Looking for experts

Anyone can go online and claim to be an expert. How do you tell who has an informed opinion and who is likely to be unreliable? As an expert in this field, I have made a list… 

Obviously I’m not an expert, but I have thought about this a lot. I read widely, which gives me a sense of how real experts present their information compared to fakes. Studying how language is used to get stuff done was intrinsic to my degree, and my marketing work, and remains vital for my writing.

So there’s my first example – I’m trying to give you some supporting evidence of my qualifications to talk on this subject. You can Google me and verify at least some of that. Also if you look me up you won’t find industry professionals saying things about how rubbish and unqualified I am. Yes, great thinkers are often misunderstood by their peers at the time, but being rubbished is not proof of being a great thinker, caution is advised!

An expert will tell you how they came by their information. They will provide links, or things you can easily look up. They will talk about data, percentages, and interpretations. They’ll quote source material so you could find it if you wanted to. There are no secret texts. There will be enough information that you could get in there and examine the basis of their argument to see if it holds up. A fake expert will make assertions about studies, data, evidence etc but won’t point you to it so you have no way of forming an opinion about their conclusions.

Experts are often cautious. They will say things like ‘the evidence suggests’ or ‘the probability is’. They’ll give you a percentage risk, or tell you how many people in a study responded in a certain way. There may be precise figures, but the interpretation will likely be more cautious, and they will tend to flag up flaws in the proceedings or reasons to be wary of the data. Science doesn’t tend to deliver 100% certainty – in fact it assumes that a 2% error margin is likely. Fake experts talk in certainties and proof. They make strong claims for what the evidence means, and they may not let you see the evidence. Their assertions will not be backed up by relevant and available data, because they are fake.

The more certain someone is, the less trustworthy they are. This is as true with Pagan and Spiritual folk as it is with conspiracy theorists. Your mileage may vary – so if a Pagan is talking about things that will definitely always work, definitely transform your life, and so forth, be cautious. The person who can acknowledge that complexity exists and outcomes can be probable but not certain, is wiser and more responsible than the person who thinks their thing is perfect for everyone.

The other thing to watch out for is your own bias. If someone is saying what you want to hear, you will automatically be more willing to believe them. We’re all vulnerable to that one, and it pays to be alert to it. We’re going to be persuaded by the things we wish to be persuaded by. Sometimes that’s harmless. Sometimes it puts us in considerable danger or makes us oblivious to toxic things we’re participating in. The hardest person to question is yourself, and your own motives.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Looking for experts

  • locksley2010

    This. Just this! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  • angharadlois

    One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently – actually for a long while, but it feels especially acute now – is the difference between qualitative and quantitative data. Anything quantifiable can, within a reasonable margin of error, be demonstrated, with reference to measurements and numbers. But what do those measurements and numbers mean, on a human scale? People hungry for meaning often seem to end up turning to charlatans who exploit this hunger, because questions or uncertainty about what the quantifiable numbers and measurements mean for their lives is increasingly met with derision.

    You’re absolutely right, people need to be aware that the lure of certainty can lead them into untrustworthy territory – but I wonder whether there is more we can do to make that certainty less alluring. Perhaps people seeking to hold more trustworthy ground also sometimes need to be a little kinder, a little gentler, a little more flexible. This is a general reflection, not a pointed comment (I hope this is obvious!) but I’m thinking about the way the pandemic and our responses to it are playing out in national and social media, and there are lessons in it. In pagan terms, perhaps we meet this need with more openness about our uncertainties and the lifelong process of learning – there is plenty of that here, and in other blogs I follow, but in other spaces not so much.

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