Every day we are constantly bombarded with an endless stream of so called expert advice on everything from dating to improving our educational system. The latest fitness and overall health trends are no exception as declarations from their proponents appear to be wildly popular within the media and general public. With this constant onslaught of information, how does one determine what advice to listen to as we have all fallen victim to bogus guidance at one time or another even when it has come from sources with high distinction. In the book Wrong: Why experts keep failing us and how to know when not to trust them by David H. Freeman, the author describes the complex web of issues (e.g. career pumping, statistical error, and cognitive bias just to name a few) that cause us to be mislead by flawed advice. Although I would recommend that you read the book to get a grasp of these issues, here is a sample of takeaway points from the book on how to discern the characteristics of less trustworthy expert advice:
It’s simplistic, universal, and definitive. When a claim promises broad benefits and is declared in a sound bite or headline, for a multitude of reasons this advice is usually flawed.
It’s supported by only a single study, or many small or less careful ones, or animal studies. Research findings that are based entirely upon animal studies have a high probability of being refuted once the research is conducted on humans. Although a series of large, well constructed studies can occasionally be wrong, they typically are your best bet in finding a better conclusion.
It’s groundbreaking. A novel finding is usually based upon one study or a small subset of less rigorous studies. Bigger, well constructed studies are almost never undertaken until smaller ones pave the way.
It’s pushed by people or organizations that stand to benefit from its acceptance.
It’s geared toward preventing a future occurrence of a prominent recent failure or crisis. Hindsight is 20/20. Doing in the present what we should have done before a crisis doesn’t necessarily lead to the best outcome.