General Question

nikipedia's avatar

Do you trust experts?

Asked by nikipedia (27338 points ) April 28th, 2009

I’m in the process of becoming an expert in a small part of a particular field. It’s fun, and I’m excited about it, but an unwelcome byproduct has been that I get really frustrated when people won’t defer to my opinion or when they excessively question my judgment in matters directly relating to my field.

I’ve tried to extend this courtesy to other experts by generally trusting their judgment, but am occasionally surprised by their….lack of expertise (I may have discovered the world’s worst gynecologist).

At the same time, other experts I encounter shock me with their brilliance pretty much daily.

So what do you think? Do you automatically trust experts? Warily trust experts? Does it depend on the expert? Do you vet the expert and then trust his/her judgment? Are you an inherent skeptic? Are you more skeptical of experts?

When your opinion diverges from an expert’s, how do you decide who to trust?

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44 Answers

electricsky's avatar

I prefer to be skeptic until they prove me wrong.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Absolutely not. I do not automatically trust anyone. And I question everything. It has served me well many many times. Trust is earned.

So what I think would help you is to understand that most people will question you. It is human nature and it is safe. But if you are trustworthy then in time they will defer to you. You’ve still got to earn it even though you are an expert. Also you should start taking pride in Education people. Don’t just insist you are right (not that you do this) but educate them and take pride when people understand what you are saying and learn from you. I LOVE people who do this for me when I question them.

nikipedia's avatar

But isn’t being massively skeptical and not trusting anyone until they prove themselves sort of impractical? How could you ever go to a doctor, mechanic, accountant, etc?

tjniels's avatar

Not unilaterally, but I do acknowledge they know more than me about the topic at hand. Your doctor didn’t go to 12 years of medical school for nothing, IMO.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@nikipedia I always question what my doctors and mechanics tell me. I can relate saving hundreds (literally) of dollars during one mechanic visit where I questioned them. And don’t get me started on the crap doctors have fed me that I found out to be wrong after questioning them. Which has been really scary to say the least.

Jayne's avatar

I trust experts so long as they show themselves to be at least roughly as intelligent as I am in areas not closely related to their field of expertise. If they are, I have no reason not to presume that their experience in that field sets them above myself. If they aren’t, then other sources should be sought. If that test cannot conveniently be applied, I will look to the collective judgment of other experts.

I question everyone, regardless of their credibility, but that questioning is generally an effort towards greater understanding on my part; the difference between the two cases above is largely in the degree to which I am willing to alter my current understanding to accommodate the expert’s analysis before I begin to doubt them.

kenmc's avatar

Well, I guess it depends on if they’re sourced or not.

“Experts say…” sounds much more fishy than “Expert in Somethingology, @nikipedia says…”

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Experts research, gather and relate information beyond my scope but in the end, it’s up to me to trust in their delivery or not.

SeventhSense's avatar

If one is a respected expert(in the legal sense), by all means, I value their opinions respective to their field. An expert in forensics, DNA, or any particular field is invaluable.

phoenyx's avatar

I tend to trust experts if what they tell me makes sense and it is related to their field of expertise. If it is something important I won’t rely on a single expert. The problem is that I’ve encountered too many experts who claim expertise in fields only marginally (or in no way whatsoever) related to their true field of expertise, which has made me more skeptical.

tjniels's avatar

Ex: former, previous, has-been
Spurt: a squirt or burst under extreme pressure
Expert: a has-been squirt under extreme pressure

YARNLADY's avatar

I depends largely on your definition of ‘expert’. Many fluther’s say an expert must earn their trust, but in my definition, and expert is someone who has already proven himself, and therefore automatically trustworthy. How else would he/she be called an expert?

cak's avatar

I trusted an expert in my treatment (cancer/leukemia – both a form of cancer and a form of leukemia), where did it get me? I was diagnosed wrong and it removed me from a protocol at Johns Hopkins, because of the huge error. Along the way in the years of being treated, experts made mistakes, some very serious mistakes. One mistake, almost cost me my life.

While I respect the fact that someone has dedicated their life to studying their chosen field of expertise, it doesn’t mean that they truly are perfect and know everything. An expert that I would trust without hesitation had a very humble understanding of himself – he’s human. Humans are very fallible. Even experts.

Just being deemed an expert in a particular field, well, that just not enough. A proven track record is really important. Some balance of humility and confidence is required, too.

wundayatta's avatar

In principle, I trust experts. However, on an individual basis, I require them to explain their decisions to me. If it doesn’t make sense, then I am suspicious, because basically, I figure I can understand just about anything. I could be deluded in that, but that’s how I feel. So if I don’t understand what they are saying, or doing, then I am quite worried about their advice, and I’ll go get another opinion from another expert.

tinyfaery's avatar

An expert always comes armed with research, statistics and facts, and in so much as those things are open to interpretation, I can only trust an expert as much as I can see how they come to their conclusions based on their arsenal of knowledge.

I agree with @RedPowerLady 100%. I question everyone and everything. I will never trust others to do my thinking for me.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

if you don’t trust the experts that know the most about whatever feild you’re looking into… who do you trust?

I think it’s important to realize beforehand though if someone’s really an expert or not…

wundayatta's avatar

Oh, and about the practice of medicine. You know how they call it the art of medicine? That’s because there is so much that isn’t known, and so much variation in individuals, that every person is a unique case, requiring a unique course of treatment. I.e., the physician is making it up as he or she goes along.

That being the case, then the patient can easily be the expert. No one knows their body better than the person inhabiting it. If something the physician says feels wrong, pipe up! I don’t care if you are a dogcatcher or a high school drop out. You still are the biggest expert on your own body.

Many physicians respect that, and encourage their patients to pipe up. A few believe in the myth of expert infallibility. Those are the dangerous ones.

SeventhSense's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03
@YARNLADY
EXACTLY
The necessity for experts in many instances is for an understanding
far beyond common understanding. Hence society’s reliance upon them.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I am skeptical of everything. I trust experts to an extent, of course.. everyone does. But it doesn’t seem wise to unwaveringly trust an expert just by virtue of them being one.

casheroo's avatar

No. I need proof. I know people think all their schooling is enough proof, but it isn’t for me.

Before I had surgery, I wanted my doctor to be honest with me about the dangers. I told him I didn’t want him to lie to me, and tell me any non success stories of the same surgery he had performed many times before. And he told me. I didn’t want to hear that his surgery had ever failed anyone, but him admitting to me that it can go wrong and it has, made me feel very comfortable with him. He was the best surgeon I’ve ever met.
Anyone can go to med school, and become a surgeon…doesn’t mean they’re good at it.

With your particular field, I do wonder why people doubt you. When it comes to something like that, I’m more trusting of someone in grad school, telling me that they’re becoming an expert in a particular field…because they are..

SeventhSense's avatar

EXPERT TESTIMONY
Testimony about a scientific, technical, or professional issue given by a person qualified to testify because of familiarity with the subject or special training in the field.

“Generally speaking, the law of evidence in both civil and criminal cases confines the testimony of witnesses to statements of concrete facts within their own observation, knowledge, and recollection. Testimony must normally state facts perceived by the witnesses’ use of their own senses, as distinguished from their opinions, inferences, impressions, and conclusions drawn from the facts. Opinion testimony that is based on facts is usually considered incompetent and inadmissible, if the factfinders are as well qualified as the witness to draw conclusions from the facts.”

Source: WWW.FREEDICTIONARY.COM

sdeutsch's avatar

What @daloon said. I trust experts, but only with a hefty dose of common sense – if what they’re saying doesn’t make sense to me, I’m usually inclined to get another opinion.

At least where medical experts are concerned, it’s your life, and you have the right (and responsibility) to question the experts until you’re satisfied that their opinions or decisions are the right ones. Even experts make mistakes sometimes, so you can’t just blindly follow them without question.

That said, I would much prefer to be discussing those opinions with an expert than a non-expert – I appreciate that they know more than I do about their field, but I do need them to explain to me, at least in layman’s terms, why they believe what they’re telling me is true.

jlm11f's avatar

@casheroo – “Anyone can go to med school, and become a surgeon” I beg to differ. I honestly don’t think everyone can bust their ass studying medicine day in, day out on material that doesn’t interest them. Just like, I could never be a history major or be a part of countless other professions. On a more practical note, not everyone could survive a surgeon’s lifestyle.

As for the title Q, I do normally trust experts. Trusting someone doesn’t mean I turn off my brain and don’t think about if what they are saying even makes sense to me. It means I trust their experience and hard work in their field. If it makes sense, great! If not, I politely ask Qs phrased like “I am sorry. I am being kind of dense here, but I don’t get how you arrive at that solution. Can you explain it to me a little more in depth?” Because let’s face it, chances are I really am just being dense and I just didn’t understand what they said; or they just have poor communication skills (which doesn’t make them NOT an expert). If after further explanation, I am not convinced, sure I’ll ask other experts in the same field.

As a pre-med student, I know how much work goes into being a physician, it’s not an easy path and it has pretty strong weed out processes in place. This applies to many other professions too. Does this mean that all doctors are good doctors or are right all the time? No. And I would be an idiot to think that they are since they are still human, and yes, humans make mistakes. This applies to every profession. There’s always chance of error. What makes them an expert is not 100% accuracy, it is having a much higher chance of accuracy than the average person.

<rant>Also, people who think that they can’t trust anyone amuse me frankly. Because these people typically believe that all others are idiots, except for themselves, precious little creatures who might not have the necessary experience in the subject, but who are never wrong because they just have that remarkable intuition. You can think for yourself, and still trust an expert. Learn from the expert, and then make an informed decision.</rant>

SeventhSense's avatar

@PnL
Certainly it takes a great degree of intelligence and determination to be a surgeon. To be something like a heart or brain surgeon takes an extremely rare and specialized personality. They have to have an emotional objectivity to aproach the life and death of a person they hold in their hands, they have to have extremely fine kinisthetic skills, they have to have an analytical mind to decide highly variable factors pertaining to a person’s unique anatomy, and they have to have a brain to house an incredible amount of technical information. It is a very rare and valuable profession and that is why skilled surgeons are so valued.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@PnL <rant>Also, people who think that they can’t trust anyone amuse me frankly. Because these people typically believe that all others are idiots, except for themselves, precious little creatures who might not have the necessary experience in the subject, but who are never wrong because they just have that remarkable intuition. You can think for yourself, and still trust an expert. Learn from the expert, and then make an informed decision.</rant>

Serious overgeneralization. I, for example, am one person who said I don’t automatically trust someone. Including experts. This is because of very scary experiences involving said experts. I think that over generalizing people who think for themselves isn’t appropriate. I certainly do not consider myself a precious perfect creature. One can certainly think for their self and trust an expert. One can also not trust an expert and think for yourself. One can also not trust an expert until it is earned and think for yourself. There are many possibilities. You shouldn’t judge someone because they use their life experiences to keep them safe. I think your rant is a bit offensive because of the language used within it precious little creatures. Well if you are going to put it out there I am going to respond and that is my two cents.

cak's avatar

@PnL – I agree with you, and I do want to say something about my comment. The team of doctors that I did wind up with, are great. To me, they are the best. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone and when it comes to someone’s health, I don’t take that lightly. I do believe, with every fiber of my being, that I ran into a few that maybe have reached their prime and I believe I wasn’t the only one.

I don’t automatically distrust an expert; however, I don’t automatically trust them, either. I ask a lot of questions and I do check to see if complaints are filed against them – even if there are complaints, I take them with a grain of salt. I think it is a patient’s responsibility to really make informed decisions. Unfortunately, I did find the doctors that really didn’t seem to want to listen to my concerns or questions – so I found different doctors. I do think a doctor should want to listen to a patients quesitons and concerns. Just as I believe it’s the patient’s responsibility to follow the doctor’s orders. If you have questions about them, ask; however, don’t hold it against a doctor if you think they’ve done something wrong, but you didn’t follow the orders.

I agree that the time it takes and the dedication that is put forth is important, but I do firmly believe that trust, with anyone, is earned. I don’t think that’s being disrespectful or wrong, if it’s used in a responsible manner.

SeventhSense's avatar

Some in the opionated way that flutherites are so apt to do fail to take into account the fact that an expert is not as subjective as one imagines and our society and legal system depends upon them. It is necessary that some people become experts in a particular area for it allows society to function better. In fact the basis of this site is to attract experts.
If I want expert information on the Icthyosaurus I’m going to a paleontologist. If I want to find out about a bottle nose dolphin, I’m going to a marine biologist. It just makes sense. To not give credence and deference to some authority is just distrustful and has more to do with a personal issue but certainly not intelligence.

skfinkel's avatar

I do not tend to trust “experts” since they so often fail to live up to whatever they are supposed to be expert in.
I have examples up the whazoo, but for a sampling:
1. financial counselors (how many caught this downturn—how many of us lost a major percentage of what we had depending on the expertise of others?)
2. child development specialists: recommendations from the 40’s and 50’s told women to feed their infants only every four hours, and women were encouraged not to nurse their babies. It required very strong women to do what they felt was right in the face of such “experts.”
3. farmers who decided that the best way to grow food was to use pesticides.
4. policy makers who decided that—-you pick: water boarding is okay, spending zillions on useless weapons is okay, etc.
5. city planners who have no problem pouring their untreated sewage into the sound (as in Vancouver).

This is not to say that there are not some people who might know something about something that is based in real and good research, but such people would welcome intelligent and thoughtful questions, and probably would not need to be treated as “experts” and more importantly would appreciate critical thinking.

So, no, I would have to say that I am highly skeptical of experts—especially ones that would discourage me from asking lots and lots of questions.

jlm11f's avatar

@RedPowerLady – My rant was not directed at you or anyone on this thread. It was directed more so at people I have encountered IRL. I do not claim to know you with the minimal interaction we have had so far. I am sorry if you felt that it was. And of course it is an over generalization, it is marked as a rant for that very reason. I specifically put those tags in there to make it clear that that part of my answer shouldn’t be paid much, if any, attention. From a dictionary, rant = a loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion. bombastic = High-sounding but with little meaning. As for the precious little creatures comment, I must admit, I left that in there by mistake. I do apologize for that. I am running on very little sleep all week and have been editing and reediting everything I type so that my sarcasm/bitter humor doesn’t get in the way too much. I did re-read my answer before posting, but I missed that one.

@cak – I have met some horrible physicians. The worst was the one who thought my dad just had a stomach infection, when in fact he actually had retrocecal appendicitis. If he hadn’t asked my uncle about it (who is also a physician) and gotten to an ER asap, he would be dead right now. So I completely get what you are saying.

augustlan's avatar

Trust, but verify.

casheroo's avatar

@PnL If I wanted to, and put my mind to it and actually got into med school, I could. Anyone can do that. Doesn’t mean they’ll be a good or great doctor. That’s all I was saying. I understand what you are saying though, there’s definitely a weed out phase.. i could never last a minute! lol

nikipedia's avatar

@casheroo: I gotta say, I still disagree pretty strongly. I believe the admissions stats for med school are something like 50% in a given year (PnL can tell you better than I can). Are you saying the other half of the applicants just weren’t trying?

I agree with your statement that not all of the people who get into medical school will be a good doctor. But I think that has more to do with the fact that the admissions criteria are unrelated to a lot of important doctoring skills, and less to do with the faulty assumption that anyone can get in.

casheroo's avatar

@nikipedia I didn’t say that. If the other 50% didn’t get in, they either weren’t good enough, or there were no more openings for that particular program. That’d be my guess.

nikipedia's avatar

@casheroo: Sorry—to clarify, I meant that 50% of applicants get in anywhere, so not specific to a given program, and I have definitely heard of people applying to 20+ schools.

So like, not to be a dick or to belabor the point, but isn’t there an inherent contradiction between “anyone can get in” and “50% who didn’t get in weren’t good enough”?

tinyfaery's avatar

Well, I’ve known some idiot doctors. Why is malpractice insurance so high? Maybe the wrong 50% are getting into medical school.

casheroo's avatar

@nikipedia I don’t believe everyone that doesn’t get in didn’t get in because they weren’t good enough. I think there are other factors.

nikipedia's avatar

@tinyfaery: Well, I think malpractice insurance is high because it’s a high stakes game. In my job, if I fuck up, we waste some money and time. In their job, if they fuck up, someone could die. And we’re all human; we all fuck up.

@casheroo: Yeah, I completely agree that there are a lot of factors. But do you maintain that “anyone can get in”?

cwilbur's avatar

I don’t trust experts blindly. I ask my doctor “Why?” about everything he recommends that I do, or about every medication he considers prescribing for me. I ask my car mechanic “What are the alternatives?” when he recommends a repair.

And I left an earlier doctor because he thought that “I’m the doctor, that’s why” was an adequate response to the “Why?” question.

I’ve also been to a prestigious school and to graduate school, and I know just how easy it is to get a credential. The credential does not mean you are automatically an expert; it just means that you’ve jumped through all the hoops that would make a motivated, intelligent person an expert. Whether it worked on you is another matter.

So if you’re willing to explain why you say something, I’ll trust you as an expert. If you just say “Because I’m an expert, that’s why,” then I probably won’t trust you.

YARNLADY's avatar

@skfinkel Your answer made me realize that my answer left a lot to be desired. I agree with you on all those points, and realize that subconsciously I do a lot of analysis before I trust the experts.

SeventhSense's avatar

@nikipedia
Well I think you’ll make a fine expert.:)

mattbrowne's avatar

My response is like the one I used in @daloon‘s question “Who must you listen to? Who should you listen to? Who do you listen to?”:

In the book: “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler 2006 Chapter 19, FILTERING TRUTH, page 123 lists six commonly used filters people use to find the “truth”. They are:
1. Consensus
2. Consistency
3. Authority
4. Mystical revelation or religion
5. Durability
6. Science

Toffler: “Science is different from all the other truth-test criteria. It is the only one that itself depends on rigorous testing.” They go on: “In the time of Galileo the most effective method of discovery was itself discovered. The invention of scientific method was the gift to humanity of a new truth filter or test, a powerful meta-tool for probing the unknown and—it turned out—for spurring technological change and economic progress.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Wealth

http://www.amazon.com/Revolutionary-Wealth-created-change-lives/dp/038552207X

So yes, @nikipedia I trust experts if one or several of Toffler’s truth filters are met, especially number 1, 3 and 6, but the other factors are also important to me.

SeventhSense's avatar

@mattbrowne
Toffler’s THIRD WAVE was a great book.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SeventhSense – Yes, the THIRD WAVE was written in 1980 and many of their predictions have come true. Revolutionary Wealth is from 2006 and includes many more recent examples, like the true power of the open source software community. And the authors created their list of ‘truth filters’. Excellent book as well.

snowberry's avatar

I totally agree with what @cak @RedPowerLady and @wundayatta I don’t trust anyone just because they’re an expert. I’ve been burned too many times. I show up armed with a bunch of questions, take notes, and make my own choices, and I live with the consequences.

Example: I had 5 kids and 4 pregnancies. With 3 of them medical experts told me I would not be able to give birth vaginally. All my children were born healthy, and without intervention. I’m sure glad I didn’t take their advice. It’s inadvisable to simply take any expert’s advice without informing yourself and looking at all the alternatives. This means educating yourself, and sometimes you simply don’t have the time to do all the research you need, so you make your best guess on whose expert advice to follow.

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