OPINION: What is an expert nowadays?

What’s the best case for what makes someone an expert and someone not an expert in something? We could say that physically Lebron James is a basketball expert or Bennet Omalu is an expert in neurology based on the accolades presented and earned by them. Furthermore, we could proclaim that a professor with the letters “Dr.” in front of their name makes them esteemed individuals in their field and experts in their subject area to hold that status. Then how come some doctored professors still get low review scores from their classmates on forums and sites like ratemyprofessor.com? Why didn’t athletes we collectively deemed as experts in their craft fail to win every game while we generalize them from our couches?

The weight of what makes normal people in professions, sports, fields of study and other areas of the like has been blurred many times in history. Even in recent times with some figures, we grant high standards in life such as doctors, lawyers and scientists. Other fields get humbled when “exposed” to not be worthy of that weight, be it doubt towards universal truths such as vaccines and masks during COVID-19 or have claims that are deemed taboo such as sports figures being flat earthers.

“Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”

   ― George Carlin

Throughout my life, I was told the experts are the people we should listen to with the weight of that title given obstacles in front of me. Given how introverted I was, and perhaps still am, I didn’t rely on the experts in front of me, like my teachers. I would refuse to ask questions roughly throughout the majority of my tenure before KSU. Fast forward to March 10, 2020, I was told mid-lecture during my Cognitive Psychology class that all of us students had to vacate off of Kent campus for a month for the time being (soon translating to our current lovely quarantine). Confronted with this, my professor dismissed us at that moment and within the next two hours, I was back home never to come back to campus until August. At that moment I reacted in defiance as someone that wanted to make the most of his tenure on campus as others got out of Kent upon seeing the email. After a short call home I followed suit back home as I recollected and took everything in that afternoon. That was how I reacted, but how did others react to this call to action?

Over time many takes were given as to how long this quarantine would be, with some even calling the COVID-19 virus fake due to its low death rate at the time of spring 2020, the latter calling for many to act oblivious to disease experts/boards like the WHO and CDC calls to stay at home calling doubt on a virus that they said would mimic the Zika and Ebola virus effects in the states and working around its low death counts in younger demos. 

In a country where we place more viewership towards debauchery and celebrity culture over experts, in hindsight I should’ve seen the cloud of doubt toward COVID-19 and its guidelines. It was also around the summer of 2020 that political experts, such as governors and mayors, called for different measures for their states to keep their citizens safe but also not jeopardize their economies as early measures to reopen began in the early summer. This measure would only continue as media heads made the rounds with the loudest sources getting more attention and backing by proclaiming the COVID-19 virus as a “device of fear” and that we shouldn’t let it control our lives. An influx of people stuck inside and taking in/consuming media more hours than ever surfaced as more people had time to expend their thoughts online. It got pretty scary to say the least as a vaccine was yet to be released, which ironically some people will still not choose to take to stop their isolation cycles due to our habituated nature.

Growing distrust toward our political experts in our government didn’t help the quarantine measures being followed. Continued rounds from experts like Dr. Fauci losing citizens and political interest due to oversaturation along with the approval rating for the U.S Congress, with the latter getting as low as 17 percent last July.

Does one wrong person with a doctorate discredit others that have the same title/label? Are we more delegated to listen to expert boards rather than random “joes” on YouTube and the news such as the WHO and CDC (back when we were a part of the WHO)? What weight or judge makes them experts we should abide by? Amidst the misinformation free-for-all that is the internet, I try to maintain my definition of experts with those vested in areas that have had deliberate practice, acclaim, and success in what they say.

We’ve seen in the past year where somehow they turned a virus political despite both sides telling me that the other “extremes did so”. To those staying safe reading this, keep it up, as normalcy will return. In 2021, where there’s still defiance in Europe over curfew measures as Ohio’s curfew lifts, stay vigilant and safe, everyone. As someone that tries to hold onto the trust in people, I will continue to drive that notion through so that I can see fewer people die in ignorance and/or becoming what they hate.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

― Fran Lebowitz, The Fran Lebowitz Reader

Gregory Hess is an opinion writer. Contact him at [email protected].