The lesson that I have for you this week is short and simple: The person giving you advice knows less than you do – even if he or she has a lab coat on, wears smart glasses or is on TV.
In fact, what I’m saying is true even if he or she has all of the above qualities.
I got a kick recently out of watching the national weather experts predict the path of Hurricane Matthew. At first, they were saying the monster storm was headed straight toward Beaufort, North Carolina, and then, a few hours later, it was South Carolina, and, then, the next time I turned on the TV, it was Florida.
Then the brilliant weather people said the storm was going to first hit Florida, go back out to sea, do a loop de loop (that’s a new one!), and then hit Florida again.
Every five minutes, it was something different: “Did we say it’s going due east? We meant due west, wait … hold on. I‘m getting something in my ear; reports are now that Matthew will head straight up into the sky and then come straight down and burrow toward the center of the earth.”
Finally, I saw one storm tracker in front of a map where they just had like 15 arrows going in 15 completely different directions.
I mean, you really get straighter answers from a Magic 8 Ball or a Ouija board.
Or, for that matter, from a crack user who’s explaining to the cops why they found drugs in her car.
After a while, a light bulb broke inside my head, and I thought: “Oh, OK, I get it – so they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.”
You know, it disturbs me greatly that these are the experts and they have no idea whatsoever. They really know no more than me and you. We could get monkeys to throw darts at a map to make wild guesses about the hurricanes and do just as well. The only difference between us and the weather experts is that they are really good-looking and are on TV.
Which, somehow, gives then gravitas.
But it turns out – and here’s the really big twist of the column this week – it’s not just weathermen and weather women who have no clue: It turns out it’s everyone out there giving us “guidance” of any sort. The emperor isn‘t just naked, he‘s clueless too, and so are all his helpers.
For some reason, we think that other people, the ones “in authority,” know more than we do just because we know what idiots ourselves are. But it turns out that no one knows what they’re doing.
Listen, don’t be fooled by the fact that experts look impressive, sound impressive or both. Anyone can sound impressive while spouting out absolute nonsense. (“According to the National Aeronautic Association of the United States (NAA), a dirigible is the fastest form of aircraft ever devised because the vast majority were green and often carried a variety of brands of Manchego.”)
The people who we think are informed and have it all together are not and do not. Jet pilots, for instance, always look so in control with their crisp uniforms and their strong chins and their serious demeanor – and we literally put our lives in their hands each time we fly because of that, because we figure they must know what they are doing. After all, they’re jet pilots.
But those are the same people who are always on suicide watch and some of them have been found before in uniform knocking back shots in the airport bar 10 minutes before takeoff.
A few months ago, two Delta flights landed at an Air Force base in South Dakota rather than the airport they were supposed to land at. And that type of thing has happened plenty of times before, pilots landing at the wrong airport. Listen, that’s just not right; if things were as in hand and under control as we like to believe, that should never happen; pilots should not be landing at the wrong airports. These are the people that they have put in charge of the 747‘s full of people.
You know, I might turn in the wrong story and my editor might say, “You weren’t supposed to do this story – you were supposed to do the other story.” And I might not go, “Oh right, yes, my bad.”
But that is exactly why I’m a writer and not a 747 pilot – because I have no idea what I’m doing, and if I screw up and, say, turn in the wrong story, or mess up in some other way, there‘s no planeload of people who are going to die, or some city full of coastal inhabitants who will all be killed, because I enjoy making crazy guesses about the weather and acting like I know what I‘m talking about.
Or take the highly impressive American Dental Association – but don’t take their advice. We believe these people because they wear lab coats. But what do they tell you to do? Well, they tell you to floss. You know what a new extensive Associated Press study just found? That flossing does no good. So, in other words, every night of my whole entire life, since I turned 11 or whatever, I’ve been needlessly flossing because that‘s what the experts have been telling me I need to do.
Every single night, I’ve had to stop what I was doing, get out a wax string and painstakingly go one tooth at a time, pulling it between them. It takes about five minutes and if you count finding the floss and then putting it back up, it’s probably more like 10 minutes. So that’s 365 days a year, 10 minutes a day, and I did the math and that’s over 200,000 minutes of my life (3,345 hours in case you were wondering) that I’ve devoted to unnecessarily moving a weird wax string through my teeth for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that I have been listening to the “experts.”
OK, so I don’t really ever floss but, still, you get my point. I’m sure there are probably some people out there who do, and those poor people are now out all that time that they can never get back.
Listen, the expert’s advice isn’t worth a paper nickel.
The president has the most expert security staff in the world and a guy with a butcher knife ran in the front door of the White House looking for someone to kill. This is the president of the United States and the experts protecting him don’t even know to lock the front door.
My mother had all this joint pain for years and she kept going to her doctor who gave her all these expensive medications and treatments. One day I went to Earth Fare and bought her a bottle of Turmeric for $10 and she took it and it worked like a charm.
The next time she was at her doctors, she told him, and here is what he said …
“Oh yeah, I hear that works really well.”
And she was like, “OK … then … why didn’t you tell me that rather than my witch doctor son?”
Day after day we see a humiliating parade of expert advice reversals. Reducing salt intake doesn’t reduce blood pressure. You shouldn’t get half the medical exams they’ve been telling you to get. Stretching before exercise? That’s an old-timey notion that has fallen by the wayside. Wood cutting boards weren’t safe, they said, so you should change to plastic cutting boards, only now they say you should go back to wood – though they may have changed it again by the time you read this. They said that while driving you should keep your hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. I heard it so much growing up that I basically thought it was the law. The other day I heard that now they are saying 9 and 3. They took us from sugar to saccharin to aspartame to stevia, and the other day on the radio, I swear to you, I heard them say that now the best sweetener to use is sugar. Suddenly sugar is the new sugar. Who would have thought?
Here’s my favorite one: You know what the right body temperature is? 98.6, right? Well, they just quietly moved it to 98.2. It turns out my whole life I’ve been running a temperature and had no idea. The next thing you know, they’ll be telling us there aren’t nine planets after all.
Abbie Hoffman supposedly said this: “An expert is guy from out of town in a cheap suit.”
I think that is right – though I would caution you that sometimes the suit is very expensive.
Listen, never, ever, take any advice from anyone no matter how authoritative they sound.
Even if they state it adamantly and put it in italics.