On elliptical trainers, Bill James, science, and expertise

At the end of last year, my recumbent bike died, so my cardio workouts now tend to come exclusively via elliptical (ideally, five times per week).

Previously, some of those 150 minutes of cardio were consumed by reading on the recumbent bike, but I can’t really read on the elliptical (I envy those who can).

So I’ve begun filling some of that otherwise mindless time with podcasts. Two favorites are Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant and Russ Roberts’s EconTalk podcasts.

Roberts recently had on Bill James of Moneyball fame. It was a fascinating podcast, not so much for the baseball insight but for all the other stuff they talked about. One of those interesting asides involves James opining brilliantly on the difference between science and expertise (at about the 11:30 mark):



I was reminded a few days later of James’s observations when I ran across a tweet-thread on the problems of expertise (the topic here being nutritional “expertise”):

More than a few people these days fondly broadcast their belief in “science,” when in many cases they are really making a case for either certain experts or certain expert beliefs that they share (frequently in mind-numbing arguments about politics). Science, however, should not really require belief or faith (philosophy of science grad students might argue this point, but not most normal people); instead, it is based on  falsifiability/replicability. These distinctions are truly simple, but powerful and important to keep in mind — as illustrated by a couple of minutes of audio and roughly 280 characters of text.