Beverly Blanchard on 'experts'


Beating the Drum

Cult of the 'Expert'

By Beverly Blanchard
True North Perspective
Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.

What Makes an Expert?

The world is filled with them. They dispense their opinions. They make claims. They point us in the direction of how we should live our lives. They tell us what is good for us; what’s bad for us. They make predictions on the economy. They give us their stamp of approval. Yet, are they really the experts? What makes an expert?

I was at workshop a few weeks ago where the speaker was talking about how to write a good self-help book. He said something to the effect that once you write a book on a subject you are seen as an expert. I cringed when I heard him say it because I knew there was a lot of truth in what he was saying. In our world today, we place a lot of confidence and credence on superficial experts.

Watch any news broadcast. You have the entertainment experts, political experts, economic experts, health experts, weather experts and so on. And now we will go to our expert. The word expert is tossed around and bogusly applied. It would appear that some individuals are designated experts not because of knowledge but because they are crowned with the title of an expert. To make these experts more authentic, our news broadcasters engage in scripted dialogues. 

I found it quite humorous one day when I saw the traffic expert had now become the health expert on the news. I found it even more amusing when the health expert was reading a news release that I had read a few weeks earlier. Is it possible that to be an expert reporter all I have to do is read a press release?

The use of experts is not limited to our news broadcasts. All one has to do is watch a few commercials. Experts are commonly used in our commercials because it has been proven that people are more likely to purchase a product if it is recommended by an expert. That’s why years ago Trident chewing gum used the tag line, ‘four out of five dentists recommend trident gum’.  The only problem is most of the experts are actors, and most claims made by companies never really have to be proven. 

There are others who are recognized as experts simply because of the industry or sector they are employed. The problem with these experts is that sometimes they have a vested interest in manipulating the statistics and information they dispense. A real estate expert is never going to say the Canadian housing market is in a bubble or we are entering a downturn. A bank economist is never going to say that there are problems in the economy. Every word is tempered. Every word is chosen so that they aren’t exactly giving you the full picture.

What happens when two experts have conflicting views? Which one are you supposed to believe? A defence attorney’s expert will most likely say something different than the prosecutor’s expert. Each one is picked based on whose side they are perpetuating. We have the same problem in everyday information. Conflicting views are found everywhere. One day we’re told a glass of wine is good for us and the next day we are told the opposite.

Once information is dispensed our experts are never accountable for the content if they are proven to be wrong. We never hold any of these experts to their words or predictions. In addition, in many cases the myths that they may have disseminated continue to be believed as a truth. The experts said women needed to have mammograms and yet now we are told they caused more harm than good. How many women still believe in the usefulness of mammograms?

I wrote this article because every day we seem to be bombarded by expert opinions and studies.  What I have found over the years is that it is best to do my own research and to disregard the so-called experts. In a world with an abundance of information, we all have no excuse but to be vigilant about what we are told to believe.