An Expert Opinion

Written by The Dad

Expert Pet Peeveexpert-stamp

The following statements are my biggest pet peeve:

“As a registered nurse, I believe…”

“I’m a teacher with over ten years of experience so…”

“I have a degree from one of the most prestigious schools…”


I Don’t Care About Your Credentials

It’s strange how earning a degree or getting a certain job makes people feel like their opinions or thoughts are more valuable than the next person.  It made more sense back before information was available to everyone all the time, but we still have this tendency today.

People talk about their credentials like the credentials are what make them smart.

When people precede their conversational input with a list of credentials all I hear is either A) a latent lack of self-confidence or B) real confidence not learned through real-world experience.  If they had confidence in their knowledge or had real-world experience to draw from they wouldn’t need the credentials, their knowledge would be self-evident.


I stole this term from an interview of Mike Rowe.  I’d never heard it before and I love it because it explains a lot.   It explains the heuristic we have in our minds that causes us to stop thinking whenever we perceive authority (our own or anyone else’s).  Credentials are meant to signify fitness or for a something, but we take them one step farther; we turn them into a heuristic for just how little thinking needs to be done before we trust a conclusion.  If we have the credential then we are the expert and don’t need any input.  If another person has the credentials then who are we to question them?  Either way we’re relieved of the duty of critical thought.

The experts have spoken, and the experts agree, right?

Experts Don’t Agree

Of course experts don’t always agree.

This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but if you read the news without knowing anything about a topic ahead of time you’d think experts always agree.

The idea that experts agree on something is intimidating, isn’t it?  Even if part of you feels doubtful there’s another part of you that doesn’t dare doubt someone with more or fancier credentials.  After all, don’t they know?  Aren’t they trained in their field?  Don’t they have inside knowledge that far exceeds even our understanding?

Self-doubt creeps in.  We think there must be a right answer, and if the expert says he or she knows the answer then we shouldn’t question it.  It’s easier that way.  It doesn’t matter if it’s right, it’s more comfortable because most people agree.

How does this happen?

It Starts In School

I think this problem starts in school.

I think somewhere along the line we learn that high scores, grades and degrees are the goal because those things lead to expertise.

School teaches facts, systems and equations to get answers.  School teaches that whoever owns the answer key is the expert and that your value is in finding that pre-approved correct answer.  School teaches that if you find that right answer enough times you become the expert and you’re free to start listing your credentials everywhere.

Once you’ve got those credentials, your opinion is weighted accordingly and unquestioningly.  You’re then an expert, and you can say just about anything and people will not only think it’s valid but celebrate it and shout down nay-sayers.  There’s no need to question expertise.  There’s even the implied feeling that an expert is actually smarter than a non-expert, lending even more gravity to hero worship of the credentialed few.

On the one hand we know intuitively that experts don’t always agree and there is continual need to question and improve on information and knowledge, but on the other hand we’re taught from early on in our academic careers to ignore any doubts and follow the leader.

It’s not the schools’ fault.  Mass education isn’t really designed for teaching critical thought.  Mass education is literally designed to load as much information into as many students as possible.  The more the students retain the better.

The Problem Is…

School teaches how to get the right answer despite the fact that the real world rarely has one objectively correct solution to any problem.  School doesn’t teach how to come up with an answer to a problem for which you have no tools, and for which there may not even be a single answer.

Schools do the best they can to teach students how to learn, but tend to end up teaching kids how to memorize just enough to pass tests.

School doesn’t teach morals, principles and philosophies.  Those things are the foundation for problem-solving in life but they have to come from home.

For us, they will.

Our Home and Our School

Of course we don’t ignore credentials and titles completely in our house.  We respect our elders and listen to experts.

Then we research for ourselves.

We don’t just look for people with titles; we look for people with experience.

We might ask you a question someday.

We won’t just want to know what you think, or what you read in a text book, or what credentials you can produce; we want to know how you got where you are.  We want to know about your ideas, and we will likely challenge them.  We want to know about your principles and philosophies.  We want to know what you learned when everything went wrong, and we want to know how you overcame it all.

We want to become the experts.  It’s possible, so…why not?





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