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incendiary_dan's avatar

Do you need to hear an "expert" say something to believe it?

Asked by incendiary_dan (13386points) March 22nd, 2012

Do you need an expert opinion regardless of reason and logic? I’ve recently heard some folks basically express that fact, that basically it didn’t matter if something made sense, they needed an expert to sign off on it. I guess what that meant was one of their approved experts.

And even more importantly, how well do you check up on the things said experts express, particularly in terms of “facts” and statistics? Do you apply the critical eye? Logic and reason? Often the more poorly researched opinions get posted first, the later rebuttals taking time because it takes real work. Sometimes one theory is given more credit simply because it’s “advertised” better, or tells people what they want to hear. Even professionals fall into this trap.

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” – Mark Twain

Some of this, of course, goes back to the question I asked recently about premises.

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28 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I don’t accept anything anyone says (expert or not) without doing mt own research. I also do not need an expert to tell me that something that makes sense is right. I rely on my own logic and thought processes.

flutherother's avatar

Like a jury in a courtroom I listen to expert evidence before making up my own mind.

Coloma's avatar

What they said ^. The world is full of misinformed if not downright fraudulent “experts.”

The Donner party was screwed by taking an untried route by a supposed “expert” that drew a phoney map route and had never even BEEN across the Sierras. lol

incendiary_dan's avatar

Figured that Flutherites, for the most part, would be skeptical. :)

ucme's avatar

If something looks, smells, feels, tastes right, then i’m going to believe my own senses regardless of any “expert” endorsement. Just a matter of trusting your own judgement.

nikipedia's avatar

I think it really depends on the issue. For instance, I don’t know very much about economics. If I come to a belief about the economy that makes good intuitive sense to me, I would strongly prefer to have that belief supported by an expert who can back up his/her explanation with evidence. No matter how much I might believe my own, well, belief, there are always, as Rumsfeld famously put it, the ”unknown unknowns.” Experts can be helpful in exposing those.

When it comes to checking up on experts—here my opinion will probably differ from most people’s. I think it’s fine, and even to be encouraged, but if you disagree with a real, bonafide expert, you are probably wrong.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Oh, that’s another question I meant to include. @nikipedia (and others), what do you think defines an expert? Is it something like having an extensive body of work in a subject? Or maybe it has to do with approved training?

I’m inclined to think the former is more value than the latter, since I’ve seen numerous people with lots of fancy degrees in things like environmental science and agriculture that clearly have no clue what, for instance, a healthy farm ecosystem looks like. My standards, not surprisingly, give more respect to those trained in certain fields rather than others, due to my own research into how these subjects are taught.

Bellatrix's avatar

You also need to define what you mean by expert? I don’t rely on uninformed opinion. If I am canvassing for ideas and information about a topic, I want to know the person providing that information or advice has some genuine knowledge. Whether they have gained it through life experience or more formal research, they can add to my understanding. Listening to someone spouting ‘what they think’ based on no real experience/evidence is unhelpful to me.

Trillian's avatar

I read somewhere that people have a tendency to believe expert opinions that most closely align with what they want to believe. A for instance would be global warming; there are experts who say it is cyclic and not caused by use of fossil fuels, and other experts who have charts and graphs that prove it is all the fault of greedy, careless consumers. Unless one takes the time to become an expert in every possible subject out there (which is just not possible), one is pretty much at the mercy of experts. So it boils down to a choice of which expert one wishes to believe.

Bellatrix's avatar

@Trillian – I read a quote somewhere that said something like “A wise man is someone who believes the same thing I do”. I have never been able to find it again so I don’t know who said it or the exact wording.

Blackberry's avatar

It depends.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Bellatrix Sounds like another Mark Twain quote. He was always good for the short, zippy quotes that make you think.

Bellatrix's avatar

Well if anyone knows for sure who it was, I hope they share @incendiary_dan. I read it and thought… yeah, that makes sense… but I didn’t take a note of the author.

nikipedia's avatar

@incendiary_dan, Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.”

That sounds like a good starting place to me.

Coloma's avatar

I love the M.T. quote ” Progress was once a fine thing has gone on far too long.”
This was spoken in what 1878 or something? lolol

Dutchess_III's avatar

What I hate is when an “expert” tells you something that turns out to not be true. We have a flooring guy in town who I’ve known for years. We were laying some flooring and he was gracious enough to give us some advice. I mentioned how slick our laminate wood flooring is, and asked if they made any with some texture so that it isn’t so slippery AND imitates real wood even more. He said they didn’t make anything like that. A couple weeks later we were at Lowes…and yes, they do make something like that. In fact, all that we looked at was textured.

rojo's avatar

I know in the construction industry it seems you cannot be an expert unless you are from out of town. I have heard the same thing from architects as well.

CWOTUS's avatar

That’s an old one, @rojo.

An expert is a guy who’s fifty miles from home, carrying a briefcase.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My husband is an expert in commercial air compressors. He’s in sales, but he also knows every nut and bolt of every compressor ever made, and can diagnose any problems they might have (he’s a HELL of a mechanic I might add…so why hasn’t the oil in the cars been changed yet????!!! And why is that blinker still wonky after all these months???) Anyway, he sells all over Kansas, and gives advice to others in his company which is based in Germany, and has territory in every country.

He visited a local business here that is in the industrial park just outside of town…one that actually is shaping up to give him the biggest commission he’s had yet—five times more than the one he made selling to Boeing two years ago, and much bigger than the commission for his sale (in Coffeeville)—but he had a hard time convincing the local business that he knows his stuff because he lives “just up the street” so to speak.

Earthgirl's avatar

I love the Mark Twain quote!
As far as something making sense being true, it isn’t necessarily so. I have always loved the expression that common sense is what tells you that the earth is flat. Things make sense based on how deep our knowledge is. So just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it’s correct. The world is way more complex than that. The more facts we have, the more likely what makes sense to us will be true.

For me there are degrees of truth based on how much is known. I don’t decide until I get enough facts, which I would hope, would be most people’s standard strategy. However, sometimes it seems that people are ready to believe anything that sounds plausible or has the ring of truth without looking into finding supporting evidence. I like to gather the facts and decide for myself. If the subject is complex, however, I need an expert’s opinion. Sometimes I need more than one expert’s opinion, especially if it’s a very complex subject, or a hotly debated theory or piece of information. It becomes important to figure out if the expert has good credentials and no hidden agenda or bias.

After info gathering and opinion polling I arrive at one of these states of decision:

This is almost certainly true. You can pretty much stake your life on it.

This is more than likely true but further investigations might change our understanding of it.

Might be true, but we just don’t know for sure. The jury’s still out. No need to have an opinion. Keep an open mind and try to learn more. Make a decision or base your action on your intuitive sense of who to believe or your own gut feeling.

We may never know, this subject defies scientific analysis or measurement with what are currently the best tools we have Much mystery remains.

It’s anyone’s guess..

incendiary dan what do you think defines an expert? Is it something like having an extensive body of work in a subject? Or maybe it has to do with approved training?”

Experts need to think more holistically. You have to look at things as systems and not get too reductionist. If your view is too narrow you leave out crucial information and ignore how things interact. I read recently that there’s a trend back to interdisciplinary studies. That makes a lot of sense to me. When things become more and more complex it’s important to be able to stand back and see the forest for the trees. Every expert has a piece of the puzzle and if we put all the knowledge together it is more than the sum of its parts. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that becomes ever more clear as all the pieces are combined. So in this way, no one expert can really cover it, not always, maybe not even usually.

Another analogy that comes to mind is connecting the dots.You just need to keep in mind that it’s not foolproof! There may be some confusion as to where the dots connect and if you connect them wrongly you will get a faulty result and an inaccurate or distorted picture i.e. conclusion.

gailcalled's avatar

My sister and I grew up being told by our mother to do things because “they’ said so. We were annoyed for years but there was no broaching these issues with her. And she got cranky when we asked who “they” were.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@gailcalled I was kinda raised the same way. Things had to be done a certain way, but apparently no thought was given to “why.” One time, when I was a teenager, mom told me to cut up some potatoes and set the boiling for mashed potatoes. They were boiling and my mom asked if I’d put salt in the water.
I said, “No,” and she about came unglued.
“You HAVE to put salt in the water!!!!” I was taken aback by her anger, thinking I’d done some horrific thing and I said, “What happens if we don’t put salt in the water??!!” I was really worried.
Well, that threw her for a loop. She stopped, paused and said, “I guess…I don’t know why….”

CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t often “need” experts to tell me what is and is not true, but I often defer to people when I know from my own experience that they know what they’re talking about… and when they know more than me.

I work in an industry that is high tech about a lot of low tech. In this industry we burn things as fuel to create electricity. “Burning fuel” is about as low tech as you can get. (What human invention predates fire? The stick as a tool? The stone as a weapon or tool? It’s that far back, isn’t it?) But how we burn and control the products of emission and make steam to spin turbines… that’s very high tech.

So we have a lot of engineers and other experts at hand who know a lot about chemistry, physics, metallurgy, production and building techniques, finance, you name it. And I defer to any of them when they’re talking about their field and they’ve demonstrated competence to me or to others whom I also trust. They also defer to me in my field, when that comes up (usually building these monsters on site is a bit less “tech” and a lot more “oomph”) ... and when they build spreadsheets and databases then I also get to be an expert again.

Outside of our fields of expertise, I tend to rely on those who can present facts in a logical manner and make their case with clear reasoning and verifiable facts. I am nearly always made more skeptical by hyperbole and appeals to emotion – one reason (among many) why I haven’t bought into “global warming” yet. (I never bought “global cooling” in the 70s, either, when that was the fad du jour.)

Coloma's avatar

@Dutchess_III LOL…perfect! I have long said that learning is easy, it’s the un-learning that’s hard. Gawd, untangling the programming IS everyones most important life work IMO. ;-)
Nobody knows WHY the water must be salted, it just must be. hahaha
I had to laugh recently when a couple in their mid-fifties said they gave each other “promise” rings. really? Didn’t that become passe at about age 18? Promise what? You both have 2 failed marriages under your belt, maybe you should stop making promises the same way you did at 16! lololol

Andreas's avatar

@incendiary_dan, One definition of an expert is as follows: “Ex” the unknown quantity, ”[s]pert” a drip under pressure.

Just throwing some fuel on the fire.

augustlan's avatar

Not necessarily. I need a lot of information sources to make up my mind, including what my own logical analysis of outside sources tells me. If it’s a subject I don’t know deeply (and am not necessarily inclined to dig deeper about), I do rely on experts if they are overwhelmingly of the same mind. Global warming, for instance. I’m never going to be an expert in this field myself, so I’ll take the word of 90+ percent of the experts, who conclude it’s real and that the actions of man play a role in it.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

ex·pert (ek-spûrt)

1. A person with a high degree of skill in or knowledge of a certain subject.

Having, involving, or demonstrating great skill, dexterity, or knowledge as the result of experience or training. See Synonyms at proficient.

I agree with the above definition of expert. Although the opinion of an expert will give great weight to my consideration of a subject as opposed to the opinion of, let’s say, a successful talk show host who simply makes a lot of money and is an expert only in attracting popular attention in the media and advertizers to their show, the opinion of a real expert alone has rarely convinced me. The corroboration of more than one from different entities, orgs, companies, etc., can heavily influence me.Often, experts in different fields, yet still related to the subject are needed. On the other hand, the rebuttal of another will make me think, research further, which may not lead to a final conclusion, but will definitely increase my knowledge base. Then again, my personal experiences have trumped the experts at times. Even true experts can be influenced by their personal histories pertaining to class, race, etc., and also money, power, bosses, advertisers, politics, personal agendas, etc., whether conciously or otherwise.

Paradox25's avatar

Personal experience to me along with looking at evidence in a collective way has much more meaning to me than expert opinions on most things.

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