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Why I (Generally) Trust the Experts

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.


  1. We are great at defending our own biases. Data needs to be interpreted, and it can be hard to nail down a "correct" interpretation. Sometimes people adopt a hyper-skepticism in an attempt to defend their mind that is made up. They consider a mere *possible* solution or interpretation that confirms their bias above the most *probable* solution or interpretation. And as the saying goes, the possibilities are endless. So there is always a *possibility* to help keep anyone established in whatever belief they may so choose. Once one decides to choose what is most *probable* based upon available evidence over a conjectured *possibility* then they will make more rational decisions.

    1. Great point, Chris. We are always unaware of our blind spots. Assuming that we don’t have any only reinforces our cognitive biases.

  2. Whether or not one has expertise in a field, there are countless examples of major errors made by experts. In the area of dietary guidelines, margarine containing trans fats was once recommended as a replacement for saturated fats, and trans fats were later shown to increase heart disease. Similarly, the call by experts to shift from fatty diets to grain diets has contributed to an obesity and diabetes epidemic. In the area of national security, multiple experts supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which is now generally considered to have been one of the most disastrous policy decisions in American history. While there are often advantages to following a practice or holding beliefs based on faith of one kind or another, there are in fact many instances in which a healthy skepticism would have been more appropriate.


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