Today we live in a world where people trust and rely on opinions of experts. Wherever we turn, governments, courts of justice, media, text books, business companies and others, all focus on the opinion of experts. Experts are considered authorities in their specific areas of knowledge and they are distinguished as such by their doctoral degree, or important scientific achievements which they have made in their particular field. Nevertheless, how far are expert opinions trustworthy? Can they sometimes err in their claims?
In our search for knowledge, the opinions of experts are important, to the extent they are based more on evidence, and less on assumptions and hypotheses.
First of all, experts are human beings like all of us and they are guided in their search for truth not only by objective research, but also by emotion i. e. their biases, prejudices, cherished theories etc. There are numerous examples of this, such as the debate between Creationists and Evolutionists about origins, the ethical controversy about euthanasia, abortion, death penalty and other issues which include a fair amount of emotions.
Especially, this is so in cases where expert witnesses are invited to share their opinions in public conferences or court trials, as was the Creation – Evolution court trial in Little Rock, Arkansas in December 19811. Thus, experts from the same field do not always agree in their opinions. Nevetheless, the opinion of experts is extremely important. We learn much from the arguments they present in public and study different sources on the same subject, in order to discover what is fact and knowledge based on evidence and experimentation, even when such evidence is used to promote theory.
Einstein’s special theory of relativity is well known in Physics. It showed that light is also of a corpuscular nature and that it has weight. It was based on significant research and testing over a period of time. It has revolutionized science in general, and contributed to the formation of public opinion of a large segment of the society for decades. Many physical experts have accepted his theory and continue to do research in the same direction.
However, Michelson-Morley’s experiment from 1965 proved the invariability of the speed of light as an absolute standard in the universe, which leaves room for modifying the theory and leading scientists into new areas of exploration. This shows that even well established theories enjoying wide support from many experts, have a small percentage of uncertainty and doubt. Such uncertainty is useful to lead other experts in doing research that eventually modifies previously established concepts.
Experts do not have absolute answers to all questions and they do not teach things which should be dogmatically and uncritically accepted. Their opinions and postulates are constantly subject to criticism and modification, but this is exactly the way how scientific method works. As soon as new evidence is available, their opinions are upgraded, with the result that general knowledge is expanded and enriched. Another point is that, the opinions of experts are the more important as they cover overall issues in the subjects of interest to the general public.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared a swine flu pandemic. As a result, many medical experts promoted the swine flu vaccine, as recommended by the WHO. Many governments in the world have relied upon expert opinion to carry out obligatory vaccination of their citizens. On the other hand, some other experts claimed that the said vaccine comes with certain side effects to human health, because it may result in several syndromes in up to 10% of the population.
Thus, we see that medical expert opinion is extremely important, because it informs governments and the general public of the dangers of a certain disease and the need to prevent it, as well as warning them of the possible side effects and syndromes contained in the proposed solution to the problem. It has been said that “half-truths are worse than lies. ” The combined testimony of many experts from one or several areas of knowledge leads to a better, overall understanding and proper solutions.