Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Some people I know were having a discussion recently about "experts." One said you should always trust experts. Another said that experts should perhaps not be trusted. All kinds of words and thoughts flew around. I pondered the discussion for a couple days and then did some digging on my thoughts.

I will admit a bias in my research. MY thoughts about experts would say that sometimes experts in the same field can be on completely polar opposites of the argument. Both are experts. Which one should be believed? The one with the greater credentials or the one with the better logic? Should we trust or question experts since they are not impartial? I did some checking and found some interesting thoughts. First, a generally agreeable definition from Wikipedia. (I know I should now be ignored since I quote Wikipedia. It is the most concise way of describing what I have found. Here goes. An expert is:

someone widely recognized as
  • a reliable source of technique or skill
  • whose faculty for judging or deciding
  • rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded
  • authority and status by
  • peers or the public
  • in a specific well-distinguished domain.
An expert, more generally, is a person with
  • extensive knowledge or ability based on
  • research, experience, or occupation
  • and in a particular area of study.
An expert can be believed, by virtue of
  • credential,
  • training,
  • education,
  • profession,
  • publication or
  • experience,
  • to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person
Fairly safe description I would say. There are specifics for experts in law, etc., but the general categorization seems on target.

Looking at the list above I could be officially considered an expert in certain fields, say chemical dependence counseling and addiction studies, preaching, Biblical interpretation. Perhaps we could add ethics and bio-ethics and spiritual development to the list. As an amateur I don't know whether I would be an expert, but certainly experienced enough to talk intelligently in such things as photography and a few other avocations.

But I do know beyond any shadow of doubt that some of my "expert opinions" on say Biblical interpretation would be strongly denied by others. There are other "experts" who have a completely different world-view and understanding of the role and place of the Bible than mine. They would no doubt even disqualify me as an "expert."
  • Which expert are you going to believe?

I also know that there are "experts" in the medical field who would also disagree with what I and my colleagues do in CD treatment. Some will deny that there is any need for a "spiritual awakening" in order to stay sober or that addiction is even a "disease."
  • Which expert are you going to call when you want information or opinions?
One other thought I had when working on this: We should not consider "pundits" as experts on just about anything. The track record of TV and print pundits is quite pathetic since most pundits give their "party line" based on nothing more than their admittedly slanted view of what is happening. The image of conservative pundits on Fox News in 2012 ranting that the statistical people had to be wrong when projecting Obama the winner (the first network to do so) is enough to remind us that pundits are biased.

I have no easy answer to how you choose which experts to choose to listen to. I think we would all be better off if we paid closer attention to things like credentials, training, history and a willingness to go beyond the "party line" when choosing our experts. That, and remembering that all experts are imperfect, will get us a lot further toward realistic ideas and directions.

But I still have to be cynical. For that let's look at some great American cynics and a respected scientist.

Back to Wikipedia...
Mark Twain defined an expert as "an ordinary fellow from another town".

Will Rogers described an expert as "A man fifty miles from home with a briefcase."

Danish scientist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr defined an expert as "A person that has made every possible mistake within his or her field."

Oh, and let's not overlook Jesus: A prophet (expert?) is not without honor, except in his own country.

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