Thursday, August 31, 2017

Experts and Evidence

Experts exist, and some of them are even right. But you can't count on that.  I came upon the historian David L. Hoggan (1923-1988) at the end of a Wikipedia meander. It's nice to have that freedom, to follow rabbit-trails at will, with no need to return to the start.

Hoggan ended up among the Holocaust deniers, and additionally taught that Germany had been pushed into both World Wars by British plots.  Hitler was a man of peace, you see, and invaded Poland because they were just about to invade Germany, egged on by Great Britain's Lord Halifax. It is not only in Germany that this theory holds. South Asians, especially in India, saw Britain and France has having desires for greater expansion, while Hitler had none. China was focused primarily on Japan, and was likely to look kindly on any opponent of Russia's as well.

Still, the theory is ultimately nuts, as even an amateur like me can see. Yet were I to have attempted to argue with Hoggan, I would have been instantly out of my depth. He would make reference to original sources I would be unaware of, he would have read a thousand things I had not, including many which he disagreed with.  His training was excellent:  Reed College and Harvard PhD 1948. Though his dissertation was on Germany and the entry into the wars, it was not an alarming document and his advisors stated years later, after he became controversial, that it bore little resemblance to his later views.  Hoggan taught at prestigious places, including Berkeley and MIT.

He was an expert, and would win any argument against 99% of the people in the country. Yet he was wrong. A hundred years ago, no one but Alfred Wegener believed in tectonic plates, and a large portion of the experts did not fully accept it for nearly forty years. And don't even get me started on psychology.

I don't say this to disparage experts in general.  It is other experts, after all, who have refuted Hoggan and vindicated Wegener. I merely note that a great deal of knowledge on a topic is no guarantee of accuracy.  Other factors come into play and even great minds can be o'erthrown.


james said...

N rays

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Awesome. If you were not a follower when I referenced this before, you will find Roger Babson fascinating.

This is about 8 miles from my house, and I still have a warm feeling of positive regard for Roger whenever I pass his marker in New Boston town center.