Everyone’s an Expert

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, particularly about individual likes and dislikes. But not all opinions are of equal value. A doctor’s opinion about medical matters is far more likely to be correct than that of someone with a limited or no medical background. An environmental scientist’s views on global warming, by the same token, are far more likely to be correct than those of medical profession. The opinions of a professional singer with advanced studies and a professional career about music are more likely to be correct than that of someone with no formal musical training. Likewise, the collective and peer-reviewed views of the professionals in any given field are almost always going to be more accurate than those of non-professionals in those fields. This is one of the principal reasons why doctors, engineers, pilots, and many other professionals are licensed and regulated… because we don’t want unqualified people handling life and death measures, regardless of their personal convictions and opinions.

Now… we all have opinions, particularly in areas such as politics, music, theatre, art, the weather, as to what we like… and that’s fine. What’s not so fine is the ever-growing assumption that all opinions are of equal value, or that “likes” equate to validity or correctness. All opinions are not of equal value, and whether one likes something or believes it to be so does not translate automatically into excellence or validity. Add to that the assumption, particularly by “educated” individuals, that one’s opinions and beliefs outside one’s field or fields of expertise are equally valid or superior to the professionals in another field, and a society risks sewing the seeds of its own collapse, particularly in cases involving elected officials, such as Congress, who too often defer to popular opinion or their own unfounded biases.

And yet, no one seems to see it. The doctor who can see so clearly how the “everyone is wonderful” philosophy undermines medical excellence cheerfully and vociferously disputes years of research by thousands of climate scientists because he cannot believe what they report, yet he’d be outraged if those climate experts disputed key aspects of his medical practice. The engineer who understands the importance of accuracy and perfection in structure would be furious if a group of professional musicians pointed out non-existent weaknesses in his engineering, but sees nothing wrong with making blatant and incorrect assessments about professional musicians and singers. And of course, all the readers who make the thousands and thousands of misguided and incorrect statements about books — largely because they don’t like what the author did, rather than because the book was technically bad [not that there aren’t many, many, technically bad books, but those aren’t generally the ones these “reader reviewers” pan] — would be outraged if people made the same petty comments about their work.

The problem is that, in a society that has become almost totally consumer-oriented, such opinions guide politics and public policy. Education is no longer based on what works, but upon making students and parents feel good and upon the widely held opinion that “anyone can be anything he or she wants to be” [which is almost never true, rhetoric to the contrary]. Government has become more and more widely based on the opinion that someone else should pay for the programs, despite years of recommendations by economists and other professionals that a nation cannot continue to expand government programs without increasing taxation or cutting other programs. Even within fields such as the investment banking and securities business, executives with no expertise in complex financial systems, such as derivatives, thought they were experts and made decisions based on the popularity of short-term profits… leading to the resulting disaster.

Entertainment has become based more and more on strict popularity — what the majority wants — and factors such as the skill or performers, the excellence of scripts or music, have almost entirely vanished, although everyone cites excellence as the basis for their views, and that “excellence” is based on what they like, usually superficial appearance and/or crudity, and seldom are such likes based on an in-depth and studied expertise in the field. The same is true in athletics. Never in our history have there ever been so many Monday morning quarterbacks, and almost none of them have any experience on the professional level in the sports they criticize.

Everyone’s an expert, and fewer and fewer Americans are listening to those who truly are the experts — and yet they wonder why the problems are multiplying?