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Through the shadows a mysterious figure appears and approaches you quickly, ready to present you with a gift that on the surface appears quite valuable: expertise.

You hesitate. Is this figure truly an expert? If so, what does this gift of expertise mean? This you must decide quickly before time runs out…

The Expert Code

It seems that everywhere we turn these days experts are popping up with their gifts of expertise, telling us what to do about health. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of health. Abound with all their knowledge and desire to help, these experts shape the way we think about health and wellness. Fitness experts, nutrition experts, doctors, researchers and other medical professionals are relied upon for answers and guidance. But are they experts and is all their expertise any good? What is an “expert” really mean and should we take what they say as the truth? Since most of us value or health and wellbeing, deciphering expertise from opinion is very important.

The next time you come across an expert, whether in a book, TV commercial, PBS video presentation, the local news, an article on the Internet or any number of other places, before you take any of their expertise for truth use the following 5 questions to help crack the Expert Code:

1. Who decided this person was an expert?
2. What exactly are they an expert in?
3. What qualifies them as an expert in that field?
4. Does their expertise mean they have the answers to the relevant topic?
5. Does this expert(ise) even matter when it comes to your health?

There are some very genuine experts in this world and we all benefit from their work and contributions but experts shouldn’t get a free pass from critique when it comes to your health. No expert or his/her expertise means much of anything until you’ve regarded and critiqued them and their message. These 5 questions will help you sort through much of the information overload we are barraged with these days. In essence, we all need to rethink how we decode experts and their advice.

Rethinking “Experts”

Before we get to the 5 questions that help decode experts, it makes sense to take a step back…

What Is An Expert?
Let’s look at the definition of Expert:

ex·pert
ˈekˌspərt/
noun
1. a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
“experts in child development”
synonyms: specialist, authority, pundit

Someone labeled, termed, branded, licensed or called an expert means they are thought to “know it all” about a certain topic. But what compromises “comprehensive and authoritative” knowledge? How do we know that their knowledge is indeed comprehensive? In this world of evolving knowledge, how do we know that what they are an authority on is even true or, if they learned it 10-30 years ago, is true anymore? Knowing everything about faulty information sinply makes you an expert in false information. Defining an expert and expertise is very difficult so we need to be careful at how liberally we use or accept the use of that term. Now let’s break down the Expert Code…

Decoding Experts

To best determine if the expert in front of you is worthy of your time and attention as an authority in a particular area it is critical you crack the expert code. These 5 levels of critique will help you decide what to do with the expertise they are proclaiming.

1. Who decided this person was an expert?

Important but often a slippery concept to get a grasp of is where their label of expert came from. Most experts are either self appointed or have simply been called one by someone or something (organization) who thinks they are an authority on a subject. Often expertise is labeled as a result of experience, research, publication and/or speaking about a topic. All it takes is for someone (and it often doesn’t matter who) to call a person an expert and they can and will wear that title for life.

If you can, try to figure out who or what decided this person was an expert. If you can’t figure it out it might tell you something right off the bat.

2. What exactly are they an expert in?

A very important question. What specific area is their expertise and is that their only expert knowledge? Here you are looking for details and specific topic(s). As a general rule, the more specific the area of expertise the more likely they indeed know it all, but the more likely they are to not be able to see the whole picture (which we usually need to keep in mind when dealing with human health and function). As an example, it’s way more likely that someone can be a true expert in mitochondrial function than someone can be an expert in human function. It is also more likely that the expert in mitochondrial function will be very useful when talking about mitochondria but less useful in overall practical knowledge because of the specificity of their expertise. As another example, if you come across an expert in “nutrition”, you can bet good money they are either 1) an expert in one aspect of nutrition or 2) have a really good overall general knowledge of the scope of nutrition. I have yet to come across anyone who is even close to knowing everything there is to know about such a broad topic and, probably most importantly, there is a lot we still don’t know about nutrition in general.

Figure out what exactly they are an expert in and keep that in mind when framing their insights.

3. What qualifies them as an expert in that field?

In essence, what accomplishments, experience and/or body of work supports their expertise? Someone can get handed a degree but as we all know that doesn’t guarantee an expert in anything or any form of expertise. Does simply doing something for 20 years make you an expert? Does writing a book, scholarly articles or belonging to the faculty of a academic department qualify? Does researching something mean you have expertise? Does knowing someone who gets you on TV to talk about something make you an expert? Does transforming thousands of people’s lives mean they’re an expert?

Expertise is tricky and is not guaranteed, even with several decades and a wall full of accolades behind someone. Be very critical when looking at what qualifies someone to have comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a particular area.

4. Does their expertise mean they have the answers to the relevant topic?

This is probably one of the biggest problems we face in the world of health expertise. There is an epidemic of people, labeled as experts, giving advice, summarizing and claiming things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. A cardiologist is not an expert in nutrition and should not be consulted for nutritional expertise on a new study about diet induced heart disease. Even if you determine they have true expertise in the field of cardiology, it is highly unlikely they are also an expert in diet and nutrition and their information should be taken for what it’s worth: non expert diet advice from a cardiology expert. People with expertise in general fields will be able to give you educated general opinions but can’t give expertise about specifics, just as experts in specific fields can give you expertise about specifics but only educated opinions about general concepts or things outside their specialty.

If you come across someone who seems to check out as an expert, make sure you keep in mind what they are talking about and if it doesn’t fit into the realm of their expertise, it’s more likely interesting information/opinion than true expertise.

5. Does this expert(ise) even matter when it comes to your health?

Possibly the most important question to ask when decoding an expert is if it’s relevant to you. Most expertise falls short when we ask this question because there’s just so much extra information floating out there that doesn’t mean much of anything to most people. Most commonly, experts dispense interesting information that’s applicable to either 1) populations at large (which means it’s not relevant to individuals) or 2) small groups of people (which means it’s not applicable to you unless you happen to fit into that small sample). Either way, most of the time expertise ends up as nice background noise and not integral to your daily life and health decisions.

Always remember to put expertise through your personal filter before deciding on its value.

These 5 questions (and possibly more) need to be considered when we decide if someone is an expert or not and if their expertise is valid to our situation.

Wrapping Up The Expert Code

I’ve been very critical of experts because of how carelessly we label them and believe everything they say. I do believe there are some great experts out there with very valuable and helpful advice that should be listened to. I just want to encourage people to think before submitting to an expert. The better we get at decoding experts the less likely we are to mistakenly believe something we shouldn’t. Being able to decipher the relevant from non relevant is a skill that will benefit just about everyone and will elevate the quality and applicability of information whipping around the globe in the future.

The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Experts:
1. We are being overwhelmed by expert advice and opinions, it is our job to decode them.
2. Use these 5 questions to decode an expert:
– Who decided this person was an expert?
– What exactly are they an expert in?
– What qualifies them as an expert in that field?
– Does their expertise mean they have the answers to the relevant topic?
– Does this expert(ise) even matter when it comes to your health?
3. If an expert is truly an expert they will stand up to your analysis and scrutiny and their information will be valuable.
4. Most information we come across is interesting but very little is applicable to each of us individually.
5. The only expert on you is you.

Don’t ignore experts, decode them. The worthy ones will be there in the end.

Thanks for reading, have an expert day!

P.S. A couple of extra thoughts…

The more someone claims to know it all the less of an expert they likely are. True experts know they don’t know it all and continually strive to learn more.

Being an expert does not guarantee you know everything.

The Microscope Effect: The more specialized and focused someone is the harder is to have the whole picture in view. Being an expert usually means a lot of time studying a specific field and although that means knowing a lot about that realm, it is common to be less aware and take less consideration of all of the other surrounding and possibly confounding areas.

Mechanic Fallacy: Experts are experts in their area from their own perspective and or training. An example: Toyota trained mechanics may be experts at Toyotas, but are not expert mechanics, particularly when it comes to other cars. The same concept applies in human health, particularly in the diet/nutrition realm. Being an expert in plant based nutrition does not equal expertise in human nutrition.

There are specialists (experts in a specialty) and there are generalists (who know a decent amount about a lot of different things). The ideal is an expert generalist who knows everything about everything but that does not exist as far as I have ever been able to find.

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