Robin points out that people dislike track records across a range of contexts, and poses a puzzle: why?
Naively, track records seem pretty helpful for deciding who to trust and hire. Yet Robin points to a lack of track records or interest in track records for doctors, lawyers, pundits, teachers and academics.
He has also answered his puzzle in a later post, but I’m not going to read his answer until I’ve tried to guess myself (though I did glance at it enough to learn it is about elites and status).
Here are some theories I can think of:
- The tracked don’t like it. Most of the effort to avoid track records is from the people who would be tracked. They don’t like it because they are risk averse, and influence is not particularly well correlated with skill. When a large class of people spread throughout society dislikes something and most other people don’t automatically have strong views, most people’s views will end up being negative.
- Track records show mixed allegiance. People habitually try to publicize information which supports their own allies. Publishing track records in general is agreeing to publicize a giant pile of information, randomly supporting friends and foes alike. For instance if all records of doctor success become public, this would somewhat endanger any doctors you care about: doctors in your political party and friendship circles and minority doctors and nice doctors so on. That is, unless you had been careful to only side with competent doctors, which you probably haven’t, since you haven’t seen their track records. Similarly, if you read about the track records of pundits, half of them will be pundits you like looking bad or pundits you don’t like looking good, so you will have to surmise that the thing is bunk.
- People aren’t quantitative. Customers are not interested in track records because they are not interested in anything quantitative.
- Track records conflict with perceived quality. People perceive traits like charisma directly as goodness, and so when explicit indicators don’t align with it, they doubt the explicit indicators.
- Track records are hard to integrate. Customers have an overall sense of the worth of particular people, and the explicit measure only tells them one thing. They don’t want to trust the explicit measure on its own because they know it misses important things. But they don’t know what makes up their overall sense, so it’s hard to integrate the explicit track record into it. Similarly, suppose I have a general sense that I want to live in Berkeley instead of Boston, knowing lots of facts. Then I find that people in Boston have 10% better romantic success. I know that I don’t want to move on that basis, and I’m not really sure how to integrate that info into my overall view, except by crossing my fingers and hoping my subconscious took care of it. In this case, I might be disinterested in the romantic success figures, and generally wish people would stop talking about them.
- Track records undermine hypocrisy. Customers are looking for characteristics other than those they say they are looking for, and sellers are selling the characteristics that customers want. Both sides have to be vague about the measure of success, because if they explicitly and carefully measured the thing they say they want, it would make it harder to get the thing they really want. For instance, if people really want teachers to be good at indoctrinating their children into some particular culture, they might prefer to use their judgment rather than test scores, since they can’t ask for a cultural indoctrination test, directly.
- Publishing track records makes enemies. People who might publish track records know that some substantial fraction of the people being tracked will hate them for it, and on net this is bad for them. When they say that people aren’t interested, they mean ‘not interested enough to justify the backlash’.
- Track records bring unwanted responsibility. If customers have to decide which doctor to use, they enter a world where there are good and bad doctors and it is their own choice that determines whether their treatment is good. They prefer to live in the world where they can hand their problems to doctors and not be responsible, because that’s the whole point. So they just stubbornly live in that world. The same goes for other professionals.
- Track records for professionals make decisions harder. Perhaps people would like track records if the track record told them exactly what to do, but they just some more information to take into account, and the people already have trouble making decisions about things like who to hire, and so more information just makes them feel worse about not using it.
- Track records are socially awkward. Track records lead to embarrassing situations where you have to say ‘I really want to see Dr Phillips, not any of your other doctors’, which is pretty painful compared to some tiny chance of death, so it seems better not to know about them.
- People don’t like careful analysis that much. People basically don’t collect information and make informed decisions about almost anything, except sometimes when it is required professionally.
Ok, Robin’s answer is that the elites currently have opinions on who is good, or on heuristics that should be used to judge people, and they see other sources of information on this question as a threat to the influence of their opinions. They respond by trying to undermine the alternative sources, and punish the people responsible for them.
This doesn’t ring particularly true to me, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding. For instance, when I choose a doctor, I feel fairly ignorant about what elite opinion is on which doctor I should choose. I know that a few schools are considered good, though if I choose a doctor who didn’t go to the good schools over one who did, I find it hard to imagine any threat of elite retribution that I might fear. Nobody except my doctor knows which doctor I go to, and even if they did I assume it would usually mean nothing to them—it’s not as if doctors are public figures. And indeed, I don’t feel very worried.
I’ll leave the criticisms of my own theories to the reader. Do you have a preferred explanation?