In 2015, an eighth grader did some research into the story behind the ‘No Irish Need Apply’ signs that were alleged to have existed in 19th century United States. Despite claims in 2002 from a distinguished historian that the signs were a myth and had never existed, the eighth grader Rebecca Fried was able to prove the historian wrong simply by doing some basic research on Google. Not only did Fried found photographic evidence of the signs – but she found lots of it.1
Just because something is stated by an ‘expert’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.
Back in 1830, scientific writer Dr. Dionysius Lardner said rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. And in 1903, the president of the Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co because the horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.2
There are many more examples like these, and this is why not all experts are as highly regarded as they used to be.
How Society has Raised the Bar for Experts
Until recently, society looked up to and respected all experts and their opinions. However, in our new internet-age, knowledge is available to all at the click of a button.
Previously, years of education, work experience, and formal titles were the ways most people used to recognize experts. Unfortunately, these are no longer good indicators. For example, materials studied in the past can now be outdated. And as for those people with extensive work experience, this doesn’t guarantee they operate in an efficient or high-quality way.
Titles like doctor of ____, or psychologist of ____ are licensed/exams-based, but whether qualifications are up-to-date is open to question.
Judging whether a person is an expert based on the above indicators fails to take into account for the way information and knowledge changes over time. Not all experts will be dedicated enough to keep up with the latest developments in their chosen field.
Traditional experts became experts by taking a lot of time to investigate topics, but nowadays, the internet has massively reduced the time needed to research or learn a topic. You could think of it this way: In the past, experts owned the knowledge, these days this knowledge is freely available on the web.
Clearly, the internet has rapidly shifted information from the hands of those who have it – into the hands of those who do not.3
Of course, the development of the internet hasn’t wiped genuine experts of the face of the earth. We should still respect real experts, especially those who have gone through the stages outlined below.