Just how many Experts can we cope with?

There’s something of an ‘Expert’ epidemic: on radio, TV, social media – there they are spouting their stuff. Often the subject is so ‘niche’ that individuals with no seemingly relevant qualifications can set themselves up as a new fount of knowledge. With articles or a book written they self-promote, these days perhaps giving a TED Talk, and get themselves interviewed. They’re now licensed to name their price.

How easy is it to become an Expert?

First-off I needed a definition so I checked out three online sources.

  • Wikipedia: ‘someone who has a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.’
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: ‘one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject’; ‘having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience’
  • Cambridge Dictionary: ‘a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject or activity’, e.g. a gardening or medical expert
  • In short: high levels of experience, knowledge or special skill – in a specific area.

The problem with these definitions is that becoming an expert could involve education, practice, or experience. This provides the loophole: knowing a lot about a subject and being involved over a long period is all that is required.
Study of a recognised discipline is not.

What got me up on my soapbox this time?

It was an interesting history programme presented by an art historian I truly admire. Two years ago I paid to listen to her at the Hay Book Festival. And bought her book. I’m a fan. This time she had an Expert with her discussing an Ice Age figurine. The speciality of this Expert is the ‘Early Modern Mind’ – and so she explained the Ice Age thinking behind the creating and receiving of this sculpture. Really?

There are others who come up with an idea, almost a side line to their actual knowledge-base, that is often totally wacky or impractical. Due to their sales pitch, perhaps charisma, they manage to sell it as the next best thing that society absolutely needs. They assume the mantle of Expert because there is no-one else remotely interested in donning it. Surprise, surprise!

There is no real harm in these individuals. What scares me are the ones who tout medical advice, super cures, or want to turn everything previously accepted on its head. The subterfuge can be insidious, tricking ordinary people to part with hard-earned savings, or getting them to change the way they view themselves and their lives. Any way you view it, it’s wrong.