God’s Not Dead 2: A Case Study in Expert Bias and Signal Failure

God’s Not Dead 2 is a Christian-themed movie that follows a court case where a teacher is accused of violating the rights of students by discussing Jesus in a classroom. This article uses the movie as a case study in expert bias and signal failure.

Signal failure is an emergent Coasian problem which presents when a signal consumer interprets inaccurate information on the basis of a signal provider’s supplied signal. The problem is Coasian in the sense that it is jointly produced: The failure is likely due in part to malconsumption on the part of the consumer and also in part due to malprovision on the part of the supplier.

Rotten Tomatoes is a well known movie rating website. It provides signals on the quality of a given movie to a signal consumer who is evaluating the potential utilitarian benefits of movie consumption. As of the time of writing, God’s Not Dead received an 11% on the Tomatometer, although the audience score was 61%. As for myself, I would give it a 4.2/5.

gods-not-dead-rotten-tomatoes

So we have a case of expert bias and signal failure:

  1. The typical moviegoer rated the movie many standard deviations higher than the experts did.
    1. This could be explained by the fact that the movie has a target audience which does not include the profile of the typical critic.
    2. This plays in to the idea that cultural elites including alleged expert critics in the film industry tend to have an anti-Christian bias.
    3. It also begs the question: If a product is desirable by its own target consumer and not by others, is it of a high quality? I think the answer is yes and the fact that the Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer indicates that the movie is a low-quality product is a key reason I am calling this a case of signal failure and expert bias.
    4. That is, the experts indicate that the movie is of low quality; but in fact the movie seems to be of moderately high, or at least significantly better, quality when judged by the standard that the target consumer is the legitimate assessor of quality.
  2. Note that the signal failure is fundamentally Coasian: If a consumer of Rotten Tomatoes’ signal fits the target audience of the movie and yet the consumer trusts the expert-driven Tomatometer score over the audience score, the consumer is in part to blame.
    1. Likewise if they choose to value the audience score then the failure doesn’t occur.
    2. However, the general notion of an expert is that the expert knows better than the commoner. Although this is an interesting conversation in itself: Are experts at large generally inferior assessors compared to groups of non-experts? I think this is in fact an empirical question and there exists some degree of expert quality such that the expert knows better than the entire market, or not, or they have equally accurate information.

In conclusion:

  1. Signals are made noisy and their value can be compromised when the signal consumer and the signal supplier are of different profiles. In the real world those profiles are often obfuscated, but even if they were made clear it would not be sufficient to correct the signal. We would also need to know the relationship between the profile differences and the information of interest.
  2. Misinformation is a Coasian issue.
  3. Experts and markets can both coordinate, but there is no obvious, dominant, a priori means of identifying a superior comparative information provider.
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