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Should we believe the experts?

Filed under: General — Scrap_The_CSA @ 12:34 pm Thu 10th September 2009

NZCPR Guest Forum
Stuart Birks
Director of the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University.
29 July 2009
Should we believe the ‘experts’

Because economic and social phenomena are so forbidding, or at least so seem, and because they yield few hard tests of what exists and what does not, they afford to the individual a luxury not given by physical phenomena. Within a considerable range, he is permitted to believe what he pleases. He may hold whatever view of this world he finds most agreeable or otherwise to his taste.

(Galbraith, 1999, p.6) (J K Galbraith, noted economist and President of the American Economic Association in 1972)

In the critically important discussion about the actual solutions to real-world problems, no set of theoretical tools is likely to be fully adequate. Such problems are, almost by definition, too complex to allow theory to be applied simply and straightforwardly. (Buchanan, 1967, p.196) (J M Buchanan, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Economics)

We place a lot of weight on the word of authority figures, especially if they have qualifications and can call on supporting research. The media often report on research as if the findings are points of fact. Is this confidence misplaced?

There are three very simple points that should be remembered if we are to interpret this sort of information realistically. I describe them here in relation to theories as these are central to academic analyses, and use a recent claim by the Principal Family Court Judge as an illustration.


  1. I think all fathers everywhere owe a big thanks to Stuart Birks and the amazing research he does. A voice of sanity in sea of Family Court madness.

    Comment by Gerry — Thu 10th September 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  2. Best description of an expert is where x is the unknow quantity and spurt is a drip under pressure.

    Comment by Triassic — Mon 14th September 2009 @ 8:12 am

  3. If you look at the linked paper and go to table 3 you can see that from 1985 to 2006 there has been no significant change to the award of custody to fathers vs mothers. There is also no significant change to shared care.
    Given that the CoC Act makes no change to the law it would be unreasonable to assume anything has changed.
    More importantly this also includes the Family Caught’s definition of shared care:
    “Shared day-to-day arrangements may vary. Any order made which grants some day-to-day care responsibility to more than one of mother, father or other party to the child, is classified as a shared arrangement, no matter the nature or frequency of day-to-day care granted to each party.”

    Comment by Dave — Fri 18th September 2009 @ 4:10 pm

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