craftsman working in his workshop

Always be polite to an expert, then consider the evidence

Just because there are experts everywhere and we pretend to already know what they tell us, they still deserve our respect.

All of us come across experts now and again.

By expert, I don’t mean the verbal vomit of social media influencers or the millennials who have two minutes of experience and believe with every cell in their bodies that they know it all, no not these wannabes.

An expert here is someone with a legitimate reason to present an opinion.

Perhaps they have a degree or three in the topic or they have been on the tools for a decade and seen every which way to plumb a kitchen sink. 

So if the said plumber suggests that I need a new gasket but don’t get the cheap plastic ones ‘coz they are trash. I respect that and buy the metal one.

Now if my expert is an ecologist who has been working in academic institutions for twenty years with a dozen research articles to her name pops in and says that koalas are going extinct in Australia… What should I do?

The respectful thing is always to consider.

The expert has credentials that warrant consideration of her koala population statement.

By considering I don’t mean swallow. 

What I mean is to become a healthy sceptic and first look at the evidence — not just where the statement came from by why it was made — and second apply an intellectual filter over the assumptions.

  • Does the ecologist study koala populations?
  • Has she published on this topic?
  • Does she have access to data on koala numbers?
  • Is her office next door to the leading koala expert in the country?
  • Is she actually an expert on koalas?

A few seconds on these questions and we realise that Just because the expert is an ecologist, she may not be an expert in koala conservation, the topic of her statement.

Her credentials are sufficient to give me pause and I owe it to her to consider her statement with a sceptical eye but I don’t have to agree or take her advice.

My own 40 years as an ecologist has already given me the opposite conclusion as to the fate of the koala.

Evidence for the plumber’s expertise is circumstantial. A decade of fixing faucets means that the washers in question have been seen many times and there is no obvious reason for him to offer the purchasing advice. Indeed, he might get more work if he told his customers to go for the cheap plastic.

The healthy sceptic screening is almost instant in this case.

The risk of getting it wrong is low and the consequences modest as presumably, the plastic option would still work.

koala seeping in a tree
Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

What sustainably FED suggests…

The point here is that all experts deserve some respect.

Their commitment in time to acquire skills and experience should be rewarded with our attention and consideration even if we decide that their expert opinion is wrong.

Respect earned should be a polite listening ear along with our time to consider the evidence. 

Equally a white coat and some fancy certificates need not command our agreement. Indeed, whilst common decency is a given, our demand of experts is that they are what it says on the tin.

Hero image from photo by Mikita Yo on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

Add comment

Subscribe to our explainer series

* indicates required

Most discussed