Aug 2, 2010

Wrong by David H. Freedman

Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 10, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316023787
ISBN-13: 978-0316023788

Our investments are devastated, obesity is epidemic, test scores are in decline, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well?

Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. And, according to acclaimed business and science writer David H. Freedman, such expert counsel usually turns out to be wrong--often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their advice, and why the most heavily flawed conclusions end up getting the most attention-all the more so in the online era. But there's hope: Wrong spells out the means by which every individual and organization can do a better job of unearthing the crucial bits of right within a vast avalanche of misleading pronouncements.


David H. Freedman ( is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine. His articles on science, business and technology have appeared in The Atlantic, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Science, Wired, and many other publications. His previous book (coauthored) is A Perfect Mess, about the useful role of disorder in daily life, business and science. He is also the author of books about the U.S. Marines, computer crime, and artificial intelligence.


In the news, on the internet and in newspapers ... daily we are bombarded with survey results, expert opinions and warnings. One expert tells us we need to do something to prevent health problems, another expert tells us exactly the opposite. How can we discern what is true and what is not?

David H. Freedman attempts to explain why "experts" keep failing us and how we can know when not to trust them. He defines experts as scientists, finance wizards, doctors, gurus, celebrity CEO's, high-powered consultants, health officials, and more. He lists a bunch of characteristics that today's society looks for in expert advice.  These include being clear-cut, doubt-free, universal, upbeat, actionable, palatable, and including dramatic claims, stories, numbers, and retroactive fixes. Wow, what an impressive list!  If an expert can back up a claim with even some of these elements, it is no wonder that we are so gullible.

I enjoyed the author's detailed chapter on the internet and the technology of expertise.  He says that there is likely good advice in there somewhere, but you need to have the patience and search skills to find it, as well as the experience and judgment to distinguish it from the junk, and even then you have to be prepared to suffer through some potentially bad tips.

There are four awesome appendixes in the back of the book, the first being titled, "A Tiny Sampling of Expert Wrongness, Conflict, and Confusion".  He quotes many experts that disagree on the following topics:
  • whether or not violent video games are harmful to children's development
  • whether or not cell phones emit harmful radiation
  • whether or not we should stay out of the sun
  • whether or not biofuel really does help the environment
  • and many more
Overall, this book is a very enjoyable read. I learned some new great ways to utilize evaluation mechanisms while doing Internet searches, and I know I will not be as quick to believe any new and ground-breaking announcements from the "experts". 

Disclosure: I received a review copy of Wrong from Hachette Books. I received no compensation for my thoughts.

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