Expert tease

Paul, the Genius German Octopus correctly picked the last eight winners of the recent World Cup soccer finals. I am hoping that my stockbrokers will offer the cephalopod a job. Paul certainly couldn’t do worse than their “experts,” and they wouldn’t have to pay him nearly so much. The only difference between Bernie Madoff and my broker is that Bernie Madoff was a crook. My guy loses the same amount of money; he just doesn’t steal it. I was planning on using that money for food and medicine during my declining years, which have already started, according to my friends. I know that they are my friends because total strangers wouldn’t say such hurtful things.

Paul the Octopus picked the winners by pulling food out of containers marked with the flags of one team or another. I have not figured out how my money managers pick the losers, but they have been on an uncanny streak for almost three years now. Maybe they hide random company logos in expensive Wall Street restaurants, and whichever one the stockbroker eats on his expensed lunch that day becomes his pick. It replaces the system they used before, which was racing cockroaches. For this they take a 2-percent management fee.



It’s not just stocks; experts who predict all manner of things fill up huge hunks of TV time. Like my stockbroker, they are usually wrong. Paul the Octopus could replace them and the thousands of people who make a career out of picking things before they happen. Who will win the best actress Oscar? Who will the candidate pick for vice president? Who will win the World Series? Who will win the Super Bowl? Who will the Bachelorette pick? Who will win the Kentucky Derby? Someone even prognosticated how many correct predictions Paul the Octopus would make. Can he do it one more time? Sure, we could just wait until these events happen and then we would know the results, but that seems to be out of fashion.

For months people will debate who will win the Oscars. The day after we know for sure who won, the discussion is over. We hear the predictions ten times more than we hear the facts. It’s no wonder that some people probably still believe Barack Obama picked Hillary Clinton or Osama bin Laden to be his vice president, as it was often predicted that he would.

It’s kind of odd that when a human predictor makes a mistake, he or she gets to keep predicting. Yet if Paul the Octopus missed his first two predictions, he’d be back in the tank where he came from, hiding in an ink cloud of shame. If an expert is always wrong, is he still an expert? Shouldn’t there be some minimum standard for predicting – like getting something right every once in a while? Even a flipped coin can get things right five out of ten times, so if you’re an expert and you can’t get one out of ten things right, you lose your License to Predict and should stop making TV appearances. You should stop managing stock portfolios and stop talking about politics. If you have no track record, get off the track.

When a politician does something unsavory, when an actor is taped making a racist phone rant, when an athlete is caught cheating, they pay a price. Don’t believe the old saying, because there is such a thing as bad publicity. Don’t take my word for it? Then talk to Tiger Woods’ accountant. But experts never pay a price for being wrong. Because who knows more about being wrong than the experts? They’re experts at it.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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