Who is "an expert"? How do we assess expertise? In the face of conflicting information, how do we decide what to believe? This piece by a bioethicist walks readers through these questions:
"We rarely hesitate to hire a car mechanic, accountant, carpenter, and so on, when we need them. Even if some of us could do parts of their jobs passably well, these experts have specialized training that gives them an important advantage over us: They can do it faster, and they are less likely to get it wrong. ... Part of what makes identifying and trusting experts so hard is that not all expertise is alike. Different experts have differing degrees of authority. ... A further complication is that ... [s]ome types of expertise are closer to what philosopher Thi Nguyen calls our 'cognitive mainland.' This mainland refers to the world that novices are familiar with, the language they can make sense of. For example, most novices understand enough about what landscape designers do to assess their competence. ... Even if they don’t know much about horticulture, they know whether a yard looks nice. But expertise varies in how close to us it is. ... The farther out an expert domain is from a novice’s mainland, the more likely they are on what Nguyen calls a 'cognitive island,' isolated from resources that would let novices make sense of their abilities and authority. ... The work required to find and assess experts is not elegant. But neither is the world this pandemic is creating. And understanding how expertise works can help us cultivate a set of beliefs that, if not elegant, is at least more responsible."
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