Author Topic: Amazing expertise...?  (Read 113 times)

Offline Peter B

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Amazing expertise...?
« on: February 14, 2019, 09:57:02 AM »
I saw a story last year about how a hit-run driver was arrested thanks to a member of the public successfully identifying a vehicle make and model from an obscure piece of plastic retrieved by the police from the scene of the incident.

It got me thinking about expertise, in particular as many commenters were apparently amazed at this man’s particular expertise. Now I have to say I’m impressed by his expertise, but not particularly amazed. After all, fitting these pieces of plastic was part of this man’s job, so he would have recognised the piece of plastic for what it was. What impressed me was how specific he was able to be, although obviously I don’t know how many different shapes these devices come in, so I don’t know specifically how many he had to choose from.

This naturally leads back to Apollo hoaxes, because the Apollo program was full of people with impressive levels of expertise in all sorts of fields (mostly of engineering of some sort) which the hoax proponents seem to find too amazing to credit. To me, on the other hand, the expertise of all these people in Apollo is quite believable, which in turn makes Apollo impressive rather than amazing.

So I was wondering if people had any stories they’d like to share of how their particular expertise identified, solved or prevented a problem in a way which might seem amazing to those of us without that expertise.

= = = =

To start things off, may I perhaps offer an example of my expertise, in payroll – the story of how I discovered a $13,000 overpayment thanks to being suspicious of seeing a zero in a letter.

One of the nice leave conditions of service a lot of Australian workers have is long service leave (LSL). In the case of the Australian Public Service it accumulates at the rate of 0.3 months a year, and can be used once you have 10 years of service (3 months of leave, yay!). If you move between Commonwealth employers you can take the leave balance with you or you can have it paid out, information which is normally recorded in a letter sent by one employer to the next.

Anyway, there was this employee (let's call her Kim) who'd had 15 years of service at a university, during which time she'd accumulated 4.5 months of LSL. She then took a job in the public service. The university pay team sent a letter to the new employer saying she'd used no LSL in the 15 years, and had had 2.5 months of LSL paid out.

The pay team in the public service department recorded this information on her pay record, and over the years Kim took some of this LSL, as well as accumulating some more. She also moved to new departments a couple of times, with each new department's pay team copying the LSL information. Eventually Kim ended up at the department I work at, and the job fell to me to load this LSL data. According to the information supplied, she now had a balance of about 1 month of LSL.

I took her file and did an audit, and found the letter the university had sent to Kim's first department. I saw that the letter said she'd used no LSL at the university, and was immediately suspicious. Remember, the letter said: LSL accumulated 4.5 months, LSL used 0 months, LSL paid out 2.5 months. The thing is, when an employee leaves their employer, LSL is either paid out in full, or it isn't paid out at all - you don't pay out part of it and leave the rest.

So I emailed the university pay team and asked them to check their records for Kim.

And as I suspected, that zero in the letter was wrong. The person in the university pay team apologised and said the letter had been filled out incorrectly all those years ago: Kim hadn't used 0 months of LSL, she'd actually taken 2 months of LSL - which made sense as that meant she'd have been paid out her balance of LSL. That meant that Kim's LSL balance was 2 months less than she'd thought; and rather than having 1 month of LSL still available to use, she had taken 1 month more of LSL than she was entitled to. And on her salary, one month was worth $13,000.

Now it's pretty likely that anyone with no payroll experience would have completely missed the significance of the zero in that letter. But I was surprised that people in three pay teams in other departments - people with the same sort of knowledge as me - had also missed the significance of that zero.