Expertise 1

This posting is the first of a series dealing with various aspects of expertise. As they proceed, troubling and troublesome issues will be raised. Those of us who are aware we are not experts in relation to, for example, medicine, pharmacology, or science in general, rely on experts to help us to arrive at sensible views about important issues, and I am going to be questioning whether such reliance is itself sensible. Some may find such questioning alarming.
There is a long tradition that when media people are preparing material for broadcasting, showing or printing, and when the topic is one to which the concept applies of relevant expertise to which they cannot lay claim, they find one or more “experts” who are prepared to contribute to the project. As a highly qualified psychologist, with grounds for claiming a degree of expertise in some other areas, I was, during my academic career, frequently called upon to provide this kind of support.
One problem that arose very frequently was that most experts are to some extent specialists within their general fields (e.g., physics, or pharmacology)—there are vast areas of those fields about which they cannot claim detailed expertise. I tried many times to persuade the media people to pass on my doubts about the level of my expertise in relation to the specific topic being dealt with, and never succeeded. Sadly, I have to report that my integrity was not strong enough to overcome the social barriers to my walking out at that point.
From my example, you may reasonably conclude that many of the experts you may encounter via the media are not really very expert in relation to the topic at hand.
In later posts, I will be pointing out that many of the “experts” whose views you encounter are not really experts in the areas in relation to which they do claim deep expertise. Some are not genuinely the experts that they claim, and often believe themselves, to be. And finally, particularly in advertisements and on the Internet, some of them may not exist at all.

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