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Famous experts at your disposal, all for the low, low price of $1,000 an hour

Posted by Jesse Singal  May 9, 2011 04:51 PM

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Want to be a famous expert? Good luck with that.

Want to talk to a famous expert? Thanks to a new site called https://www.expertinsight.com, you can — as long as you can afford the hefty fees. Foremost among those experts, according to the site, is Nate Silver, the acclaimed political blogger, statistician, and baseball analyst, whose work currently resides on the website of The New York Times.

But not so fast — Silver, whose name and picture are featured on the site as of this posting, says he actually won't be participating. In response to an email from The Angle, he writes:

I think ExpertInsight has a cool business model, and had agreed to be one of their several dozen "experts" when I was approached about it many months ago. I'm a freelancer with the Times and so have some flexibility to pursue outside engagements — provided that they are disclosed, and that they don't trigger conflicts of interest.

But after talking things over with some people here at the Times, I've decided that I'm not going to participate in ExpertInsight at all. It's just a little too blunt an instrument to provide for vetting potential conflicts of interest with the caution that would be required.

Silver had been a big part of the site's launch strategy. It had been circulating a press release asking, "How great would it be for a parent to just put their college kid in touch with Nate Silver for an in-depth and first-hand reference for a poli-sci paper?," and noting that Silver is "making himself available to chat with anyone who’s willing to pay the price — $1000 for an hour-long conversation — on a new website, ExpertInsight.com."

When The Angle contacted Louise Canuto, listed as the contact at the bottom of the press release, she said she had not heard about Silver's departure and would call back with more information shortly. As of posting time, she hadn't, but we'll post an update if she does.

In addition to the questions of journalistic ethics raised by Silver, the argument against a site like this is pretty straightforward — at a time when the richest Americans enjoy every possible advantage at a historic level, there's something particularly unseemly about the many experts listed on the site, some of them big names like economist Steven Levitt, selling their insights on an individual basis to anyone who can afford a hefty price tag. (Though, to be fair, many of the experts in question are poker players, and it's hard to get as upset about people over-paying for poker coaching.)

That said, there's reason to be skeptical such correspondence would even be all that useful. The sorts of academics and journalists who have legitimate reasons to get in touch with top experts already have ways of doing do. Who's left? Among the students and professionals who can afford this service, one would hope most of them have professors or supervisors who would be unhappy with them buying expert opinion at this price. It would be nice to think that we haven't yet reached a point where a professor would say, "You had the foresight to pay Nate Silver $1,000 to help you with your paper? Well-played: A+!"

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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