Ignorance among professionals is a growing problem

Is it just me? I’m increasingly shocked with the collective level of ignorance surrounding us. In my work, naturally, I see it most often among people who call themselves tax and financial professionals. The details of behavior described as the Dunning-Kruger effect make the problem worse.

Back in the 1980s and early 90s when professional groups first started on the internet decades ago (we called them BBS boards and I was a moderator for one of the nation’s largest at financialplanning.com) they were a useful place to get intelligent back and forth exchange with peers. I enjoyed helping others when I could and I often received good advice from peers over the years. But the average level of discussion has degraded lately to something just above idiocy. The problems fall into several categories. The most common appears to be the lack of familiarity or inclination to read and learn from readily available information. Saying “I think…” on a professional opinion when the law clearly says the opposite is a professional problem. A second category is lack of logic. Errors like: If A is observed with B and B is observed with C then A causes C. I read this type of logic problem far too often in peer discussion.

Sure, there a small portion of intelligent educated and experienced people, but the average level of intelligence and subject matter knowledge seems to have declined to a shockingly low level. Even my local CPA discussion board has a high percentage of posts that should actually be embarrassing to the poster if they understood the level of ignorance that the question exposes. It’s OK to not have all the answers but it’s not OK to expose that you don’t know how to learn basic required factual context. A repeated pattern of publicly distancing yourself from readily available factual information – whatever the reason – could cross the line into behavior “discreditable to the profession”, a violation of Rule 501 of the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct.

Even among the technically brightest, some have sadly lost their objectivity while embracing QAnon theories and other nonsense. This week I privately commented to a successful CPA, a longtime peer and someone I admire, that his apparent political zeal has clouded his judgement to differentiate fact from unsupported and biased opinion with regard to tax analysis. The CPA’s inability or unwillingness to distinguish between tax law and tax bills vs. an author’s unsupported personal opinion presented a threat to profesional judgement. He was otherwise a brilliant guy who has now lost the respect of his professional peers, not just me. This is a serious problem for the profession that seems to be on the increase.

Then last night a senior level financial adviser informed me quite seriously that he had specific credible information that in the very near future Hillary Clinton will be exposed as a Satanist, baby killer, pedophile and so on. I was left speechless in the moment. Where do you lake a conversation from there?

Facebook represents perhaps the lowest level of public discourse. I no longer bother to offer professional help in these peer groups because my comment too often comes across as “this is basic information available to anyone who can use Google and your misunderstanding is a liability here”. Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy but it just seems that our collective ignorance combined with the Dunning Krueger effect is a terrible problem.