Claim to Expertise

Claim to Expertise

There is often confusion when people who do not have even basic knowledge in their field of ‘expertise’ are called experts.

Working with reputation involves engaging socially active and mostly public citizens belonging to the categories of “opinion leaders,” “moral beacons,” celebrities, “experts,” and influencers in the implementation of projects. There is often confusion when people who do not have even basic knowledge in their field of ‘expertise’ are called experts. 

Therefore, it makes sense to clarify the situation:

  1. Opinion leader (AKA influencer). Speaking strictly technologically, this is a node of a social network available in real or virtual space. Thanks to numerous contacts with other people and their personal qualities, an OP gains the trust of the audience and can influence their opinion about certain processes and phenomena. If an OP is just very popular, they are a celebrity. If their state of mind and life inspire respect and even awe – they are a beacon of morality.
  2. Expert. This is not necessarily a public figure, but must certainly be a very qualified person in a certain field of knowledge and/or skills. They may or may not be an opinion leader, but it is necessary for them to be highly specialised and to stand out from their peers

However, in real life, pseudo-experts often outnumber experts. The most common categories are:

  • Man-made talking heads. They are artificially created by political forces and business groups to protect their interests. Popularity is achieved by providing wide access to media resources.
  • Carriers of insider information. As a rule, these are consultants who practise privately and have access to insider information that is of interest to the media and the public due to the high status of their clients. Some obtain success by themselves and others have the support of insider patrons, and they gain popularity thanks to regular leaks by which they maintain the loyalty of the mass media. In conditions when the flow of confidential information decreases, the level of ‘expertise’ decreases proportionally. They are helpless and uninteresting without inside access.
  • Administrative resource owners. These are the heads of various organizations i.e., companies, authorities, institutes, and even mass media. Common distinctive features include inflated self-esteem in combination with bad upbringing that leads them to espouse platitudes or express idiotic evaluative judgments while trying to look clever. Popularity is achieved by money, along with the blood and sweat of PR services.
  • Workaholic fraudsters. Uneducated ambitious individuals who achieve popularity (most often starting with an account on a social network) thanks to fabulous arrogance and hellish diligence. They often move to the category of man-made talking heads if they can profitably sell their specific talent.

And all these sirs and madams are popular both because “if the stars light up, someone needs it,” and because overloaded with information and frightened by current events society lacks the skills and desire to identify and expose these Khlestakovs.

Many of them deserve a slap on the wrist for reasons related to the ecology of the information space and protection of potential victims. The pseudo-expert not only misleads the public but also has a great appetite for the prizes of life. I very well remember how one editor of an industry publication seriously thought that as soon as she had been appointed to the position, she had become an opinion leader and an expert and was therefore owed something from all market operators not just in terms of human relations but also materially. The following stages of her career were distinguished by a propensity to troll the market with methodologically flawed ratings. She is one example of many from across various fields.

But, as usual, the rescue of drowning people is mainly the responsibility of the drowning people themselves. In order not to be deceived, you should understand a few simple things:

  1. If the mass media interviews a person, it is not necessarily the case that this person is an expert. They are possibly just an artificial talking head.
  2. If the talking head constantly appears on screen and comments on the construction of spaceships, world ballet and the ATO, they are very unlikely an expert. Encyclopaedists are a dying breed.
  3. If you agree with every word of the expert and do not receive new information from their commentary, there is high probability that this expert is saying banal things that are common knowledge and can be ascertained with basic common sense. Such an ‘expert’ is likely not in possession of unique knowledge and skills.
  4. If the expert persistently sides with this or that politician or businessman, the objectivity of their judgments is doubtful.
  5. The accuracy of expert forecasts is no higher than the accuracy of raw data extrapolation. Experts who often appear on TV predict the future even less accurately than their non-public colleagues.

I will tell an amusing story to confirm point 5. From the mid-1980s to 2003, Philip E. Tetlock, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, collected and analysed more than 80,000 expert forecasts in various fields of knowledge and arrived at the following conclusions:

  • It is impossible to find any field of knowledge where people clearly outperform the algorithm of simple extrapolation. An ordinary person, in possession of an array of data and calculation methods, can make a more accurate forecast than an expert.
  • PhDs make predictions no better than people without a degree.
  • Individuals with 20 years of experience are no more perceptive than newcomers to the profession.
  • Experts who appear in the media most often are usually the worst (!) forecasters.

Therefore, the most logical behaviour in a world where everyone lies is not to ‘make yourself an expert’, but to think for oneself.

Forbes 2014