But everyone’s an expert

I find myself often at a disadvantage, not real, but perceived. In the fields where I consider myself skilled, my specialties, it seems everyone is an expert. Where I am not the specialist, just a rank amateur, there are always plenty of accredited experts to gainsay my conclusion, so even when I am right, over the expert, I have not the authority to carry my point.

Take writing, for example, one of my primary specialties, “everyone” knows how to write when they graduate high school, and there are hordes of education majors who are critics from their experience in grading essays and papers to analyze my writing and logic. Even if I were to slip something past the average graduate, all those teachers won’t let me play loose and easy with the rules of writing without pointing out my “errors”.

Now music, I have been a technical professional for three decades through the school of experience, but without all the degrees and accreditations of expertise bestowed by other authorities. I have a bent toward a capella, acoustic, classical and religious music, but have no training to decipher the intricacies of counterpoint, chords and clashes. So I fall (as) silent (as I ever do) when someone starts detailed comparisons of various musicians, composers, styles, eras.

Then there are doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc., whose fields I have none or at most elemental training in. And yet there are times where I know, with confidence, I have had it right, and the trained expert had it wrong. All of us experience moments when we think we know better than the expert, and I believe often, (though not as often as thought) people are right.

The problem is the cult of the expert. How did they become an expert? By study, observation, learning from other experts, and being recognized by other experts. It is often an intellectually inbred clique. Someone at the beginning, and others along the way, had to make some guesses, some assumptions, and when one of those is wrong, it can be unnoticed by the expert, and take the outsider to spot the error. In other cases, the expert can grow lazy, or greedy, and get away with errors because of the respect for their position and credentials. People see the emperor’s robes long after they are no longer there.

Expertise needs to be recognized, respected, but not worshipped or followed blindly. And expertise in one area should not lead to validation of opinions in areas where the individual has no expertise. Thus the fallacy of celebrity endorsements.

Take case in point. An LCSW, a clinical social worker with psychology expertise, announces to a board of a partnership I belong to that I am mentally ill. I am asked to respond to the board to her charge. The board is made up of mostly teachers and educators. My response, in very clear, concise and direct writing, pointed out that since I wasn’t a patient of hers, such a credentialed assertion of this type on her part is both unethical, illegal, and without any clinical basis for her conclusion. I noted that her alleged clinical conclusion was actually a mood piece, a form of writing intended to make the reader feel sympathy for the writer without any actual facts being presented.

I knew the rules and ethics of her profession, and pointed out that they had been broken, and thus the professional opinion was without foundation. My expertise in writing ripped off her camouflage of expertise and showed her lack of science and personal bias. All spelled out in a format any secondary or primary educator could understand and grade.

They complained I hadn’t answered her charges. The missed that I said her actions were illegal and unethical, even though I used precisely those terms in the opening two sentences. Totally ignoring what I had said (one wonders if they even read it from what they didn’t know I had said), they accepted her statements as authority, despite the obvious irregularities, and ignored my expertise in writing to accept her obviously flawed expertise.

Any expertise that cannot be questioned should be suspect. It doesn’t mean you have to understand as well as the expert, but there are certain basic things that should be verifiable to trust that the expert is at least using their expertise correctly and with an understanding of its limitations as well. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, but it doesn’t mean it in blind. Rather it has a good enough appraisal of things to be able to know when to count on things you cannot see.

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