The rest of 2021 is shaping up to be a sequel to a movie that never should have been made in the first place: from the people who brought you Pandemic 2020 comes the smash hit sequel Pandemic 2021: Delta Variant. New CDC masking “guidelines” make me wonder about further restrictions, all from “the experts” who are following “the science.” There are limits to what “the experts” can know and what “the science” can teach us: they can estimate probabilities arising from different courses of action, but they cannot tell us exactly what to do. An expert can say “This model predicts that with 90% of people wearing masks all the time and maintaining ‘social distancing,’ Covid transmission falls by 90%.” The expert cannot say “Therefore, the government should mandate masking and distancing” with smuggling in a bunch of auxiliary assumptions about what society’s goals should be, who should choose, whose preferences matter, and which tradeoffs are morally significant. I know myself, my family, and my friends pretty well, and I think we’re pretty well-equipped to make choices that balance our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health while accounting for our duties as good neighbors.
Here’s a nice illustration from Strange Planet that I’ve used on economics quizzes. One being says to another who is salting his food, “Why sprinkle minerals before ingesting?” The second says, “I enjoy sprinkled minerals.” The first says, “But this could decrease your final revolution count.” The first says, “Perhaps I prefer fewer revolutions and more minerals.” The principle: trade-offs are everywhere. The first being is free to disapprove, and his expertise might be informative. It is not, however, decisive.
It seems reasonable that before we cede important social decisions to experts, we should consider the very real possibility that the articulated and centralized wisdom of experts isn’t that much better than the unarticulated and decentralized wisdom of the masses reflected in prices and social conventions. Here are five recommendations for books you should have on your nightstand if you want to learn more.
1. Roger Koppl, Expert Failure. Koppl has done a lot of very important work on ordered hierarchies of expertise in general and the institutional limitations of forensic science in particular. Expert Failure is an explanation of the institutions and organizations in the “market” for expertise and shows how the financial, reputational, and epistemic incentives induce (wait for it) Expert Failure. If nothing else, we should remember that experts respond to incentives, too, and if you understand why a student puts a lot of time and effort into studying for an exam that’s worth 30% of the grade and little time and effort into a homework assignment that’s worth 0.1% of the grade, then you have a pretty good idea of how replacing the dispersed knowledge of the many with the articulated knowledge of the few can go sideways.
2. Philip Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?
This book created quite a splash when Tetlock explained that expert political judgment really isn’t that good. Princeton University Press’s website describes the book’s takeaway point succinctly: “Classifying thinking styles using Isaiah Berlin’s prototypes fo the fox and the hedgehog, Tetlock contends that the fox–the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events–is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems.” That last descriptor is really important when we are evaluating pandemic response. What are mandates, lockdowns, price controls, and barriers to innovation but “formulaic solutions?”
3. Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.
Bryan Caplan has described himself as a “fundamentalist Tetlockian” in light of Tetlock’s two books on this list. Tetlock and Gardner look at what it takes to predict well, and they buttress Tetlock’s conclusion from Expert Political Judgment: hedgehogs who gather a lot of different bits of evidence from a bunch of different places, use it to inform their estimates of different probabilities, and then assess how well they are doing. While Tetlock focuses on the best of the best, it’s another useful exploration of the importance of relying on decentralized knowledge.
4. F.A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason.
Hayek’s analysis of “the abuse and decline of reason” was one of his important intellectual projects. Beginning with his 1937 paper “Economics and Knowledge” and going through his 1945 paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society” and his 1948 collection Individualism and Economic Order, Hayek explored how there is a lot more to “social knowledge” than what can properly be called “scientific.” The expert planner can know a lot of very important things, but as Hayek emphasizes over and over again, knowledge about “the particular circumstances of time and place” does not confront the planner as data. In the face of repeated appeals to expertise and science–both of which, again, inform even when they cannot decide–Hayek’s lessons are indispensable.
5. Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions.
I recently listened to the audiobook of Knowledge and Decisions twice. It’s a masterpiece that extends Hayek’s analysis and that shows, once again, how a lot of essential social knowledge is not “scientific” in the strictest sense. Throughout the book, Sowell emphasizes the importance of incentives and suggests that we should be wary of people who wish to control others but who don’t suffer serious losses when they are wrong. Sowell’s emphasis on tradeoffs and decentralized, non-”scientific” knowledge is a crucial contribution to how we should understand experts’ role in public policy.
By all means, we should listen to the experts and consider the science. They are undoubtedly informative, but once again, their opinions and conclusions are not decisive. The argument for decentralized rather than centralized pandemic responses is not simply a matter of rights and obligations, though these are important. When we turn experts into masters rather than advisers, we throw away a lot of important knowledge. Experts definitely have their place, but we have to remember that they respond to incentives (just like everybody else) and have their own epistemic limitations (just like everybody else). If you find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands in this second year of “two weeks to flatten the infection curve,” it might be a good idea to read up on when experts get it right, when they get it wrong, and why “trust the experts” and “follow the science” aren’t as simple as they might appear at first.
Art Carden – August 8, 2021
Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to American Institute of Economic Research.
Publishing in a world today, where the market is saturated by wannabes and talent, is growing increasingly difficult. Navigating your way around the industry has never been more difficult, contrary to all the self-help blogs out there.
Instead, the contemporary publishing industry is a diverse environment of complex trade sector trends and arising challenges, something that most self-published authors struggle to grasp. Despite this, the author as publisher must consider marketing trends and professional networks if any moderate amount of success is to be achieved. How these networks and practices influence the role of marketing (one of the single most important strategies to guarantee author success), coupled with the author’s role in promoting the book, and how product placement sees the book into the hands of a ‘gatekeepers’ will inevitably determine success.
It’s a long-winded process, with no short cuts available. What was once an industry of traditional printing, publishing, and bookselling, straightforward in its procedures, is now a series of complex relationships interdependent with one another—and difficult to negotiate.
Vying for market and customers in an exceedingly competitive industry equates no longer to the publishing industry being a ‘straight-forward’ author-publisher-distributor relationship. The new trends and challenges are unprecedented, and with price wars between billion-dollar franchises like Amazon, Kmart and Walmart selling books below cost to entice customers through doors, the logistics of publishing an author to success are becoming increasingly challenging.
Once Upon A Time…
The contemporary publishing industry trends traditionally relied on several interwoven industries, but with the event of technology, some of these are changing. Publishing is and has only ever been one part of the complex relationship (though integral) of producing a text, whereas printing, the logistics of marketing, distributing and book selling—whether digital or in bricks and mortar stores—and the authoring of the book also play crucial roles in the success of publishing.
The publishing world has long engaged with agents, proof-readers, editors, and marketers, as well as sales representatives, illustrators, and publicists, but not until recently has the industry directly engaged with its consumers to survive. A move driven largely by independent publishing.
The importance of the publishing companies’ engagement with the consumer—and this includes the self-published multitasking author who dons the publishing and marketing hats—is vital for success. By treating the publisher as the gatekeepers to young readers, librarian Karys McEwen stresses that marketing is vital for generating genuine interest, and influences the type of book purchased for the high school libraries she works in.
Ventura Press publisher Jane Curry agrees that marketing is the crux of the industry. The publishing business exists purely to make a profit. The bigger you are as a publisher the more likely profits are made.
It is a common theme within the industry no matter who you are. The contemporary publishing industry now pushes the smaller and medium-sized publishers into increasingly niche markets, to compete against global giants like Penguin Random House and Hachette. Only the most switched on independent publishers succeed.
The book selling industry is depressing. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, and sometimes talent simply doesn’t count as much as the marketing.
However, it isn’t all bad news for the author. The development of new media flooding the market has a silver lining, explains editors Anabel Pandiella and Tom Saras. They highlight how professional networks are reliant on collaborations which result from new media, and how streaming platforms and well-placed entertainment magazines enhance this. Reflecting on their collaboration with Who magazine to “host book clubs for Who readers”, Saras saw an increase of author’s sales. Pandiella, who promoted a novel by partnering with an SBS streaming platform, also saw an increase of up to 30 percent in author’s sales. Professional book publishing networks are essential for success.
However, in the current climate of self-publishing—a result of publishing due largely to discontent in earnings and the inability to secure a publishing contract—presents the question of what remains of the role of the author?
Tasked to doing most of the work themselves, the evolution of large-scale self-publishing has changed the face of the author’s role in publishing, even in a traditional setting with a publisher. Editing, marketing, and the author’s ability to maintain their own webpages, and other digital promotion is now commonplace for authors of any fashion. The alternative self-publishing mode has created a publisher’s requirement that an author must have some proof of ‘membership’ within the literary community through these tools and networking, even if it is minimal.
The role of the author in marketing is crucial to the success of sales. The author’s “genuine” involvement with their books when marketing on social media platforms, attributes some publishing success to the author’s display of authenticity for the public to identify with. This becomes more important if what Pandiella suggests is occurring with notable consumer interest dropping away from the Internet and digital marketing.
The saturation of digital marketing creates a difficult online environment for marketers and publicists to negotiate; suggesting the importance of a ‘personable’ author to boost revenues via social capable—an approachable author online and off. The crucial role of publishers—large and independent ones—in promotional capacity is essential.
The author’s role is to maintain the professional networks within the publishing industry and to maintain them in a rapidly evolving publishing environment.