An Institute Retrospective: The New York Times Reports on Our Founding in 1984

Nineteen years before Judith Miller’s authoritative dispatches on WMD in Iraq (and a full twenty-four years before the debut of William Kristol’s column), The New York Times reported on the founding of the Institute of Expertology. Here’s what they said: 

New York Day By Day: Experts’ Average
By Susan Heller Anderson and Maurice Carroll

[Published: August 29, 1984]

Most fields have their institutes, complete with experts and their publications and pronouncements. So it comes as no surprise to receive the first publication of the Institute of Expertology, an august body of experts on expertise, founded by the writers Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky.

”It’s a very serious organization,” Mr. Cerf declared, ”that studies the works of experts in every field and comments upon it.” The first publication, The Experts Speak, is to be published shortly by Pantheon Books. In it are about 2,000 quotes from experts in nearly every field. What the quotes have in common, Mr. Cerf says, is that they’re all fallacious.

”This is positively my final marriage,” said Barbara Hutton, after her sixth. (She then went and did it again.)

”Degas is repulsive,” said The New York Times on April 10, 1886.

”We just had noticed that experts were being quoted on everything, and that decisions were being made based on experts’ pronouncements,” Mr. Cerf said. ”But very few people went back, a few years later, to see if the experts were right.”

”I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language,” wrote the editor of The San Francisco Examiner in a rejection letter to Rudyard Kipling in 1889.

”I’ll never run again. Politics is a filthy business,” stated Edward Koch after a 1962 defeat in the State Assembly primary. (He then went and did it again, and again, and again.)

”This doesn’t mean that experts are always wrong,” Mr. Cerf concluded. ”They may be right 50 percent of the time. Our research continues.”

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