I'm no expert, but apparently a lot of people are. The planet is erupting with experts professing to know heaps about a subject. We have marketing experts, medicinal cannabis experts, travel experts, dog experts, cheese experts, building experts…an infinite supply of specialists and savants happy to proffer their prowess for fame, fortune, or because they're drunk on the non-GMO soy milk of human kindness.
Cambridge English dictionary defines an expert as "a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject or activity."
I recently got an email from someone who signs off with the phrase, "human behaviour expert." This person isn't a clinical psychologist, certified therapist or anything remotely similar, like a parent. As far as I can tell, the alleged expert gleaned knowledge from attending seminars where other "experts" claim to instruct people on the art and science of using quantum physics to bring more wealth into their lives. The gist is you can create your own reality by being in a good mood and asking the universe for what you want. Let me try: Hey Universe. I'm happy today. Can I have a million dollars?
I'll let you know what happens.
Experts in a theory called the Law of Attraction encourage people to take an in-depth look at how beliefs affect the quantum field. It sounds feel-good, fuzzy and vaguely scientific. It probably can't hurt, but most scientists will tell you it's bunk. Where are the peer-reviewed, double-blind clinical trials? Focussing on what you want - fantastic. Throwing around words like quantum physics (assuming you're not a physicist) to sound smart - foolish.
Part of the problem lies in the proliferation of marketeers on social media and 24-hour news outlets, where opinion masquerades as fact. If we're truly living in a post-fact era, everyone can be an expert because everyone has an opinion. And you know the saying about opinions: they're like unmentionable-in-this-publication nether regions - everyone has one, but they think each others stink.
We're entitled to beliefs, but when someone tries to profit from a hunch while touting dubious expertise, I get twitchy. "Buy my system and get wealthy;" "Use this supplement and get healthy…" Some pitches can hurt us when we sink money into someone else's unproven, risky scheme. A couple of years ago, a friend with stage 4 cancer paid for what was essentially bleach water because a New Zealand celebrity promoted the elixir as cure. Neither my friend nor the celeb was cured of cancer, and I'm told the drink tasted vile, like poison.
Thanks to the globalised decentralisation of information (and misinformation), we're free to peddle our wares and express ourselves however we like. But you know the caveat - if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
The website Livescience, as far back as a decade ago, warned against a growing distrust of scientific expertise in favour of people who were "experts" based on their reading of journal articles and websites. These are the same people who continue to claim vaccines cause autism, despite decades of human experience and scientific evidence to the contrary. Scientists will be first to admit their work carries uncertainty, but I'll take the consensus of a body of professionals whose life work is trial, error, calculation and questioning versus someone who paid to attend a couple of workshops and the bulk of whose knowledge derives from Facebook.
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Even bona fide professionals fall down the sales rabbit hole. I recently saw a video of an American cardiologist touting a supplement he claimed could counteract inflammation in the body and therefore could protect against heart disease, cancer, liver disease, Parkinson's, effects of ageing and could probably fix your toilet, too. He failed to disclose on camera whether he had a financial stake in the supplement. I suspect he does. If it walks and talks like a duck, well, you know...QUACK.
I've relied most of my adult life on experts for my work in journalism. Countless times, I've called PhDs, GPs, accountants, attorneys, financial advisors, psychologists, etc…, for explanation and comment on a story. In most cases, these professionals have trained at accredited universities or schools to get the paper saying they've studied enough of their chosen field to merit new initials before or after their names. They've also spent years honing their craft.
But the certificate, degree or other piece of paper is no guarantee of authenticity or value. Late last year, A New Zealand woman was jailed in the UK after providing fake qualifications to work as a doctor for more than two decades. A fake Waikato psychiatrist in 2017 was sentenced to more than four years in prison for deception and forgery.
Most unproven experts aren't outright frauds, but rather, trying to prove they have a special skill you might need. A skill they want you to pay for.
Ask questions before believing or hiring an expert: where did they acquire their knowledge? Are they respected by peers or clients? Did someone you trust refer you? Is the expert over-reaching when they tout qualifications (i.e, do they have credentials you can verify, or did they complete a single online tutorial?).
Also, beware claims of "bestselling author" on Amazon. Anyone who hits a target within a certain nanosecond in an obscure category (there are more than 10,000) can claim that title - and many do. One writer says becoming a "bestselling" author cost him $3 and five minutes. He uploaded a photo of his foot to Amazon and in hours, had "No 1 Best Seller" status, complete with orange banner.
Imagine if the next wave of communication involved humility rather than puffery. Instead of "bestselling author and human behaviour expert," an email signature might contain years of schooling finished, verifiable credentials, volunteer hours worked or maybe - just a name.
I'm no expert, but I think it could catch on.