Monthly Archives: May 2015

What makes an Expert?

Image result for Expert

Listening to radio programs, reading, watching documentaries, it is found that human beings are living in a time in which they are expected to not only produce more but also internalize and learn more. Humans are expected to know more, be more and act more than we have in the past. Information has become the new commodity because it is easy to produce and easier to reproduce and as a result there are more people claiming to know more or being an expert in an area of information.

The claims of knowledge are not uncommon and for centuries the claim has been the primary means of others knowing that there is a person of knowledge in the area. But it has been in the last century that credentials have been questioned and there is an increasing need and requirement for proof of knowledge. How we consider expertise is the focus of this paper, which will outline five of the primary ways in which a person provides proof of knowledge or expertise.

Credentials

The first proof of expertise is the credentials, or statements of training, learning and completion of the training usually indicated by a degree, certificate or license. When a person is going to do a presentation on the topic they know about, often they are introduced name and credentials. This system is actually new in the longer view of history, having only been instated since the establishment of the formal (outside of the home) education. Formal education is the ideal way to gain expertise and it is the most acknowledged and respected means of being able to higher status that comes with higher expertise. For many this is the easiest means, if there are no difficulties such as time, payment and acceptance to bar the way.

One of the major difficulties with this means of gaining expertise is that it is also used as a means to bar the way for others. In the history of use of credentials as a means of identifying an expert there have been people denied access for reason such as income, social position, sex, and race. While some of these conditions have improved with regards to race and gender, social status and means to pay have become increasing barriers for those whom have the skills and talent for certain areas of expertise. Lack of access to certain resources due to being in a lower SES group can have devastating effects on a person’s chances of acceptance to top schools and the lack of access to those schools can restrict the chances of gaining positions of strength and respect after education has been completed. As time goes forward, the increasingly decreased access to these educational environments as well as increased expectation of credential strength has caused many talented people to slip through the cracks. This is an issue that has been addressed time and again in political structures with little real improvement and increases in disparagement in selection.

Experience

Listing of experience is the second most popular means of identifying a person’s expertise. This is the reason that a person will provide a resume, or an application will ask for work history. When a person is introduced, the years of working in a position or career will be provided as a means of identifying the experience. In some industries, experience will have more influence on if a person is an expert than their credentials, because the experience of the variety of situations that a person encounters is more important than the learning accomplished in training.

Experience can be gained in many forms. The first form is ‘on the job’ which is done through employment, apprenticeships or volunteer work. The second is done through conferences and meetings. These first two means can be tracked through resumes and other materials of which another acknowledges the experience. The third form of experience is ‘self-taught’ which is less common in the last century but was once the primary form of education for most people until the 1700’s. There are some cases in which a person self-educates and then is given a chance to show the education in the work environment, thus having means of proof for the self-education. Household tasks and hobbies are the primary areas of gaining knowledge through experience and self-education at this time in history, but there are few others that can learned through self-education. Activities such as cooking were once taught and passed down through family members but are now activities that people take classes or learn on their own with the aid of books and practice.

Faith from others

One form of expertise that was the primary method several hundred years ago and in some rural areas of the world is still the method used the most is ‘faith from others’. This is the community stating and supporting the skills of a person, with or without training. A person may show a talent or skill in a task and then the community around them supports their expertise, asking them to repeat the skill again and again. In the past this was how many people gained specialized roles within their community and thus their status increased. One way in which we still use the system of ‘faith from others’ is the recommendation and references required for most job applications. These are three to five people in your life that have faith of your expertise.

An additional way that a person while gain faith from the community is heredity. In the past, it was believed that if the father (or mother) was strong in a skill then the child would be as well. While in some cases this is true (“following in the footsteps of their father [or mother]”) there has been many times that this is has not been true. Though there are many people that don’t follow the footsteps of a parent, there is still a belief in the strength of family influence on a person and part of the reason that pedigree is still important in certain circles.

Confidence

One thing that is a difficulty for most people and even more so in the 21st century is confidence, and for most part, it is the most important indication of expertise. For most part, it is the confidence to walk on to a stage and give a presentation, or go to an interview believing that you are the best person for the job. Without confidence, experience, faith from other and credentials have no meaning because it is self-belief that counts the most in expertise. This is the reason that the interview part of getting a job is still the most important, because this is the show that you are willing and able to do the job and that requires confidence.

Out of the means of seeing expertise, confidence is the most vulnerable to change. An outline of factors that can affect the confidence of a person includes: loss of community confidence, loss of employment, changes in the personal and professional environments and many other things. Frustration, and difficulties are likely to be the leading causes of lost confidence leading to other difficulties in the other areas of acknowledging expertise.

The other down-fall of confidence is ‘over-confidence’ and the frustration of confidence being high enough has led to an epidemic of this ‘over-confidence’ in many people. For many this is as much of a frustration as not having enough confidence and there has been a recent movement towards people having a balance of confidence and self-effacement. Confidence is vulnerable to not only too little as much as too much.

Publications

This was saved for last because the modern era has created a frustration for publication as a means of identifying expertise. This section will be covered in four parts, with each part presenting a paragraph of the positives and then one of the negatives. The parts are as follows: books, journals, periodicals, and the Internet. The written word has become a means for many people whom do not have credentials applicable to their area of expertise, to still gain footing as an expert of the information they are writing on, this is how many journalist has come to write books on a variety of topics and that work be considered expert material.

Books

This is the resource for information that has gone back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and at one point they were considered to be more valuable than gold. Since the beginning of the printing press, the value of a single book has dropped but not the value of the written word. Books are still the goal of most writers including the author of this paper. Books are considered to be the best way to pass information that is expert given and are acknowledged as primary means of gaining facts. Books are also considered to be the ideal way of learning (book learning, textbooks, going to the library, etc.) and still remain at the top of ideal forms of gaining information in addition to having an instructor.

One of the down falls of books in the post-modern era is that there are so many of them and in order to be able to write a book length amount of information, one must draw out the examples or complicate the monologue. This leads to boredom with the writing and many people will not read the books as a result of this difficulty. Additionally, publishers have to work hard than ever to sell more books and this means getting the written work to the public as fast as possible. Working as fast as possible can create difficulties with making sure information is correct and true to the facts.

Books are still the ideal means of publishing and having a public acknowledgement of expertise even with the problems stated, and thankfully, with the assistance of audio and electronic books, the information is going to larger numbers of the public faster.

Journals

For decades, journals were the primary means of introducing information about everything from new research to re-testing old research. Innovations and conversations among professionals happened inside the pages of journals and second to gaining publication of a book, a journal was the way to gain acknowledgement of expertise. For many research and theoretical professionals, the first start to real acknowledgement (and a requirement for some graduate degrees) was being published in a journal. Journals are considered to be the means of ‘coming out’ as an expert and professional.

The difficulty with journals is the same as with books, as there as so many professional journals now it is hard to have a monopoly on an area of expertise. As a result, there is a lot of competition for the best research and some of the research papers are not thoroughly fact checked for errors, in addition to having an increased difficulty with getting the work peer-reviewed in time for publication. This leads to increased misinformation being passed to the readers of the journals, and as a result being used and taught in institutions of higher learning. Another difficulty and this is the same with journals and books, is access to have work published; outside of having a friend of a friend or a connection through a graduate program, it is difficult to get into the door to have work published. This has frustrated many people whom have talent, knowledge and credentials from being publicly seen as an expert.

Periodicals

Magazines and newspapers have always been a popular way of conveying information to a large population and even as there has been decreases in circulation (largely due to the popularity of the Internet), being published in a periodical is still a means of being seen as an expert. Many of the writers that publish books got their first starts through publication of work in magazines and newspapers. This is means that is able to reach a wide audience quickly and is frequently the resources of which a person will first become acquainted with new information and/ or ideas.

The number one difficulty with this means is that publication in certain works might cause more harm than good for a person seeking to be seen as an expert. Some periodicals are held in higher regard than others and gaining publication in a less regarded periodical might shut the doors on future publications. For the higher regarded publications, it could be difficult to have a piece of writing accepted and this will delay a chance to be seen as an expert, or there is a chance of never being published at all. Additionally, with the rate of publication in many periodicals, it is difficult to do an intensive fact check of work and this could damage an individual’s expertise, if another person’s paper comes up in error.

The Internet

The Internet has become the most popular place to find information as well as pass information in the last 10 years. More people are turning to the Internet for facts and figures as well as new ideas and quick overviews of the latest information. The people whom wish to publish their work and either have no access to the previously noted means of publication, or no desire to use those means have turned to the blogs and web pages of the Internet. It has become the popular source since the invention of the smart phone because of the accessibility and ease for not only the reader but also the expert. This is the new avenue of self-publication and for some it has led to large audience acknowledgement of authority and confidence.

The problem of fact checking is the highest here, largely because of the self-published work being checked by no one but the author. Additionally, it is easy to lie on the Internet and so a person with little real knowledge and less experience can write, publish and be seen as an expert. This is a frustration for people whom do have the information and background to be an expert. As more people rely more on the Internet for information, there is more misinformation or half information going out to the larger public, which can damage expertise for a lot of people.

Publication of work will always be an ideal dream of the ambitious expert, whether it is the blog that has a thousand ‘followers’ or the book on the best sellers list. The publication is the ultimate promise of all other acknowledgements of expertise.

Conclusion

An expert means “a person who has a comprehensive authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area” (google). This is a simple concept when put with the definition and it is easy to be an expert when restricting this to the personal belief of being an expert. But like all things with humans, this is reliant on the social structure to recognize a person as an expert, or they will not been seen as one. This paper outline the means and difficulties of each way a person is seen as an expert in their areas of information. The first area is the credentials: licenses, degrees, and certificates. The second is experience: employment, volunteering, meetings/ conferences and self-education. The third and fourth work hand in hand as faith from others in the individual’s abilities as well as confidence in the self. The largest and last area of gaining acknowledgement of expertise is the publication, either through book, journal, periodical or the Internet. For a person to be truly seen as an expert, the world around them must see them as an expert. This paper outlined the means and whys.