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  • Why Experts Should Not Necessarily Be Trusted December 5, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

    ‘He/she is an expert, he or she should know’: is one of the leitmotifs of the modern world, not least its particularly annoying variant ‘I’m an expert, I should know.’ In the good old days we were all knights, peasants, mothers or priests and so these claims rarely came up: save on, respectively, the battlefield, in the barn, the bedroom and the church. The most obvious difficulty with today’s divisions is that our parceling out of expertise lacks, well, knowledge and is depressingly tied to names. For example, there are men and women who have dedicated literally thousands of hours to calculating and recalculating the dimensions of the Great Pyramid with passion and with conviction. Yet the Egyptian government would never dream of handing over the control of the Great Pyramid (or Egyptian and Ethiopian cousins) to such experts; in fact, it does its level best to keep them out of the country. Yet have sociologists any more right to pronounce on society, educationalists on education (or, in a minor key, economists on the economy)? Certainly, these are experts that have got society and education frequently wrong. It is not that their knowledge is necessarily faulty, just that their knowledge is not strictly speaking of society or education at all: in other terms, the words on the label are misleading.

    But even when the words on the label are correct it is not always clear how authoritative experts really are for real world problems. For example, Beach went to fourteen neurologists over a decade before being diagnosed with a serious neurological condition: thirteen thought that it was a psychosomatic condition. There is no question that these neurologists had greater knowledge than Beach did of neurology, but they lacked Beach’s intimate knowledge of his own body and his own sensations of normality and abnormality. Perhaps the easiest way around the problem of expertise is to define carefully what the expert knows and then pay even more attention to what the problem involves: the gap between the two (and there is always a gap) is the distance between the light and what is being illuminated and it can be depressingly wide. It might be a useful life exercise to write out a short list of areas where no sane individual could afford to trust the ‘experts’ and has to become an expert: child-rearing, finance, nutrition, plumbing…

    Send on the clowns… drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com