I have been mulling over the words of Professor Brian Cox that appeared in an interview with The Guardian ahead of his new series reaching BBC1 this week. He said ‘being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something’. It is a subject that spared another heated debate with my mum.
What Brian was saying was that it didn’t make you 100 per cent right all the time when you were an expert, but it made it more likely that you would be right. I have to agree (probably for the first time with Professor Cox) with what he says. Experts need to prove that they really are experts and that they have the necessary knowledge, experience and commitment to the subject.
I think calling people an expert has become overused and has lost the value that it once had and that it should have. Of course, there are always the self-styled experts that have added to the confusion. Moves should be made to reclaim the title of expert only for those who have that extensive background in the subject area.
Another important element is that it is essential if experts are going to regain the trust of people for them to demonstrate ethics and an ethical approach. All too often people have been found to be backed by the industry that they are trying to defend from an ‘expert’ position. Confidence and trust will come from people seeing they have no vested interest.
Finally, any expert has to recognise that they are not always right and they have to be open to a challenge from other experts or the public. Discussion about the subject matter is a positive thing and people are allowed to hold views that an expert can query and provide evidence to challenge. But just because you are seen to be an expert it doesn’t give you the position to avoid questions.
What is important for me is that people are prepared to invest their time and lives to become experts and to then share what they gain. I might not always agree with Professor Cox but I respect the dedication he has to what he does.