In education there is a lot of resistance to “experts” because they tend to come in waves that look more like fads. Thus the meme I’m using here.
On the other hand, there is incredible anger in some parts of the medical community about anti-vaccine and Covid deniers. https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/07/06/appalachian-covid-deniers-nurses-virginia/?fbclid=IwAR1hqYUNCEODZETRg1NkA2DAHKYpMJ2jDKdsQMoW_ltl2ZAhTWTDOhvm8dE
What in your mind draws the line between a fad masquerading as expert opinion and real expertise?
- How does that affect the way you approach advice from church leaders* and others?
- How do you decide who is an expert and what they are an expert in?**
- Have you ever dealt with an expert who changed their mind dramatically?***
- Have you ever been an expert who was ignored?
- Have you ever ignored an expert and been right?
- What do we learn from the tragedies that were caused by ignoring experts?
- Do we need more or fewer experts?
- Would experts convince you Bigfoot exists?
*”church leaders” running the gamut from the local deacons quorum president who is certain they have the solution to inflation to an apostle testifying of the love of Christ.
**thinking of the Nobel prize winner who endorsed vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antihistamine that treats the symptom of congestion, rather than a cure or preventative. Movie actors were too easy to use for an example.
*** Hugh Nibley was well known for insisting that of course he changed his mind on things, he was constantly learning. Though Brigham Young’s sermon on how he was probably wrong is also a classic.
– What in your mind draws the line between a fad masquerading as expert opinion and real expertise?
Real expertise is often developed through a collaboration of experts. Real experts are willing to change their mind when the evidence leads them in a different direction. Real experts are humble enough to recognize when they don’t have all the answers.
– How does that affect the way you approach advice from church leaders* and others?
I recognize some church leaders have greater knowledge and experience in some fields than others. E.g. while I may not always agree with how President Oaks interprets the constitution, I recognize he is an expert in interpreting the constitution.
– How do you decide who is an expert and what they are an expert in?**
Training, education, experience in a field of study and a demonstrated track record of applying their expertise successfully for the benefit of others.
-Have you ever dealt with an expert who changed their mind dramatically?***
– Have you ever been an expert who was ignored?
Yes, although it was a good thing I was ignored because I was relying on fault data at the time. Once I have better data to work with I changed my opinion on the matter.
– Have you ever ignored an expert and been right?
I don’t ignore experts, but if something doesn’t seem right I seek out the thought and opinions of other experts to get a broader perspective.
– What do we learn from the tragedies that were caused by ignoring experts?
We learn that when most people really don’t want to do something, you can’t persuade them through reason and evidence.
– Do we need more or fewer experts?
More of course! Wouldn’t it be great if we were experts in a handful of areas. We could enrich each other’s lives so much more.
The problem with experts is that they can be weaponized. We’re still trying to undo the damage caused by Andrew Wakefield—a surgeon and published academic whose thoroughly-debunked research linking vaccines and autism has been used to convince a shocking number of people to avoid life-saving vaccines. And then there’s the occasional case of a PAC buying off an “expert” to talk about why climate change isn’t real or why an abundance of guns leads to a safer nation. One well-credentialed quack cited as a credible source is all it takes for a blog post full of misinformation to explode in social media echo chambers and before you know it your uncle is trying to convince you that the covid vaccines are toxic to the human body.
I wish our society had a better base line of scientific literacy so the average person could tell the difference between one bad study and the consensus of the scientific community—or the difference between sound and faulty methodology in a published study—or even just the process of peer review. In short: individual expertise is good but not always trustworthy. Collective expertise generally fares better.
As for the question of taking advice from church leaders, that’s a whole different animal. Church leaders, most of the time, aren’t experts in any field relating to their actual church duties or pronouncements. Imagine what the church would look like if the Q15 were populated with legitimate historians, social scientists, developmental psychologists, and the like, rather than lawyers and business executives.
Yes, experts can be helpful and informative. There is a substantial body of knowledge and technique in any field that is common to all experts.
But remember what one President said (I think it was Jimmy Carter): On any important and disputed issue or policy, there will be experts on both sides of the issue.
My current bishop is a boomer with 4 adult children, all of whom have left the Church. I try not to judge him for that, but I was doing a lot of eye rolling during his recent 5th Sunday lesson about “raising kids in righteousness”, which he taught while projecting the authority of an expert, which he clearly is not.
I recognize that Oaks has significant street cred as a jurist, but he has been retired from the practice of law and legal scholarship for over 35 years. He has since been in full-time Church service, in a calling that gives him the authority to proclaim the mind and will of God to the world, and thus has a very limited worldview. His most recent conference talk reflects that hubris and limited patterns of thought. You could say that he has successfully undermined his own expertise.
By contrast, Pres. Nelson, a retired heart surgeon, squandered the opportunity to speak authoritatively about mask wearing, vaccines and other public health measures during the pandemic. The Church’s overall response was reactionary and uneven. There is still a not-insignificant portion of Church members who are anti-vaxxers. He could have spoken out, sooner and more forcefully, as both a prophet and a medical expert, and helped guide us past all the politicization of the crisis and gotten us closer to herd immunity. Opportunity lost.
I used to believe that the higher up a leader was in Church leadership, the more expertise he was in terms of doctrine and theology (and yes, the more spiritual he was). What I’ve since observed is that there’s probably a baseline of expertise needed to be a Stake President and certainly to be a GA. But the most important characteristic for those positions is not knowledge or expertise, it’s loyalty to the institution.
We can debate whether loyalty to the COJCOLDS is good or bad. But let’s recognize what it is: the key to rising up in this organization. Knowledge and expertise is secondary. Therefore, keep that in mind when you ask Church leaders difficult questions.
josh h: In an organizational culture where loyalty to hierarchy is the most valued thing, expertise is quashed entirely. Being an expert is being “uppity” or thinking you know better than the buffoon who just happens to outrank you, and that’s *disloyalty.* Oaks says “there is no loyal opposition” in the Church. That means there are only yes men and women, and that expertise is a thing to be suspected and marginalized. It’s inevitable. The trust is strictly in the arm of flesh according to the hierarchy. Thank God they are having briefings on topics in private where their lack of expertise can be kept private to educate them, but unfortunately, when your every stray notion is deemed revelation from God that is binding to everyone, it’s nearly impossible not to get intoxicated with your own Dunning-Kreuger level expertise.
Without question, experts can convey valuable information. Whether it be in the fields or religion, medicine, or general science, expert opinion is critical to informed decision making.
The unfortunate thing is that, as pointed out in the above comments, the vast hordes of the general public do not have the education, training, or experience needed to properly evaluate expert opinions. The vast hordes would rather sit around in their sweatpants and crocs playing violent video games and watching hot dog eating contests on television than they would ever want to read a book or a newspaper. How could these people really make informed decisions?
To solve the problems mentioned above, we must return the public schools to the policy of expecting excellence. We must get rid of the current egalitarian view that lowers expectations to the level of the lowest common denominator so that no student will feel bad for getting a lower score than another.
The irrefutable fact is that this post is correct insofar as it infers that American learning is in the middle of a crisis. The way out is clear. The only question is whether society will have the courage to follow the correct path.
Mr. Charity: I noticed last week on ESPN.com that there was a feature on some national hotdog eating contest. I’m not kidding. And I have to tell you: you were the first person I thought of.
Angela C: “In an organizational culture where loyalty to hierarchy is the most valued thing, expertise is quashed entirely.” This, this this. Real expertise isn’t that hard to spot. Do the people in question have the appropriate/relevant degrees and experience? What is their reputation in their field? Do they employ the appropriate methodologies as established by their field? What, where and how much have they published and/or presented in their field? It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between experts and crackpots. One of the things that I noticed in the Trump administration is that many people in positions of power didn’t actually have the experience and expertise those positions demanded. Same thing anywhere, really. As Angela C points out, predetermined beliefs and an obsessive and wrong-headed belief only in people who tell you what you already believe is the way to squash credibility and expertise. This is especially evident in the case of COVID. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are simply, absurdly, and dangerously wrong. They are suspicious, ironically and tragically, of the very things (science/medical technology) that could save most of them. I’ve never seen anything like what we’re experiencing now as long as I have lived and it’s clear that a big reason it’s happening is because many people are much more likely to embrace the insidious wrongheadedness of the echo chamber rather than accept obvious truths that might threaten their incorrect and fear-based worldview.
We see this in the church all of the time as well. We’ve got this really odd thing where our leaders don’t want to cede any of their authority or credibility by really just turning everything over to the experts, but most of the leadership has to know, somewhere deep down inside, that a lot of church policies based on “revelation” rather than sound logic, science, etc., are simply wrong and harmful. That’s a really difficult (impossible, IMHO) line to walk. It’s too bad they don’t have the moral courage required to simply admit wrongdoing and pledge to do better while giving actual experts in various field the pulpit when necessary. I think the approach that church leaders currently take actively harms people.
JCS quote:” The vast hordes would rather sit around in their sweatpants and crocs playing violent video games and watching hot dog eating contests on television than they would ever want to read a book or a newspaper. How could these people really make informed decisions?”
Well, if I needed some advise on which violent video games to buy, thoughts on current trend in Crocs fashion, and tips on who to bet on at the local hot dog eating contest, it sounds like there are a lot of experts to turn to.
What do you do when you’ve preached personal revelation, especially as it relates to the priesthood, to the membership? Many have very strong opinions on things about which they know nothing simply because they think God or the Holy Ghost speaks to them. I suspect that if we assembled actual data on the efficacy of inspiration, God is more often wrong than right.
I highly value expert research and findings. What I fear most is not an expert or a group of experts being wrong. It is a culture of anti-intellectualism emerging and gaining strength in the US and particularly among conservatives. On coronavirus, individual experts got things wrong from time to time. This was to be expected. But the main ideas and fears were always right. Too frequently people dismiss an expert over minor mistakes, and then use this as an excuse to dismiss anything and everything the body of experts has to say. This is the classic baby and bathwater fallacy. It is a dangerous fallacy and one that is corroding the fabric of our society. It is a fallacy that the conspiracy theorists thrive on. And now we have the conspiracists beginning to takeover one of the dominant ideologies in the US: conservatism. Alex Jones, a dangerous terrorist-supporting, and terrorism promoting pathological liar, is now regularly quoted and praised in right-wing circles.
I stand with real experts who spend their lives researching and defending their arguments. They are heroes waging war on dangerous lunacy taking over too many people’s minds.
I’ll amend my comment above that our church leaders don’t have expertise related to their duties and pronouncements. That’s not true. They do have tons of expertise in managing large organizations, managing corporate finances, executing lucrative investment strategies, and in codifying rules and norms. So, inasmuch as those are the goals of church leadership, they’re doing a fantastic job.
On the other hand, inasmuch as a church should be a place of spiritual nourishment, a safe haven for the marginalized, a role model for loving our neighbors, and a source of wisdom for helping people with complex personal and social problems, they’re basically flying blind.
True and valuable expertise is leavened with humility.
Just a very trivial example. The Church’s main Family History Library in downtown SL is open again. I have made two trips there to crack my head against German church records written in a very bad cursive Gothic script, known as Fraktur. Not for the faint of heart. I received good help from two FHL staff: one, a highly-credentialed, paid-staff German genealogist with a PhD in early German handwriting. He was quite helpful.
But he was not as good as an elderly volunteer lady who candidly stated that she had no academic credentials, and didn’t even speak the language well. But she relied on her decades of practical experience in tracing her own German ancestry, and solved my own puzzle 100 percent.
Don’t get me wrong. We need experts. But even experts need to be peer-reviewed, and do better work when they have a sense of humility.
To put that in a church context, I believe SWK received his 1978 revelation because he had a humility unusual among church leaders. His mind was much more open.
For instance, the experts (who conduct research via the scientific method) say that coffee and green tea are strongly health-positive while Diet Coke is not only empty of calories and nutrients but contains compounds that when consumed in large amounts may prove harmful. Nonetheless we are advised to avoid the former while permitted to guzzle the latter in prodigious quantities.
On coffee this is worth reading:
Thank you, thank you, and thank you!
I just had the most laughter in years. (May be effect of prolonged covid quarantine and no international travel past 2 yrs.)
After reading josh, and JLM response blogs of our infamous friend JCS …and the rants of hotdogs and crocs. It just unexpectantly hit me…….. laughter and more laughter, to tears of pure joy. I still have a smile on my face and continue to chuckle. I am pleased to know i can read a blog to uplift my spirit and not feel contention. JCS gracias for your contribution.
“Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.”
Well worth the read.
TM— thank you for the thoughts about the family history library.
Faith—glad you smiled.
Kirkstall—what I’m hearing is that you don’t find church leaders very pastoral.
More literacy would be good as well.
Brother Sky—I’m not sure I see it that way.
Angela—that is an important perspective.
Josh—that is a completely different post. Unfortunately I lack any personal knowledge there.
Jack—I missed the talk when given, but listened to it by downloading it. Oaks hedges and qualifies what he says about constitutions. His limits almost swallow his talk. I was quite surprised by that.
Dave—that is the whole problem with education experts.
JLM—nice comments. Thank you.
“Coffee lovers around the world who reach for their favorite morning brew probably aren’t thinking about its health benefits or risks. And yet this beverage has been subject to a long history of debate. In 1991 coffee was included in a list of possible carcinogens by the World Health Organization. By 2016 it was exonerated, as research found that the beverage was not associated with an increased risk of cancer; on the contrary, there was a decreased risk of certain cancers among those who drink coffee regularly once smoking history was properly accounted for. Additional accumulating research suggests that when consumed in moderation, coffee can be considered a healthy beverage. Why then in 2018 did one U.S. state pass legislation that coffee must bear a cancer warning label? Read on to explore the complexities of coffee.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.”
The Nutrition Source
“Have you ever ignored an expert and been right?”
Time will only tell. So many have already brought up Covid. I have tried so, so hard to check any selfish motivations I might have at the door. Two weeks into the lockdown I realized if I really cared about how science improves humanity I probably should not limit my data to epidemiology alone. I’ve looked at experts from so many scientific fields during this pandemic. After 15 months, I’ve come to the conclusion that a compelling case could be made that for all but the most at risk and their primary caregivers, wearing a mask could be criminalized. The libertarian in me would never want that to happen though. I feel like we’re a group of swimmers actively checking the sonar for sharks so we can let other swimmers know about the state of the water, while we ignore the nearby sirens signaling water rapidly being polluted by the nuclear reactor melting down.
I sometimes question whether most people follow experts for its own sake, or more for the comforting feeling they seem to get that they must be doing something right by doing so. I realize the latter is a description that can be given to many active members of the Church. Although I don’t think that exactly fits me, I do give Church leaders “expert” status in the sense that I feel closer to Christ and have become more spiritually self-reliant, in part from their counsel.
“Would experts convince you Bigfoot exists?”
As a fan of cryptozoology, I couldn’t resist. I try to remain skeptical, but I do think there is enough evidence out there to support the likelihood that a small population of North American apes exists. There are even one or two PhDs out there who have put their jobs on the line to state that the likelihood is high, though they are scientifically sound enough to admit there is no conclusive proof as of yet. Other PhDs who scoff at the idea have not convinced me they have put the time and energy in to give themselves “expert” status in all cases. One Bigfoot researcher made a point that has universal application, which I think could be summarized as follows: “If party A make astounding Claim A, which is understandably deserving of scrutiny, skepticism, and analysis, and party B comes along with Claim B, which supposedly disproves Claim A, shouldn’t we give Party B and Claim B the same amount of scrutiny, skepticism, and analysis we gave Party A and Claim A?” It would be easy to say no, but it really is a double standard if you think about it. It’s one the anti-mormon crowd is often guilty of.
While scanning through the Church News app this week, I saw a common element: “the Lord’s way”, “God given”, etc. applied to a number of things. E.g. an article on church councils – “counseling in the Lord’s way”. BTW – the goal of unity was heavily emphasized as the only valid outcome.
When the GA bothers to cite documentation for the “Lord’s way” it is often a flimsy proof text. I get the feeling that, as a body, they feel like they have Pharaoh’s ring and that they being the one to declare it “God’s way”, makes it so.
I would personally find it refreshing to receive good advice that is not delivered with the weight of God-given authority. Strict compliance is expected – and when it is later modified, strict compliance to the new thing is again demanded. While that would certainly be more chill, it would not reinforce the self-serving authoritarian compliance we have come to expect.
Not sure about Big Foot, but the thought that Bill Gates is tracking me makes me somehow feel warm and safe.
Eli, thanks for your commentary.
When it comes to experts, there is nothing wrong with a little skepticism. Think about nutrition. Eggs are good for you, they are not good for you. It depends on the “latest” study. How many fad diets are out there? Each endorsed by MDs and/or PhDs. Is coffee good for you or not? It’s obvious that caffeine is not an issue for the Church. So why the problem? My father was a biochemist/nutritionist. His advice: moderation in all things. Sounds good to me.
However, the vast major of legitimate scientists believe that global warming is a real and present problem, and much of it is human caused. The skeptics are few, and some (not all) are quacks (think Trump and allies). It’s clearly time for world leaders and businesses to take action. And Church leaders. Pope Francis has already spoken out.
As for big foot, I’m a skeptic. And it’s not an interesting issue. How about UFOs?
Sorry bigfoot believers, but I’ve prayed about it and they don’t exist.
I have a Ph.D. in a hard science, so maybe I should have more faith in experts. I find, however, that true experts don’t need to demand “faith”, they are able to demonstrate and teach why their conclusions are good. There seems to be a cult of science declaring that “Science Says” therefore you must act the way we direct or else you are a rube/denier/etc. That completely negates agency and free-thinking of individuals. I strongly support the rights and freedoms to pick and choose which experts one would like to follow.
For instance, in the case of vaccines, somehow the discussion of vaccination has been equated to a false paradigm of for/against vaccination as if all vaccines are the same. This oversimplification just leads to name-calling and shaming in both directions. Instead, a clear statement of risks and benefits for each vaccine can be delivered and evaluated. Each individual can then weigh their risks and make a decision for themselves. When we brush off concerns and ignore hesitancy, science fails. Science is based on skepticism and questioning, not accepting the common interpretation. One need not look too far to see examples of “crackpots” becoming the accepted interpretation in a relatively short period of time. (Darwin, Big-Bang, Plate Tectonics, etc.)
Then there’s this interesting summary of recent studies into the reliability of scientific studies:
My take-away is to not conflate science with advocacy. Science is neutral with respect to recommendations. When solutions or actions are proposed, it is no longer science, but rather advocacy. The conflation of the two is both intentional and dangerous.
Sqiuid said “. One need not look too far to see examples of “crackpots” becoming the accepted interpretation in a relatively short period of time. (Darwin, Big-Bang, Plate Tectonics, etc.)”
Wait! I’m confused. Are you saying Darwinian evolution, big-bang theory and plate tectonics are “crackpot” theories? All three have been validated and refined through decades of experiments and research. Yes, incorrect ideas are regularly proposed by scientists (e.g. eugenics, phrenology, cold fusion) but they tend not to last very long when the data fails to back up the claims. Evolution, the big bang and plate tectonics all have volumes and volumes of supporting data from thousands of scientists.
@JLM, sorry for the confusion. My point was that all three theories were seen as “way out there” by significant portions of the scientific community upon being introduced. All three are now accepted as the mainstream scientific communities. The point is that lots of “crackpots” become accepted as mainstream theories over time. I mentioned the 3 examples for precisely the same reasons you did: Evolution, the big bang and plate tectonics all have volumes and volumes of supporting data from thousands of scientists.”
Got it. Thanks for the clarification.
My life experience (maybe sadly – maybe not) has most definitely taught me to instinctively distrust everyone; particularly self-proclaimed “experts” of any kind. I’ve found (after more than sixty years of life) that doubt, critical and furious skepticism and careful personal study and judgement have served me much, much better than inherently granting my faith and trust to anyone; regardless of “so called” station.