I was drinking my black coffee next to the river Whey in the rainy – as always – Guildford together with a very good friend. Somehow our discussion went on smartphones and she without having any experience had tried to transfer her contacts from the old phone to her new smartphone. So she had gone to a store where the employee “gave it a shot” to transfer them with the memory stick. The result was that the smartphone 3 days later was still importing! At the same time the employee had found out that the old phone could not transfer the contacts to the sim card. Both problems were solved by me both resetting them. Afterwards I did the simple things that most of you know to transfer the contacts from the old phone to the sim card and then to the smartphone. She was surprised although I did not find it as something important that had taken place.
I replied in a funny tone: “We are somehow the guys that come through the shadows and find the hidden thing the light couldn’t display”. Of course this was a joke but it reveals some truths. I am definitely not an expert in smartphones and not even a very good one in them. I just acquire some basic knowledge to set up and use effectively my phone. However, the guy that was supposed to solve that kind of issues like a piece of cake failed. And this happens in everyday life. People find it strange because the trust we have on authority is both unconscious and brainwashed to us and most of the times definitely not rational. More explanation on the subject can be found for instance in dr. Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence”. The very famous Milgram Experiment, also, was studying this principle.
Our minds have the tendency to come to quick conclusions so when someone is proposed to be an expert in a sector (wears a doctor uniform, shows a degree or even wears a police uniform) we unconsciously show more trust to him. Whatever he talks about his sector must be correct most of the times. We even base our opinions about several issues only to the fact that the authority said that. Remember this works many times unconsciously and we are unable to always be recognising it.
But how deep the rabbit hole goes with Expertise?
In the year 2000 the Journal of the American Medical Association carried a study by Dr. Barbara Starfield (John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health) that put iatrogenic (Medical definition: induced by a physician’s words or therapy (used especially of a complication resulting from treatment)) deaths in America at the astounding number of 225,000 per year! This was the 3rd leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease! And this number didn’t include deaths in nursing homes, emergency rooms, or in doctor’s offices but only hospitalized patients. Also, it didn’t include negative effects that are associated with disability or discomfort.
Of course in our lives normally we don’t take something like this into account: As an example, I have to do this exercise because the physiotherapist said that so it will fix my injury. Have you ever wondered what academic education is? Every institution has its program of subjects that decides to follow. Are you sure that this provides enough knowledge? How frequently is it updated and how many of the scientific facts that come to light are taken into account? Let’s look seriously at ourselves and find out which percentage of the things we were taught in our Universities were practically understood by us and we have a thorough and serious knowledge about them. Look out for alternative sources of research. I was studying a Masters in Economics and at the same time I was reading the book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and & Stephen J. Dubner, for instance. Levitt is also an economist but his perceptions were totally different but much more convincing. These men stood and thought that economics are psychology, too. And last few decades’ understandings are that agents cannot be accepted as rational. This changes the whole perception of this science and these men weren’t the first to talk about these things. You can read the book those of you who are in Economics if you haven’t done already. It is quite insightful about this science. It is also interesting as a reading for everyone outside. There is also a documentary based on the book.
So it’s clear that in order someone to be successful in his sector has to always be updating his knowledge. Imagine now that several people that we treat them as experts may have finished their university studies like many of us, having acquired or been able to remember a percentage of the knowledge and that’s all. They typically have the degree but in practice they are not so skilful in their job and this means that they should not be treated as that by no means they are right. My father has gone to more than ten supposed to be great doctors and physiotherapists and no one was able to find a solution to an injury on his lower back. Another friend wanted to use an authorised version of SPSS. When she went to our university’s IT department, two different employees were sure that was a matter of hard disk space and an IT masters student didn’t want to take the responsibility because of the errors he came across during the installation. When she mentioned to me, I solved it in 10 minutes. By – guess what – googling it! The VAIO laptops seemed to face issues with SPSS and if I remember well it needed to download and copy a file to a specific directory, in the registry. It wasn’t that I was smarter, my approach just came from a different mentality. Life does not work linearly. The more you study does not always mean the more effective you are. You must use your brain to maximise results.
At the same time there exist people, scientists or not that through personal researching, practising the knowledge, combining different sources and using self experimentation have come to important findings. These are the outliers. The guys that do not follow common “knowledge”, they experiment on alternative factors as reasons compared to popular science. These people sometimes are famous but most of them are unknown. And how couldn’t they be? They do not “sell”. They are treated as enemies from the dominating system of “ideas” call it science, call it church, call it government. Only a few of them become popular, the system throws dust to our eyes, trying to convince us about its objectivity. We have to look out for them ourselves and not wait for the advertisements… And of course pick what is useful.
And all the above should not of course be seen as a blame to every specific expert but the opposite. Many have spent decades in serious research and experience and fortunately they exist to show us directions. We should not cross the border and go to the opposite side. This is a common mistake. Many people by trying to be “critical” over criticize everything or everyone even if they have extra-limited experience on the subject. Of course this is even worse than not questioning authority. The reason being, that this approach means you do not accept any advice at all so you remain the same when the others at least picked an advice and are predisposed to make a change in themselves.
The point I want to make is in simple words that we have to accept nothing before criticizing it by ourselves. Same with the things we already know. Even if the Pope says! Even if we are proven wrong later at least we would know that we had made a rational choice and learn from it.