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Roger Koppl spoke on campus | Syracuse Uni­versity

Each day, Amer­icans make choices to trust the opinions of people they deem “experts.” But how should indi­viduals determine what qual­ifies an expert?

Roger Koppl’s Praxis talk, “Expert Failure, Faulty Forensics, and Fake News” last Thursday evening sought to answer that question. The purpose of Koppl’s talk was to shed light on the general public’s wide­spread problem of accepting the advice of so-called experts without question. These experts in business, eco­nomics, pol­itics, and more assert their opinion as fact, and unfor­tu­nately, the public takes these opinions as just that. 

“They are humans who are moti­vated by the same thing as other humans with the same degree of self-interest,” Koppl said. 

Koppl, a faculty fellow for the Forensic and National Security Sci­ences Institute at Syracuse Uni­versity, has spent years ana­lyzing this issue. He pre­sented his book, “Expert Failure,” and dis­cussed the ways society incor­rectly views “experts.” Koppl argued that the general public has a mis­un­der­standing about the cred­i­bility of elites and that, “until this book, there was really no coherent book on experts.” Koppl claimed that elites from many fields are not actually experts. In his opinion, people put too much stock in the opinions of these elites rather than real­izing that they make human errors just like everyone else.

“Some experts are wise, some experts are fools, but all in the same pro­por­tions as non-experts. Experts are not dif­ferent in their moti­va­tions, their char­acter, or any­thing,” Koppl said. 

“The expert chooses what expert advice he wants to share with the non-experts,” Koppl said.

Koppl’s key fun­da­mental assumption is that the more “expert” advice on any par­ticular topic, the greater the prob­a­bility for mit­i­gating error. For instance, in one of his charts, he dis­tin­guished between various people society upholds as experts, sep­a­rating them based on the degree to which they monop­o­lized their respective markets. According to Koppl, a lack of com­pe­tition leads to monopoly-control on expertise, and then the herd-men­tality kicks in: nobody wants to oppose the “expert.” Such a sit­u­ation is, in Koppl’s opinion, detri­mental to the pros­perity and cul­ti­vation of a free people.

“We want the experts to save us from our igno­rance,” Koppl said.

Unfor­tu­nately, he does not think so-called experts have the capacity to live up to such expec­ta­tions. According to Koppl, there is a fun­da­mental dif­ference between how people used to think of experts and how they think of them today. Experts have always been defined by whether or not they have a spe­cialty, but Koppl said this is an incorrect def­i­n­ition. He takes issue with the original def­i­n­ition of expertise because the division of labor that is created when experts are viewed as spe­cialists creates a division of knowledge. This division means everyone is, in their own way, an expert. 

But if everyone is con­sidered an expert, then is anyone truly one? To address this problem, Koppl argued for the Theory of Infor­mation Choice. According to this theory, Koppl said, “an expert is anyone paid for their opinion.”

Senior Eco­nomics major Kyle Froisland said the con­cepts Koppl dis­cussed are new to eco­nomics and hence thought-pro­voking.

“I thought it was very inter­esting how he inter­played Aus­trian and public choice eco­nomic ideas with prac­tical appli­ca­tions, such as the way we manage economies,” Froisland said. “These ideas of entre­pre­neurship and expertise are pretty young in the field of eco­nomics. It hasn’t been talked about too much, so Koppl’s doing a lot of really cool research in these areas.” 

Praxis pres­ident senior Melody McDonald acknowl­edged the validity of Koppl’s argument.

“Part of Koppl’s book talks about how we have this kind of preset mindset to just trust what an expert says and believe whatever they say, but a lot of experts are wrong,” McDonald said. 

Koppl encourages Hillsdale stu­dents to apply for Whitman School of Management’s P.h.D. program at Syracuse Uni­versity. The program annually accepts four stu­dents, and Koppl says that “the core of the enter­prise is training the next gen­er­ation of entre­pre­neurship scholars.”