Sunday quote: expert opinions

Experts who venture “opinions” (sometimes merely their own inference of fact), outside their field of specialised knowledge may invest those opinions with a spurious appearance of authority, and legitimate processes of fact-finding may be subverted.

– High Court of Australia Chief Justice Murray Gleeson in HG v R (1999) 197 CLR 414.

These kinds of legal principles apply well beyond the courtroom. What Gleeson said rings true in everyday life and the media especially. It is precisely this phenomenon that results in crackpots like Noam Chomsky being listened to when they spout conspiratorial, pseudo-historic nonsense.

Being a decorated expert in linguistics or any other discipline does not mean that someone has any authority to speak about politics. Similarly, being a top geologist does not necessarily mean that someone will have any expertise in climate science; and being a climate scientist is not the same as being an economist.

We all need to be a little bit more skeptical about “experts” speaking outside their field of expertise – particularly when they are saying the opposite to what people who are genuinely experts in that field are talking about.

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  1. #1 by Liam M. Getreu on May 27, 2012 - 4:19 pm

    Expertise is in the eye of the beholder. Chomsky can talk about whatever he wants, and hold an opinion about whatever he wants. It’s up to the free market of ideas to limit his influence to areas in which we believe that he understands the area sufficiently. That’s not Chomsky’s problem; it’s ours.

    • #2 by MK on May 27, 2012 - 11:42 pm

      That’s true, but I don’t see what it has to do with the price of fish.

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