Is an "Expert" Someone Who Is Surprised by Developments in Their Area of Expertise?

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 05:46

That might seem to be the definition given the way they are often featured in news accounts. A NYT piece on the results of the election in Italy, in which a comedian received almost a quarter of the votes, told readers:

"Few experts anticipated the depth of anger displayed by Italian voters over the austerity that Mr. Monti, the technocrat beloved by other European leaders but resented at home for pushing tax increases and spending cuts, represented. The electorate chose two men convicted of crimes — Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Grillo — over the one Italian leader in whom the rest of Europe had put great faith."

It is interesting that the experts were surprised. There have been large protests against the austerity measures across southern Europe. And, there was a clear shift away from the centrist parties in earlier elections in Greece. It is not clear why experts would be surprised to see a similar development in Italy.

Of course experts in economics were almost all surprised by the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It seems that the word may not mean what people think it means.

At one point, the piece notes that interest rates could again rise on Italian debt, imposing serious strains on its budget, commenting:

"Market pressures could nevertheless return to Italy and other euro zone countries."

It is somewhat misleading to describe the prospect of higher interest rates as simply "market pressures." The European Central Bank (ECB) has the ability to keep down the interest rate on the debt of Italy and other euro zone countries or to make it rise. If these countries come to see higher interest rates it will be the result of a policy decision by the ECB, not simply the random workings of the market.