April 7, 2010

The Bias of Expertise

Experts are supposed to be ones who know. But what is it that they know?

An expert ought to know the vocabulary of one’s area of expertise — so much knowledge being a classification of things as different from other things. But more than this, an expert ought to know two more important things: 1) They ought to know what they don’t know, and 2) they ought to know who knows differently and how/why. While it is not essential to earn a Ph.D. to be an expert, I have found that the Ph.D., when properly approached, can bring one to an understanding of these three characteristics of expertise.

What do journalists know? They ought to know the basics of journalistic craft, including understanding that it is a particular form of discourse with particular conventions for particular purposes. That purpose (primary) ought to be giving citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing. Journalism done well — by pros or amateurs — is about discovering (reporting) and disseminating (through various “texts”) information, knowledge, and — at its very best — wisdom.

In a very real sense, the best journalists are those who know they don’t know but know who does know and know how/why the knowers know.

Journalists, however, get in to trouble when they act as if they know — as if they are experts. This is a form of journalistic arrogance that leads them away from the primary purpose of journalism.

Call this the bias of expertise. Lane Wallace examines this bias in veteran journalists. It is related to narrative bias and the creation of master narratives.

3 Responses

  1. This is quite a Popperian view 🙂
    If I remember, he’s main example for the problem of “expertise” or “the power of source” is something with some journalist from some newspaper.

  2. Tim 

    Is it bad form to link to one of my older posts here?

    I prefer to think of expertise in terms of a Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy. I think this would also be helpful for reporters to understand what their readers perceive concerning the quality and quantity of “truth” in their news.

  3. acline 

    Argumentics… Interesting.

    Tim… Good links are always welcome