreds of young adults to vote for my political party. (Aspiring political activists, keep the teaching field in mind.) On more than one occasion I had students ask, “Why would you lie to us? you are a public school teacher!” I appreciated their confidence in me, a government employee, but I was not too sure that made me a dependable source of information. After all, if the government had your best interest in mind, would they try to sell you lottery tickets? [Read more…] about Expert Advice is Dangerous Advice