Conflicting Experts……

I meant to finish this yesterday and was interrupted. As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a forester for about sixty years although he did finally quit tromping around the woods so much in his early 80s. Anyway, he was once called upon to be an expert witness in a civil suit. The issue was a tree that was cut down, fell the wrong way and damaged the house in question. I don’t recall the particulars because they aren’t important. He recounted there were actually three experts who testified about the situation. What surprised him was each of them provided a different analysis and that left the jury with the task of trying to decide which, if any of them, they believed. This is not uncommon.

There are multiple problems with experts. The first is credentials. As I may also have previously posted, I am by no means a scientist, but my sister and brother-in-law both are. In the years of being around them and listening to different things, I learned how narrow some science focuses can be. When my sister was considering seeking a new position, she was well credentialed in her field, to include having received national and some international recognition. In her particular field though, there were only a few positions open in the entire that were an actual match. All scientists have common understanding of certain things, then branch out to where they have little, if any understanding, in other areas. We’re all more familiar of course with this in medical practice. The GP is only the first stop if something specialized is the problem.

Speaking of problems; human nature, particularly if someone is an “expert”, is to be reluctant to admit one doesn’t have the answer, or worse, if one has made a mistake and must openly acknowledge that. And so, we come back to what to do when two equally credentialed experts provide assessments/recommendations that are the opposite of each other. If no hard data can support one position or the other, we choose whom to believe based on multiple factors; one of which is likely to be one’s personal view, which in turn may be driven by emotion. It does make decisions difficult.


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