Environ. Horticulture, Pears, Cherries, and Viticulture
University of California
Environ. Horticulture, Pears, Cherries, and Viticulture

The Death of Expertise?

A trend not unnoticed by many professionals in this country over the past decade or so has been an increasing mistrust of the advice of experts. Some of this has to do with a long standing suspicion towards people of professional classes like doctors, lawyers and scientists, but a lot more of it lately seems to have much to do with the easy availability of information of any kind from the Internet.

The linked article details the dwindling faith in this country of people who are experts:

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-02-13/how-america-lost-faith-expertise

I will make a few comments on this phenomenon as it does have some relevance to my work as a UCCE Farm Advisor. Say what you will, these are positions which for decades across California have been recognized by growers, academics and lay people as those of significant expertise gained over many years of formal education, research and observation. This is not a small thing, yet I too find a growing opposition and doubt to what I know and what I have to share.

More and more, I am confronted with a myriad of questions, either being pictures sent to my phone or questions concerning field problems that are then compared and contrasted to other sources on the Internet. Research conclusions which don't correspond to a personal conceit can quickly be countered with thousands of opinions from all over the world. To use the words of the linked article, normal, healthy skepticism has now metastasized through a  “ Google fueled, Wikipedia based, blog sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople…”, to an outright loss of faith in anything an expert lays claim to know. I am certainly not infallible and make errors like anybody else of course, but that  my information is being compared at the same level to some closeted individual pounding out stuff on his own without the education and experience is more than annoying - it's become disconcerting. 

The problem is of course that while one may access lots and lots of information through the use of the Internet, these answers or facts are not knowledge nor do they confer ability on their own. Knowing that Emmanuel Macron was elected the president of France, and after wards found his centrist political party also in majority of parliament, are indisputably facts, but still understanding the larger effect on the possible future of France and the European Union from this event takes a lot more than knowing this guy and his party got elected.  A yellowing plant is clearly dying, and a little bit of disease is found, and again these are all facts, but what is the fuller picture?  None of this sort of analysis can be done with the tap of a key, and will take background education, thought and at least some research to get right.  So, I'm betting that economic activity in the EU is turning a corner (and the bond markets there agree), and you might want to take a hard look at one of those mineral levels which isn't where it is supposed to be, and very likely predisposing your plants to disease. You'll find none of this on the Internet.

The fact of the matter is that the expertise and the actual research to understand the MEANING of obtained facts are difficult, requiring an ability to sort through information by knowing what is important and what is not, analyzing the balance and ultimately making the decision on how to apply it. People who depend simply on gathering a mass of facts in isolation to everything else are kidding themselves if they think that is all what is needed to find the solution to their problem.

People might want to come around and realize that the Internet is not the end all for authority on a given subject, and may want to grant more respect for what the expert in a field knows and in turn give him or her a fair hearing. In turn, the expert could do well by realizing that there are far more sources of information available these days, and today people are going to be invariably including these pieces of advice when making an observation or a decision.

Posted on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 5:03 AM
Tags: expertise (1)

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