Allan Takes Aim Blog

The charade of experts

Posted on: 1 June 2009

Don’t forget. Get The Chronicle

Day after day the media interviews and gives the opinions of people described as “experts.”  Unfortunately for some of these experts, many newspaper readers and radio listeners are more “expert” than the person reported or interviewed.

 That said, and being no expert myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in haste to broadcast or publish comments on issues of the day, the media has established a list of people – “experts” – who want to be thought knowledgeable and want to be seen in, or on, the media, who will respond when called.

 No matter that their knowledge of the subject is limited to what they have gained by a quick google before being interviewed, these experts, for whom “a little knowledge is dangerous thing”, can be guaranteed to fill the time available for interview. This happens frequently in Canberra but in all probability is no less frequent elsewhere.

 Because of their capacity to talk the hind leg off a donkey, these experts are popular with talk back radio hosts (talk back television is surely on the way), who find them useful to fill allocated air time and answer opinionated callers with less expertise than themselves but just as much ego. The press equivalent is the letters to the editor page. To the credit of people who write letters to editor, generally they are more knowledgeable and, because their names are on their letters, more credible.

 This is useful because their name can often identify their politics or commercial interest making it possible for readers to decide if the opinion expressed is genuine or simply a biased response in favour of a particular party or interest. 

 It is unfortunate that talk back radio callers need only give a first name and equally unfortunate that programme hosts need not identify their political sympathies even if, from time to time, they do ask callers to identify their political sympathies. It seems to me that this lack of openness raises the possibility that callers are chosen because the host and the person selecting callers share the same political or other sympathies.

 Of course this can happen even in newspapers and Blogs when journalists (and Bloggers) allow their sympathies to colour their reports about government policy, particular politicians or commercial activity. Effectively, such reporting is nothing less than propaganda with the result that readers can often be misinformed.

 I wonder too about “technology experts” particularly those who speak about computing. They speak in a language I suspect few of us understand and also speak as if technology was a twentieth century phenomenon, when technology of all kinds has driven society since humans first walked the earth. Indeed as I listen to them I conclude that some have just had their first walking lesson and that before venturing further they would be advised to make their next lesson the one that says think before speaking.



2 Responses to "The charade of experts"

The ‘expert commentariat’ is one of the more unfortunate biproducts of the sort of mass media that we have now. Whether due to laziness or lack of time or resources, or both, we have a media that does far less research than it should so they go to the known faces for comments about anything and everything. What it does show though is how easily something can become ‘lore’ simply because of that something being uttered on TV by someone who doesn’t really have a basis for making the comment in the first place.

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