Sometimes I come across people whose views could best be described as contrarian. It seems as though they view themselves as slightly more enlightened than average and able to see through the many errors in society. Touting examples that show “the majority is not always right,” they seem to believe that being in a minority position somehow enhances their chances at being right.
This intellectual “anti-establishment” mentality is much more common than I’d like to admit. Our ongoing conversation as an American public regarding the safety and benefit of immunizations is a prime example. Large groups of people somehow feel that their doctor and the entire medical establishment are wrong to continue to demand these shots. These people believe that the risks are underrepresented and the benefit of immunization is exaggerated.
Contradicting “the experts” may give us a tremendous ego rush and sense of autonomy. And it is easy to give examples of expert opinions that are now disproven. However, here are several reasons why I generally trust the experts.
· Professional expertise on a subject is not easy to obtain. It normally requires that a person to be motivated, intelligent, and passionate about the field in general. Therefore, experts normally love the field that they have studied and understand it well.
· In the sciences, the pressure to innovate and discover would overwhelm any effort to purposely not disclose important information. Overthrowing a widely held theory is the dream of many researchers.
· A lack of training in research methodology can cause a layperson to be very susceptible to incorrect conclusions. It often takes specialized training to be able to weed out concomitant factors and avoid “post hoc” conclusions.
· Most individuals that I know who doubt “the experts” in general are actually not experts themselves in anything. My casual observation has been that experts in one field are far more likely to trust experts in another field than the average person with no expertise at all.
I am not unwilling to hold a minority position, and in a few areas I do. However, I lack expertise in all but a few fields. As a result, when it comes to medicine, history, counseling, archaeology, or masonry, I always begin by trying to learn from the experts. Not outthink them.