One of the requirements for my PhD program is to write a “second-year paper.” You can read mine here. It discusses how career concerns impact the type of advice that experts provide. I consider two types of advice:
- “Simple” advice of the form “take this action;”
- “Complex” advice of the form “take this action under these conditions.”
Including conditions makes the expert seem more confident his advice is correct. This hurts his reputation if his advice turns out to be incorrect. Then the advisee infers that the expert is incompetent. She says, “most wrong experts are incompetent. You’re wrong, so you’re probably incompetent. You’re fired!”
The expert can avoid this fate by “simplifying” his advice: by excluding relevant conditions. This makes the advice worse but prevents the advisee from learning about the expert’s competence. It insures him against the risk of losing his job.
The paper formalizes this argument. It explores how the expert’s choice between simple and complex advice depends on his incentives. It explains my answer to the titular question: experts give simple advice to avoid being “confidently wrong.”