This post is part of the series Expert Opinion
I have been exploring the nature of expert opinion for a while. I have shown that mere expert opinion is only valuable if we know that the expert is an expert and that experts agree with that opinion and the reasons for that opinion. However, I would like to end this series by showing that experts are good for two things. Experts are good for teaching those who do not know and experts are good for giving quick access to knowledge.
The first thing that experts are good for is teaching. Someone who is an expert will know what areas of the subject they are an expert in should be taught first. They will also know what areas should be emphasized and what errors people commonly make. They will even be aware of the latest developments in the field and will know how the research the area. It is for this reason that university professors have doctoral degrees and do research in the field. People believe that experts (or someone who is almost an expert) is a better teacher than someone who is not. While that is debatable, experts are the most knowledgeable in what should be taught in their area.
The second thing that experts are good for is giving quick access to knowledge. Most of us do not have the time to learn a subject that we have questions about. Perhaps we are wondering whether a particular drug actually solves the problem that it claims to solve. Perhaps we are wondering whether or not people ever believed the earth was flat. (They did not, if you are wondering.) In any case, we don’t want to gain the answer to the question by understanding the relevant area of study. We just want to know the answer to the question. So as long we know that experts agree on the answer and the reasons for the answer we can safely believe that the answer is true. If we don’t bother to check that the answer fits with what actual experts claim, then we cannot be sure that it is an actual expert opinion.
If we learn from experts, then we will eventually learn to recognize other experts in the same subject area. If we gain quick access to knowledge, then it is not nearly so easy. So there are a few simple rules to follow. First, experts will recognize other experts. So if an expert says that someone is or is not an expert, then they are probably right. But they may be wrong, so this test cannot be used by itself. Second, experts explain their new ideas to other experts. They do not have to publish in peer-reviewed journals. They do not have to have doctorates. But they likely will do both. The key point is that they will explain new ideas to other people who are also experts – regardless of where they publish their ideas. Thirdly, experts agree on what the major ideas, theories and evidence are a part of their expertise. Fourth, some expert teach or write books to teach non-experts. So one starts looking for experts in universities and textbook writers for universities.
Continue reading this series:
Experts vs. Non-experts