Editor’s note: when reached for comment on this article, the Salem Center reiterated the goal of the tournament is to select a fellow for the Salem Center for Policy, and emphasized that the fellowship would be funded by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, and not the University of Texas. The Horn’s Editor-In-Chief, Jackson Paul, is participating in the tournament.
In August, The Salem Center and the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI) partnered with Manifold Markets to run a new research fellowship competition for the 2023-2024 academic year. A position that will pay $25,000 to financially support researchers to do whatever productive work they wish with their time, either to advance their career or work on other projects. Unlike a typical fellowship, anyone can participate in the forecasting tournament, no expertise required, and there is no subjective judgment of your past credentials or awards.
This begs the question: why has expertise gone so far off the rails to which an individual must normally assent to established ideas and ways of thinking, such that a tournament like this is an aberration? While a forecasting tournament may not provide solutions to put future expertise in a sounder footing, I can help us, diagnose the problem of expertise and understand its causes and effects.
We have all heard the phrase “fake it till you make it”. This perpetual coping mechanism to consciously cultivate ourselves into an act of “pretending” to be or do something until it actually becomes true. Now why is that relevant to expertise you may ask. Well, it reinforces expertise that isn’t earned, and when someone doubts their own capabilities they tend to take shortcuts to merely appear to be an expert. Examples of this are shown plaguing the science world with “fake science”, in which experts are encouraged to disseminate evidenced knowledge in creation and promotion of falsified results.
According to this article published by Harvard Business Review in 2019: “When we begin to identify as experts, our outlook can narrow…we become reluctant to admit mistakes and failings, thus hindering our development. We distance ourselves from those “beneath” us, making it harder to earn their affection and trust.” Which outlines two underlying factors that hinder expertise from advancing in their positions: overconfidence and adamance to change. Given the nature of how competitions today are based on impression management rather than a demonstration of skill, it’s unlikely that experts will ever be perceived for their inherent capabilities and outreaching thoughts in their field of expertise. When being on par with industry values is the norm of the game, calling yourself a “leading expert” is almost paradoxical in the context of embracing experimentalism.
Industry leading experts in the modern landscape have always been ignorant or reluctant to make changes or accept new ideas because they are simply not challenged by their own expertise. Richard Hanania, author of the fellowship tournament article and writer for CSPI stated: “…the first step in putting expertise on a sounder footing is by creating incentives for individuals to be correct rather than to rely on credentials, defer to authority, or conform to established ideas and ways of thinking.” In essence, rather than being actively incentivised to explore their own ideas, companies are undermining the possibilities for change and actively suppressing any ideas that are misaligned with their corporate values.
Although what Salem/CSPI is doing isn’t exactly perfect – as we see in their recent announcement patching loopholes – it’s refreshing to have outliers that are willing to give experts a run for their money. Any organization that is willing to bring out new expertise rather than accepting established standards can be beneficial to diagnosing the underlying problem of expertise— and maybe even play a role in the solution.