Have we all had enough of experts?

Some experts are expert enough to be allowed to determine what the rules are. Well, someone has to.

David Rigby

Published: Updated:

Throughout my life, when I have been asked my opinion my response has often been: “I don’t have one.” Shocked, people would ask: “How can you have no opinion?” I would reply: “I don’t know enough to have an opinion. If I was interested enough, I’d find information then form one. How come you have an opinion yet you know nothing? What is your opinion based on? What makes you an expert?” End of conversation and friendship.

My father always said: “Don’t give me opinions, give me facts.” What was a fact to him? Whatever the Manchester Guardian said.

At least it was not the Daily Mail. British MP Michael Gove may be regretting becoming infamous for recently saying: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” What is an expert?

• as a consultant or teacher you are employed as the expert, so you are supposed to know more than anyone else in the room
• those on the football terraces shouting advice to players and discussing in the bar afterward
• those on TV discussing the football match
• the doctor with 20 years’ experience, but is no more likely to make a correct diagnosis than a fresh graduate
• the education expert promoting this month’s fad, or remembering how life was 20 years ago, who has never done a day’s teaching in his life, let alone to unruly deprived kids

Is that doctor’s 20 years’ experience really 20 years’ experience, or one year’s experience 20 times? Does this make him an expert?

How did the expert who has never played football become an expert on the sport? Is a professor with no practical experience an expert?

An expert is often someone who declares himself or herself to be an expert. They can have an enormous amount of self-belief. Research shows that women tend to feel they need to know much more than men to be an expert. That is one reason why there are more male experts than female. The former also have more opportunities. If you have to tell someone you are an expert, you are probably not one.

An expert can be anyone with knowledge or experience of a particular field or discipline beyond that to be expected of a layman.

Expertise, at any level, is relative. You know more than some and less than others. Physical expertise is something else. It can take 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at piano-playing, ice skating or cooking. However, just doing it for 10,000 hours is not enough - someone has to show you how, to give you feedback and guidance. It also probably takes some innate talent. Sometimes it is better that that person is not an expert - an expert may have that innate talent and have absolutely no idea why the student finds it so difficult.

An expert in judging requires a different skill - that of voicing an opinion. An expert has to know or decide what the standard is, be able to assess against that standard, and explain the assessment.

Some experts are expert enough to be allowed to determine what the rules are. Well, someone has to. Experts can selectively choose facts that support their opinion, then turn that opinion into a fact, then into a book, then they are an expert!

People like delegating responsibility to experts so they do not have to take responsibility themselves. The whole concept of democracy is to vote for someone to represent you. They are supposed to know more than you and make decisions on your behalf. However, the proletariat often have no idea whether that representative has any expertise, instead choosing based on media headlines or what their parents did in the past. Britons just voted with their hearts, not their heads, clearly demonstrating that the “people in this country have had enough of experts,” except for the experts in misleading the public with rhetoric.