Does this happen to you ?

I am sitting at a table with a supposed “expert” on a subject on which I need advice. This person is often paid to dispense the advice. It could be about anything — investments, vacations, automobiles, what have you. I have had this happen to me in many different contexts, including science.
I ask the question:
So, what would you recommend between mutually exclusive options X and Y ?
and the answer I get is along the lines of

  • Well, if I were you I would do either X or Y
  • You could do X, but that would imply not doing Y… or vice versa
  • I cannot tell you what to do
  • Well, that is really an individual choice

    It drives me insane.

  • 18 Responses to “Does this happen to you ?”

    1. Schlupp Says:

      Oh yes. As you are saying: in ANY context. (And language.)

    2. Professor in Training Says:

      Translation: “I’m not going to stick my neck out and recommend either option in case it turns bad and you come back and sue my furry ass but I do get a sweet commission regardless of which option you choose so I would highly recommend you choose one of them.”

    3. Ian Says:

      I was reading something in SEED magazine I think about supposed predictors who were worse than chance when it came to actual events. People are generally easy to read and like being reaffirmed, even if it means them paying money to hear it.

      Sounds like a quack/con to me (although the “expert” likely believes everything being said).

    4. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      This comment was censored by the blogger, due to inappropriate remarks

      Our mortgage specialist at the bank was like that. She was the one weak link in the chain – we had an awesome realtor, home inspector and lawyer, but getting any sense out of the mortage specialist was like getting goals out of an Oiler. Oops, sorry, I mean oil out of a stone.

    5. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      Censorship! Thought police! Oppression!

    6. Brad Dillman Says:

      Well, let me post a different viewpoint, as a sort-of expert. From my side, it sounds like people ask me “I need to choose a desert: apple pie or chocolate sundae.” I try to ask some questions that might highlight the differences, like “Do you have any allergies?” or “Are the source vendor or quality of the ingredients important to you, and why?” But often the responses are “Both are good.” or “It doesn’t matter to me.” That is, the decision isn’t a logical function of the domain knowledge (sorry, I’m an engineer and I’ve had a couple of drinks, LOL). So I usually give an answer like the above. If I get pissed off I just pick one and make the usual illogical human justifications (apples are in season, or sundaes are the trendy thing, etc.)

      Sometimes people are actually just as well-informed on the subject domain as the experts, and the experts can’t add much. I doubt financial experts can add much value these days, things are so wildly different than they’ve seen recently that they probably have to fall back on fundamentals (diversify!). This is what I do when non-technical factors dominate an otherwise technical decision (e.g. what technical standards to choose, when any of them would probably work fine).

    7. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      Wooooooooo! Fight the power!

    8. Mad Hatter Says:

      Whoa…what happened here??? Did I miss a fight between Cath and Massimo? šŸ™‚

      Re: experts, there ain’t no such thing. Besides, is there really a “right answer” to whatever it was you wanted advice on?

    9. Massimo (formerly known as Okham) Says:

      Thanks for all the comments.

      Schlupp, PiT — high five ! šŸ™‚

      Ian, Brian, MH — I have no problem with someone not knowing how to advise me, but the reason they are getting paid (directly or indirectly) is precisely to stick their neck out. If all they are going to do is re-hash the various options, I hardly have any need for them.

      Cath — this is so, totally not the same thing. You decided to name your beloved new computer after the Oilers’ manager, hence my legitimate inference that you may be a closet Oiler fan. Here, you are just making a gratuitous derogatory comment on a legendary team that has brought honor to a province and a nation (says wiping off an emotional tear off his cheek… a highly intense moment indeed). So, there !

    10. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

      Congratulations for last night. A fine result from a good team.

    11. Successful Researcher Says:

      Great observation!

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