The gullibility of experts

Does it matter whether a brownie is served on a paper plate or on china? Is the Patagonian Toothfish less tasty than the Chilean Bass? In an earlier posting (perception of taste) I had cited research showing that wine with an expensive price tag was judged to be better than the same wine with a less expensive tag!

An article in today’s NYTimes (Fish or Foul?) adds to the fun, by providing more evidence of just how gullible we are. (The first two examples above, are taken from that article and as you may have guessed the brownie served on china does taste better, and the Chilean Bass is identical to, but sells much better than, the less appetizingly named Patagonian Toothfish.)

More importantly this article argues that, in certain cases, expertise may actually be a greater liability than ignorance. As the article says, “we taste with both our tongues and our minds, and it is easy to lead minds astray.” The trick is,

finding smart people who bring a lot to the table — cultural experience, shared expectations, preconceptions. The more they bring, the more there is to work with, and the easier it is to get the audience to make allowances — to reach the ‘right’ conclusion and unwittingly participate in the deception.

On a side note, this op-ed in the NYT was prompted by a story about two high-school students who found out that many of the high-end fish being sold at New York restaurants and grocery stores were often mislabeled i.e. cheaper and lower quality fish were being offered with higher-end labels (and prices). Read that story, Fish Tale Has DNA Hook: Students Find Bad Labels

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