Expertise and national security

Research has documented two ways to acquire expertise:  (1) Expert intuition can be obtained by learning from frequent, rapid, high quality feedback.  (2) Without such learning, people are identified as experts through mastery of a body of knowledge.  Daniel Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that experts without expert intuition can be easily beaten by simple rules of thumb developed by intelligent lay people.  When we apply this research to military and political leaders, we find that they  are not chosen for their ability to secure broadly shared peace and prosperity for the long term.  Military leaders in combat can develop genuine expertise in how to deliver death and destruction to designated targets;  they can NOT develop expert intuition on how to win wars nor especially on how to secure broadly shared peace and prosperity after “mission accomplished“.  Political leaders and national security experts can develop genuine expertise in how to impress people with power, especially with power of major advertising budgets and political campaign budgets.  This lack of genuine expertise poses a fundamental threat to democracy, even to the point of threatening the extinction of civilization.  

These issues are discussed by Spencer Graves, who spent 6 years in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and went on to earn a PhD in statistics and do research in many areas including public policy.  In 2019 he made a presentation at the Joint Statistical Meetings on “Time to nuclear Armageddon“, which estimated a 40 percent chance of a nuclear war in the next 70 years, within the life expectancy of a child born today.  In 2020 he made a presentation at the Military Operations Research Society Symposium on a proposed “International Conflict Observatory“.  This current All Souls Forum talk is based on an article on Wikiversity (not Wikipedia) on “Expertise of military leaders and national security experts“.

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