So, I saved this as an idea to blog about in April. Who should we be able to trust as “experts” in whatever field we need information? Here is the conundrum I start with:
We should most trust the people who are experts in their field. I am not an expert in teaching people who experts are. Ergo, I should not tell you who to trust as experts.
However, by saying that I am not an expert gives me a bit more credibility to tell you how to figure out how to trust someone’s expertise than someone on Facebook or YouTube who says I KNOW WHO THE EXPERTS ARE! TRUST THEM AND NO ONE ELSE!!!
I do know some things about mentoring though. I’m not an expert on mentoring, but I know people who are and I’ve written papers with them. So I approach telling you what I know about how to choose experts as a peer-mentor or perhaps even a step-ahead mentor (someone who is very much like you with a bit more knowledge/experience).
So here we go. Here is my checklist to determine if someone is trustworthy.
First, have they moved up the ladder in their own field? A professor is more of an expert than an undergraduate. The head of an agency should have more knowledge and broader understanding than a front-line employee. There are exceptions to both of those examples, but generally, those criteria are a good starting point. My example for clarification: a nurse on YouTube at an Open Up Rally in Raleigh is NOT more of an expert than Dr. Fauci.
Further, PhDs mean people specialize in particular aspects of their field. I am an Organizational Psychologist. I am not qualified to diagnose anyone on their mental health or illness even though I have a PhD in Psychology. If someone starts to overreach their area of training, you should be highly suspicious. Easy examples: Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, that woman in Plandemic. Experts will tell you when you’ve asked them for information outside of their expertise.
Money and Power
Does someone have something to gain from their position? Big red flags are if they get money or power if you believe what they say. There are several great examples and several ways to go deeper into this evaluation. The twins’ pulmonologist violated both the credentials and the money this week when he moved from talking about the twins’ susceptibility to COVID (they have “hypersecretious” asthma) to advocating that all kids should be in school and no businesses shut down so that we can develop herd immunity ASAP. “Old people are at the end of their lives anyway. People with underlying conditions are just going to die.”
Yeah, the Sweden model won’t really work in individualistic America. Also, we got into his private practice as new patients almost immediately. The twins haven’t been then in more than 3 years so they are “new. Clearly, he is not overly busy and he is probably not making the same salary he has been used to. They need more patients. Further, an MD in pulmonology NE (a PhD in public health or a PhD in Epidemiology). In layman’s terms: Stay in your lane, dude.
So the money thing requires some explanation. I hear LOTS of laypeople say you cannot trust a PhD who has been given grant money from a private or possibly public organization (like NIH or NSF). Here is why that is an erroneous argument. If I get funding from NSF, let’s say a $200,000 grant, MOST of that money goes to my institution (I think 46% or something like that? Some expert with more grants will let me know!). I would get one month’s salary in the summer for each year of the grant. For researchers who survive on “soft” money (i.e., grants), they would get more, but it never surpasses their annual salary (I believe) and most of the money (I believe) still goes to “overheard” and the institution. See how I’m using “I believe” to let you know what I KNOW and what I THINK so that you can evaluate my expertise?
I am MUCH more concerned about people who want you to believe what they have to say so that you will buy their book, watch their YouTube channel, attend their for-profit conference, come shop at their store, shop in general to increase their stock portfolio, or bring your sick kids to their office. Those folks are not getting a small addition to their annual salary: YOU ARE THEIR ANNUAL SALARY.
Further, just because someone gets a grant doesn’t mean their data is suspect. IF IT GOES THROUGH PEER REVIEW, it is evaluated exactly like non-funded research and possibly even more skeptically because researchers are supposed to acknowledge every single grant that funded their research. If it is NOT peer-reviewed, it’s bullshit. Blogs and books are not peer-reviewed. No skeptical eyes have evaluated whether what they are saying is methodologically valid and theoretically reasonable.
But don’t the real mavericks in a field get suppressed, especially by all those folks who have privately funded grants? Aren’t the researchers/PhDs/laypeople who go against the mainstream and say X IS TRUE suppressed by all the other researchers who say X IS WRONG or even Y IS TRUE?
No. Simply, no. If a researcher can build a stream of peer-reviewed research (so more than one study that could be just a statistical fluke) that challenges our current beliefs and says “BY JOVE, X IS TRUE NOT Y!!” they would become very, very famous. That’s how the Academy works.
So that’s my peer and possibly step-ahead mentoring for how to determine if someone is an expert. The key issues are Expertise and Money. There are obviously some exceptions and that’s why I’m not the expert on who is the expert. But for the most part, this is where you can start when you are trying to believe who to trust.
I am hoping to write about using the philosophy of science, epistemology, and ontology to understand How To Science: Understanding Specific Studies in a future blog soon.
And because all blogs should have a picture now so social media pays attention, here is an expert we should pay attention to.