The Disrespect of Experts, and the Challenge to Live Without Them

It is unbelievable to me the way people disrespect expertise these days. I agree with Nick.

This is top-shelf guff, which reveals, as if we needed to be reminded, that intellectuals make the very best anti-intellectuals. An architect does not achieve expertise through some arbitrary social process of "credentialling." He gains expertise through a program of study and apprenticeship in which he masters an array of facts and techniques drawn from such domains as mathematics, physics, and engineering. If you doubt that, grab someone off the street and have him design a skyscraper. The same goes for a doctor, an electrician, a jet pilot, a software engineer, a zoologist, a scholar of romantic poetry, or a manicurist.

There is a difference between expertise and credentials. The latter is socially constructed, the former is neurologically constructed. We may disrespect credentials, but we shouldn't disrespect expertise. If you know a lot about the Civil War, but don't have a PhD in history, I still consider you an expert. Experts are defined by the depth of their knowledge about a certain issue. Sometimes experts have credentials, sometimes they don't. And credentials don't guarantee expertise, they guarantee that you can meet some minimum requirement to obtain that credential.

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Experts aren't always right. Sometimes they stick to old paradigms that are too ingrained and can't break free to see problems in new ways. But statistically speaking, I bet they are right more often than non-experts. When I say this, I am referring to an expert's ability to diagnose and solve problems, not make predictions.

So here's my challenge. Live one year without experts. If your car breaks down, you have to take it to a non-mechanic. If you need house repairs, ask your pharmacist. If you need tax advice, try a bartender. If the problem with good information is these so called "experts," don't use them. Blog about it weekly, and at the end of year I'll give you a thousand bucks. Seriously. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? So does all this criticism of expertise. But if you really think that is the path to a better world, send me an email and we can discuss the terms and conditions of your year without experts.

  • Say Rob, just so we’re clear on what we’re talking about here, could you give some examples of who are disregarding expertise and how?

  • Rob

    It was mainly a response to Clay Shirky’s claim that experts are the problem with Wikipedia. That’s the irony of all this. In real life, we look to experts for everything, yet in a handful of situations (mostly web2.0 related things) we think experts are horrible.

  • There are so many limits to an expert’s value and so much misuse of “expert” status that I think we are better off questioning all “expertise” and forcing all experts to show us their proofs. By the way I have developed my amatuer understanding in auto and home repair because I “trusted” experts and was burned.

  • Bitacle –> you don’t happen to be an expert of any kind, do you ?